Using stimulants or amphetamines like Adderall or Ritalin has become commonplace for students. And they take these in their drive to succeed in high schools and colleges across the US. Prescribed by doctors for students with ADD/ADHD, these drugs often end up on the black market and abused by high school and college students. And stimulants have significantly different effects on those who do not have ADD/ADHD.
From 2006-2011, the non-medical use of “speed” or some other amphetamine (taking the drug without a prescription) rose 67% and emergency room visits went up 156%. Stimulants were used illegally more than any other prescription drug.
Promising student-athletes and scholars have died from overuse of these so-called “study aids” or “study drugs.” The illegal use of prescription stimulants is something many students see as an acceptable part of campus culture.
But it’s not just college students
Academic pressure to be accepted at a “good college” is so intense, many high school students are taking them. Often they are taking them before tests like the ACT and SAT. Even in cases where the child’s parents are not academically pushy, students are putting this pressure on themselves.
Could the abuse of this drug be driving the increase in suicides on college campuses across the US where suicide currently ranks as the #2 cause of death? Substance misuse is definitely a contributing factor to many suicides and I personally think this is one of the many reasons they have increased. Fortunately, I see more conversations and programs about the subject on campuses.
I’ve heard more than one story of a mom who has lost a child to suicide from withdrawal or abuse from this drug.
Recently, I was talking with a mom whose son died by suicide after he stopped taking this drug. He had previously been a very resilient child and the use of this drug killed that trait. After his death, she asked his 6 friends which of them had taken the drug for the SAT test. Five of them said they had and the sixth one said he would have but he couldn’t afford it.
It does not boost intelligence or performance
Emotional resilience is often destroyed, paranoia and even psychosis after long-term use are not uncommon. (a link to symptoms of stimulant abuse signs is below). Even young adults not previously diagnosed with depression or mental illness can suffer suicidal thoughts as a result of Adderall abuse.
It causes sleep disruption and serious cardiovascular side effects, such as high blood pressure and stroke. It also increases the risk for mental health problems, including depression, bipolar disorder, and unusual behaviors including aggressive or hostile behavior.
The normalization is so frightening. In fact, I heard recently of a young man given a stimulant by his boss to make an editing deadline which is, of course, is not just unethical but illegal and irresponsible.
For a long time, we’ve focused so much on heroin and other opiates, we are not hearing as much about this abuse. And there needs to be more education.
Stimulants, when you don’t have ADD or ADHD, are not harmless.
Have a conversation with your teen or young adult. And if you’ve noticed unusual behavior, have a frank conversation.