A new study reports that teenagers start abusing prescription stimulants between the ages of 16 and 19. Study researchers analyzed data from anonymous surveys of over 240,000 teenagers in the United States.
Prescription stimulants, including drugs like Ritalin and Adderall, are used to treat people with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They improve focus and attentiveness, increase attention span, and help calm impulsive behavior.
They are sometimes called “study drugs” because college students use them to stay up all night to cram for exams. These new findings show that younger teens are abusing them for different reasons. Some take them simply to get high and some take them to cure hangovers.
The study reports that under 1 percent of the teens surveyed have used drugs without a prescription. They may see the drugs as harmless because many of their friends and family members are taking them.
In addition to ADHD medicine, the surveys found that 16-19 year-olds were abusing medicines with methamphetamine, and teenage girls were taking prescription diet pills. By the age of 18, the rate of stimulant drug abuse was twice as high for teen girls.
Teenagers may not realize that the effects stimulant drugs have on people who do not need them can be different. They can cause side effects such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, hallucinations, thoughts of suicide or even sudden death. The chance of side effects increases when the drugs are combined with alcohol or other drugs. They can also cause psychological symptoms such as hostility or paranoia. If they go through withdrawal from the drug, they can develop symptoms such as depression and anxiety.
Teenagers are getting the drugs from other young adults who have prescriptions for ADHD medicine. They pressure their peers into selling or sharing them. The report noted that drugs are stolen from 7 percent of those with ADHD.
Researchers who took part in the study suggested that drug abuse education should start as early as middle school rather than college like many past initiatives. Research has shown that the younger a person is when they start using illegal drugs, the more likely they are to develop an addiction. Stimulants in particular can be addictive if they are not taken under a doctor’s supervision, so teens who are using them illegally are more at risk for developing a problem.
The researchers warned parents not to be naïve about prescription drug abuse among teens. They advise parents of children with ADHD to educate their kids about the dangers of someone taking a drug without a prescription. They also encourage teaching them how to handle pressure from their peers to share their medicine.
The complete report will be published in the July issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
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