Teens Advised to Stop Taking Stimulants as “Study Drugs”

The pressure that teens face as they maneuver through high school and into applying for college often results in sleep issues, anxiety and other problems. In order to fit in adequate time for extracurricular activities, which can boost a student’s chances of college acceptance, students often struggle to devote enough time to academics.

When the pressure to do everything well adds up, students are often caught between the expectations of their teachers, coaches and parents. The time and energy required to complete all of the tasks expected of them can cause students to become frantic in their efforts to reach their goals.

For some students, the answer seems to exist in a pill. Stimulants can give a student the boost they need to get through a challenging exam or a week with too many commitments. For too many students, however, taking one pill to get through a particularly tight spot becomes one pill after another to get through one rough week after another.

Students can easily access stimulant drugs because many of their friends, if not they themselves, are regularly taking prescription drugs to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Adderall is one of the most common brand names prescribed to students. The pills are often passed around as a treatment for the perils of overachievement.

The American Academy of Neurology has published a position paper that strongly discourages the use of prescription stimulant drugs as a way to get an edge in school, and also advises doctors to be aware of how the drugs they prescribe are being used. The number of scrips written for ADHD has increased significantly in the past few years, and physicians may not be thinking about how pills they prescribe end up being passed around.

The paper is also intended as a warning for parents who may believe that a one-time stimulant is what their child needs to simply get through an especially tough test. The Academy notes that children’s brains are still developing and they may not have the ability to consider the risks and benefits of taking a medication that isn’t necessary.

The position paper is based, in part, on the increasing number of students being diagnosed with ADHD. In the past decade there has been a 24 percent increase in diagnoses. However, the number of prescriptions written for stimulant drugs to treat the condition has skyrocketed.

With more prescriptions being filled for Adderall and other stimulant drugs, there is more opportunity for misuse. Stimulant drugs are being borrowed, stolen and “snitched,” with students regularly reporting that they have used the pills to give a jolt to a test score.

The position of the American Academy of Neurology does not discourage the prescribing of the drugs for ADHD. Instead, they are asking that physicians and parents work together to ensure that the medications are not being misused.

Students who use the drugs may not be aware of the dangerous side effects that could occur, such as insomnia, high blood pressure and seizures. In addition, the drugs can be addictive and students may not understand that other medications they take could have an adverse reaction when mixed with a stimulant.

The doctors encourage parents to get back to the basics of helping their teen students deal with stress. Adequate sleep and good exercise habits are two of the key ingredients for balancing the pressures of being a student with multiple demands on their time. Talking through the various responsibilities with a parent can also help alleviate some of the anxiety a student may be experiencing.