ADHD Medication and Illicit Drug Use
Teens often like to live on the edge, throwing caution to the wind, living in the moment. When teens have access to drugs, their recklessness usually grows even more. Many teens today have such access because of how common prescription drugs are. Physicians will often prescribe stimulant medications for individuals with ADHD, which is characterized by inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity. Stimulants, such as methylphenidate and amphetamines, when given in therapeutic doses increase the dopamine levels of the patient’s brain, improving attention and focus.
As with any drug, the danger is there to abuse ADHD medication, and many teens and adults do. An estimated 3.4 % of 12th graders used the ADHD medication, Ritalin, illegally in 2007. Many of these teens use the stimulants to enhance their performance in school or sports because the drugs can help keep them awake, and give them energy and focus. However, when abused, stimulants can increase the dopamine levels of the brain too much and the result is a high that can be addicting. When addicted to a substance, the user wants more and more, and usually will find other ways to get a better feeling of euphoria. Soon, the pill popping might not be enough, and the person will move to crushing and snorting or even injecting these ADHD pills. Once a person gets this far, they have a real drug problem. The medication is no longer going to be enhancing the person’s performance; rather, they are helplessly addicted to the amphetamine and can’t stop themselves even if they want to.
Now the question everyone is asking is this: are ADHD medications “gateway drugs” for more serious illicit drugs? Research is inconclusive in this area. There are those researchers that insist that kids with ADHD have no more tendencies to do illegal drugs as adults than the rest of the population. Others say that they have found a definite increase in these individuals growing up to do drugs later in life. However, if a child thinks that their prescribed medication can be passed around like candy to any friend that will pay for it, they most likely will not respect prescription (or any) drugs as an adult either.
Kids will be kids, and if the trend in a school is to sell ADHD medication, many kids are going to do it. But this trend is dangerous for many different reasons. First of all, teens all over the country have needed emergency medical attention because of the side effects of abusing these drugs. Increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, and even stroke are all risks when amphetamines are abused. Then there is the risk (whether proven or not) of addiction and illicit drug use in the future. Youth must be continuously educated about prescription drugs and how they are to be handled. We need to do more to help these kids understand the dangers of drug abuse, so this trend can stop.