A recent study by the University of Michigan found that 10% of high school sophomores and 12% of high school seniors have taken “study drugs” in an attempt to boost performance on tests or in school.
“Study drugs” are widely believed to increase focus and enable clear thinking. They include stimulants, like Ritalin and Adderall, commonly prescribed to do just that for individuals with ADHD. CNN reports that that as many as 30% of college students have tried Adderall and that it’s easier to obtain on campus than marijuana.
These drugs should not be taken casually, however. Amphetamines like Adderall can produce dependency. In fact, these drugs are listed as Schedule II drugs, which have “the highest abuse potential and dependence profile of all drugs that have medical utility.” In addition, long-term effects of amphetamine use can result in headaches, stomach problems, disordered thinking, mood disorders and even psychosis.
Yet amphetamines are present in high schools across the country. Students for whom Ritalin or Adderall are legitimately prescribed sell pills one at a time. Just as students who are interested is smoking tobacco or marijuana know where to get it, students who want to try a study drug will have no trouble finding it.
And here’s the key difference. Parents who believe their teens are in no danger of smoking marijuana may be the very parents who stress good grades. They may inadvertently apply the sort of pressure that leads a teen to try study drugs. The University of Michigan study found that although 10% to 12% of high school students already take study drugs, only 1% of parents of teens believe study drugs are a problem for their child.
What can you do? First, talk to your child about study drugs, your middle school student as well as high school or college student. Do this even if you believe your child would “never try drugs.” It’s clear that this child – the high-performing student who is busy with school and other activities – may be more susceptible to the lure of amphetamines than other kids.
Second, keep any prescription medications in your home in a secure location and discard unneeded medications promptly. The number-one cause of accidental death in the U.S. is no longer car accidents – it’s overdosing on painkiller medications. Remember that the teen years are years of experimentation without a lot of good sense applied. Keep all medications, including amphetamines and other drugs, out of the reach of even your teen children.
Third, urge your child’s school to keep all medications students might self-administer during the school day under lock and key. Even though high school students for whom Ritalin or Adderall are legitimately prescribed are considered responsible enough to manage their own medication, they may not be able to resist the pressure to share.
Most of all, be aware of the strain your child may be under and your own role in adding to that strain. We all enjoy having high-achieving children who do us proud. But no one wants to raise the bar so high that teens feel overwhelmed.
Be aware… and talk to your teen.
© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.