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ADHD stimulant abuse common among teens: how to protect your child

ADHD stimulants medication

Abuse of opioids and other hard drugs is pretty common, but it's interesting to know that prescription stimulants for ADHD are being abused just as much.

What's even more interesting is the fact that this misuse doesn't only happen among adults but teens as well. And not even teens with ADHD.

A new study found that 1 in 4 teens at some middle and high schools in the US reported that they abused ADHD stimulants in the previous year.

Why do healthy teens abuse ADHD stimulants?

You might ask, if these school kids aren't living with ADHD, what then do they use stimulants for?

Well, it appears to be almost the same as every other abused drug. Nonmedical use of stimulants involves taking more than the required dose to get high. Stimulants are also paired with alcohol or other drugs to boost euphoria.

But that's not all.

Young students in middle and high school are misusing ADHD stimulants to meet up with school demands: to help them stay awake late to study or finish homework.

Now this is the part we should be most worried about.

Our children in middle and high school complain of stress around academics: that is, having to stay up late to catch up academically. And then another student — a friend — comes along and offers them a stimulant to give them the boost they need.

But where do these kids get these drugs from?

Leftover ADHD medications

The highest rates of teens misusing ADHD stimulants were found in schools with the highest number of students on ADHD prescriptions. And in schools where there are few or no students on ADHD meds, the rate of stimulant misuse was pretty low.

So this is it. Healthy kids are obtaining stimulants from leftover medications from other students with ADHD, or their family members with ADHD.

Dangers of misusing ADHD stimulants

Long-term abuse or overdose of stimulants may cause:

We don't want that for our kids.

What can we do to limit stimulant abuse among teens?

For now, we know stimulants can't be banned because they're FDA-approved for managing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. So the responsibility lies mostly on parents. Indeed, this study is a wake-up call.

As parents, we have to inform our kids of the dangers of stimulant misuse. If you have a child on ADHD medications, store them properly so other kids have no access.

We can also go about this by talking to our kids with ADHD about how to handle friends who approach them asking for stimulants to help them study at night.

Additionally, doctors must ensure they evaluate patients carefully and thoroughly before prescribing stimulants, and never to go high on the prescribed dose.

Lastly, schools need to tighten up their medication storage to limit access.

And if you suspect any misuse, don't hesitate to contact your child's prescriber immediately.


More on the research here.

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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