Rx drug abuse in teens: what parents should know

Nearly 10 percent of U.S. children are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This puts the medications prescribed for this disorder in the hands of thousands of teens each year.

Parents need to be aware of this potential danger since many parents make the mistake of handing over the responsibility for daily dosing to teens at the age when they are most vulnerable. The effectiveness of these prescription drugs may be reduced by hormonal and other growth factors associated with teens. Teens and young adults also face major societal pressure to experiment with other drugs such as marijuana and alcohol to manage their symptoms.

Danger emerges for teens who mix their prescribed medication with other legal or illegal substances as well as when they chose to share, barter or sell their own legally obtained prescriptions with others to acquire other drugs.  The teen years are also typically a time when sports injuries and surgeries such as wisdom tooth extraction and dental/orthodontic procedures may place prescribed narcotics in the hands of teens. Again, parents need to monitor use of these substances carefully and not make assumptions about their teen’s ability to use as prescribed.

Drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall help with ADHD and similar disorders, including ADD, to focus and remain present in any given situation. However, just like any prescription drug, Ritalin and Adderall have side effects. They become even more dangerous when misused or mixed with other substances.

The concern with ADHD drugs is that while they benefit patients taking them as prescribed, they are being abused by teens and college-aged adults who use them to help with academic success.

Ritalin and Adderall aren’t illegal substances, but using them without a prescription is illegal. Reports and studies show attitudes in universities and even high schools are cavalier about sharing and abusing prescription drugs to get high grades. Because these forms of psychostimulants are accessible and effective in nature, they’ve become a way for young students to increase their focus, whatever the cost.



What are the side effects?

Common side effects of Ritalin and Adderall are explained to patients and their parents before starting the drugs, but abusing users often have no idea such effects are normal and expected. Side effects could include the following:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Increased heart rate
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth

While some of side effects may seem insignificant, they are more severe when the drugs are mixed with other substances, such as marijuana or alcohol. Then, symptoms could include the following:

  • Heart palpitations or irregularities
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Alcohol poisoning

A drug like Adderall is a stimulant, so it reduces the symptoms of being drunk that come from the depressant alcohol. As a result, people consuming both at the same time risk overdosing on one or the other, which could lead to a heart attack, a stroke or alcohol poisoning.

When used properly and as prescribed, both ADHD drugs can benefit patients in their daily lives. However, these drugs are controlled substances because both are habit-forming and can become addictive.

Ritalin has more immediate side effects than Adderall, but the latter is more addictive, in most cases. When comparing the side effects of Ritalin and Adderall, it’s easy to see neither drug reacts well with overuse or mixing with other substances.

If you have a child with ADD or ADHD who has been prescribed one of these medications, talk to your doctor about possible side effects, and how to ensure your child uses the drug correctly.

What can parents do to prevent abuse of these drugs?

Stay up-to-date on your child’s medications, and be aware of how often they refill them. Discuss with your medical provider what you can do to recognize symptoms of overuse, and emphasize to your child the importance of not sharing the drug with peers or anyone at any time.

Note your child’s behavior and general health, especially if they seem highly irritable and are not sleeping or eating well. If you suspect your child is misusing or sharing prescription medication, confront her or him about it.

For more tips on communicating with your teen or loved one about drug abuse, visit dacco.org, and consider talking with a licensed addiction recovery professional.

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