Students Popping Pills

The pressure to succeed in school and get good grades can overwhelm some students to the point that they use drugs like Adderall and Ritalin to study longer and harder in order to retain more information for exams.

As high school students prepare for finals and SAT tests, an increasing percentage are turning to prescription drugs to help fuel late night study sessions. Adderall and Ritalin, prescription stimulants that are used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), are being used illegally by teenagers who feel the pressure to perform well academically and are unconcerned about the dangers associated with prescription drug abuse.

The New York Times reports that high school students across the country are abusing prescription stimulants in response to pressure over grades and college admissions. Adderall and Ritalin abuse, which has been common among college students and graduate students for some time, is become more common among academically competitive teenagers. High school students who were recently interviewed by The Times and admitted to abusing prescription stimulants said they obtain the drugs from friends or drug dealers. Some have even resorted to faking ADHD symptoms in order to get a doctor to provide a prescription.

Adderall, Ritalin and other stimulant drugs (including cocaine) increase alertness and energy by boosting the level of dopamine in the brain. According to the National Institutes of Health, they can be dangerous when taken without a prescription. Taking higher than recommended doses can cause an irregular heartbeat, seizures and heart failure. Emotional disruptions, including sleep disturbance, mood swings, paranoia and hostility, are additional side effects. Individuals who become addicted to stimulants may even experience psychosis during withdrawal.

Like morphine and cocaine, prescription stimulants have been classified as Class 2 drugs. This class includes the most addictive types of drugs. Many teenagers are unaware of this classification and are also unaware that selling or giving away prescription drugs is a federal offense that can have serious legal consequences.

People who have been diagnosed with ADHD are calmed by prescription stimulants. For those who don’t have ADHD, the jolt of energy provided by the drugs can become addictive. Few studies have been done about the impact of stimulant abuse on teenagers. Many drug counselors believe that Adderall and Ritalin can be gateways drugs for sleep aids and painkillers. One young man who was interviewed by The New York Times began snorting Adderall to help with SAT preparation and then became addicted to Percocet, a prescription painkiller. He then moved on to heroin.

Since 2007, the number of pre-teens and teenagers who have been given prescriptions for ADHD medication has increased by 26 percent. There are no figures available for the number of teens who abuse these medications, but some experts say that between 15 and 40 percent of students at high-pressure high schools take Adderall, Ritalin and other prescription stimulants to boost their academic performance.

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