Working with teenagers, I often have parents who are concerned about their teenager using marijuana or alcohol. Besides the concern that their teenager may be using drugs or alcohol, they are concerned about their teenager becoming addicted. Besides marijuana and alcohol, parents are concerned about methamphetamines and heroin. Currently there is an epidemic of teenagers addicted to methamphetamine, heroin and opioids in the United States (CDC). While parents worry about opioids, methamphetamines and heroin addiction in teenagers, there is another drug parents need to be concerned about. Parents need to be concerned about the drugs children and teenagers take for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Methamphetamine is a very popular drug because it is easy to get and there are a number of ways to use it. Also many teenagers like the effect that they receive from methamphetamine. They get an adrenal rush and can stay up for days at times. Therefore, it makes it easier for them to get all their work done. Many teenagers are involved with numerous school activities, trying to maintain a good grade point average and want to spend time with their friends. They often find out that they don’t have enough energy to keep up with their schedule. The boost they receive from the methamphetamine helps them keep up and get everything done. However, buying methamphetamines can be a dangerous thing to do and if they are caught with methamphetamines, they are in a lot of trouble.
Many teenagers do not want to run the risk of being caught with or buying methamphetamines. Therefore, teenagers have found away around the risk, medications for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Most medications for ADHD such as Ritalin or Concerta are stimulant based. In other words, they contain a form of methamphetamine. Therefore, if a high school student who does not have ADHD takes Concerta, they experience the same effect as if they took methamphetamine such as cocaine. They get a burst of energy and can stay up all night so they can finish their work.
During finals, I hear many teenagers talk about taking Concerta or other ADHD drugs so they have the energy to study. Some teenagers will tell their parents they are having difficulties concentrating hoping their parents will take them to the physician so they can get a prescription for ADHD medication. On the other hand, teenagers who are suppose to be taking medication for ADHD often sell their medication. They can sell it very easily to friends at school and they can make good money too. Many of these teenagers feel they don’t need their medication so they are happy to sell it.
The buying and selling of ADHD medications on high school campuses is a daily occurrence. Most research studies indicate it starts in 8th grade and continues in high school. Many teenagers rely on ADHD medications to help them when they feel they are falling behind in school. Many teenagers see no problem using the ADHD medications because they were prescribed by a doctor. However, they were not prescribed to them. Therefore, the dosage they are taking may be too much for their body. Also I have seen teenagers combine these medications with energy drinks which have very large amounts of caffeine. I have had teenagers report they felt like their heart was going to come out of the chest because it was beating so fast. In addition, they also report not being able to sleep for days because they are wired.
This is a major danger when teenagers use ADHD medications to stay awake. They can become wired the same way as if they used cocaine or smoked methamphetamine. Also taking these ADHD medications opens the door to teenagers experimenting with such drugs as cocaine. They like the effect of the ADHD medication and wonder how other drugs may feel or may be they can no longer get the ADHD medication so they start experimenting. In fact, research indicates that teenagers who abuse ADHD medication are more likely to use methamphetamine or heroin.
In addition to opening the door to other drugs, they are risking their health and life. If they heart rate is racing and their blood pressure is rising they can induce a heart attack. Also parents may notice there is something wrong, but if they do not know their teenager has been taking ADHD medication, there is no way for a parent to tell a physician. Therefore, the teenager may not get the medical help they need. In addition to the physical symptoms, using too much methamphetamine can cause psychotic symptoms and the teenager may need to be hospitalized. The bottom line is just because the ADHD medication came from a pharmacy does not make it safe for everyone. I have included a link for parents which discusses the dangers and symptoms that parents need to be aware of regarding teenagers abusing ADHD medications https://drugabuse.com/library/adderall-abuse/#effects-of-adderall-abuse.
Hopefully, parents can take this information and discuss the situation with their teenagers. Encourage them that if they are feeling overwhelmed by school and life to talk to you not to turn to a drug. A drug will never solve the problem and more likely create more problems. Also let your teenager know all you expect is the best they can do naturally. You do not expect perfection.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating teenagers and children. He is a founding member of the National Advisory board for the Alive and Free program. For more information regarding Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice visit his website www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.