When most parents conjure up images of teenage drug abuse, they likely picture certain types of kids:  loners, dropouts, or the party crowd. However, teenage prescription drug abuse is growing more common among even top achieving students. Teens stressed by the pressure to achieve are increasingly turning to prescription ADHD drugs such as Adderall or Vyvanse to give them an academic edge. Teens may not realize that prescription drug abuse is both dangerous and illegal.

While stimulants such as Adderall, Vyvanse, Ritalin, or Focalin calm ADHD patients, people without the disorder who take these drugs experience a super-alert, hyper focused state.  Students who take the drugs report that ADHD drugs make study time more productive and help them focus during lengthy exams. Although these drugs are commonly prescribed, they are also powerful brain-altering chemicals.  Abuse of ADHD drugs can lead to depression, mood swings, sleep disorders, cardiac complications, and extreme withdrawal symptoms. ADHD drugs can also be a “gateway” into abusing different types of drugs such as painkillers and sleep aids.

Some teens obtain ADHD drugs from their friends for as little as $5 or $10 a pill.  Other teens describe faking symptoms in order to dupe doctors into prescribing the medication. Few teens realize that ADHD drugs are Class 2 controlled substances just like cocaine and morphine and that even giving a friend a free pill is still considered a felony offense.

It is difficult to determine how many teens are abusing ADHD drugs in this way.  Almost 8 percent of teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 report abusing some type of prescription drug, but there is little data specifically on ADHD drug abuse among teens. Many teens believe that prescription drugs are safer to abuse than illegal drugs and that there is less shame in using them.  In addition to ADHD drugs, many teens also abuse prescription painkillers and depressants.

Signs of prescription drug abuse among teenagers include:

  • Physical changes such as slurred speech, pinpoint pupils, excessive sweating, and loss of appetite.
  • Personality changes such as mood swings, irritability, unusual amounts of energy or lethargy, or forgetfulness.
  • Missing pills from the medicine cabinet or finding unfamiliar medications or packaging in your child’s belongings.
  • A student who seems to be running out of medications too soon, requesting frequent refills, or claims to be losing pills.

If you suspect that your teenager may be abusing prescription drugs, talk to your teen and contact a medical professional. If you find unfamiliar medications, our iPharmacy app can help you identify unknown pills. Contact us for more information.

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