ADHD Drug Abuse in High School Students


ADHD Drug Abuse in High School Students

In this article, I’ll discuss ways to spot ADHD drug abuse and illegal use of stimulants in high school students as we near the end of school.

It almost always happens in the first week of May each year, but for some reason occurred earlier in April this year. Sometimes, it’s the student that shows up in my office-usually asking for Adderall-because they didn’t realize they had all the symptoms of ADHD until just a couple of days ago. At other times, it’s a parent who requests the drug, because their child’s concentration has suddenly gone south for some unexplained reason.

All of these parents and high school students have the same thing in common-bad grades, poor test scores and failing marks in class. They suddenly either want to be treated for ADHD or want their high school student treated for ADHD, because of failing grades or they won’t go to the next grade or won’t get their diploma and graduate.

Whatever the reason, most have memorized the signs and symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and can recite them just like they are reading them out of a book. In other words, they are faking it all-just to get the drugs!

It’s true that illegal use of ADHD drugs-particularly Adderall-has increased among college student as they have discovered they can use them to better study and cram to improve test scores at the end of each semester. As a result of this knowledge spreading, more and more high school students are buying, borrowing or illegally obtaining ADHD stimulants for the same reasons.

ADHD stimulants help students study by: allowing them to stay awake for days at a time to study more and making them hyper-alert increasing their ability to concentrate and focus. ADHD drugs do so by stimulating the parts of their brains that improve concentration, memory, and wakefulness and decrease impulsivity and easy distractibility.

These are the very same things that happen in the brain of an ADHD student when he or she is taking ADHD medications. It’s just that in the students that really aren’t ADHD and don’t need the medications, we often see many side-effects or tell-tale signs they are using illegally obtained ADHD stimulants.

You should suspect your high school student is abusing ADHD drugs or other stimulants if you notice:

  • Sudden changes in their behavior-either better or worse
  • They don’t sleep for days at a time or stay up very long hours to study, but don’t appear tired
  • Their appetite decreases for no reason-they eat little and drink little-and start to lose weight
  • They complain of unexplained headache, stomachache, racing heart, skipped heartbeats,  being hot for no reason or problems with their vision
  • They appear fidgety or nervous
  • Suspicious behaviors such as hiding things or losing important documents or medications
  • They become paranoid.

The biggest problems in taking ADHD drugs for short periods, when they really aren’t needed, lies in the potential for addiction and withdrawal from suddenly stopping the drug.  I’ve seen students experience withdrawal vomiting, confusion and seizures after taking borrowed or bought off the street amphetamine salts for only three weeks. These can all be potentially life threatening and could of course lead to permanent physical harm or death.

The illegal use of ADHD medications by children and teens who are not ADHD is just one more of the more than 75 things that can act like ADHD causing confusion and misdiagnosis of ADHD. It’s the time of the year we should be on the alert for the illegal use of ADHD to improve study and grades in high school students.

Frank Barnhill, MD


Here are a few previous posts you might want to take a look at:

College Student ADHD Drug Abuse a Serious Problem

College Students Misuse ADHD Drugs to Improve Grades

ADHD Drugs and the College Student


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