Are We Overlooking the Threat of Prescription Stimulant Abuse?

Prescription stimulant abuse isn’t making the headlines but that doesn’t mean that parents should dismiss it as a threat to their children, especially for specific age groups in specific parts of the country. Here’s the extent of this threat.

Imagine you’re going to collect 100 Americans at random from locations all over the U.S. In this group, two of these people are abusing prescription stimulants like Ritalin, Adderall, Desoxyn, Vyvanse, Strattera or Concerta. These are brand name products that contain the following substances:

  • Methylphenidate
  • Methamphetamine
  • Amphetamine
  • Dextroamphetamine
  • Lisdexamfetamine
  • Atomoxitine hcl
Adderall, Vyvanse and Ritalin.
Left to right: Adderall, Vyvanse and Ritalin.

Do you notice that four of these names include the basic drug name “amphetamine”? One of them (Desoxyn) is actually made from methamphetamine, a pharmaceutical form of the drug that’s made in illicit labs and sold on the street. When it’s made and sold illicitly, people are jailed for owning it.

Youth Suffer Increased Risk

Group of college students

Let’s take a look at the threat in another way. Let’s assume that you have two college-aged children and you include them in a group of 98 other college-aged youth. Among this group (aged 18 to 25), seven of them abused stimulants in the last year. Some of them may have done it once, some are doing it every day.

Now gather 100 American adults between the ages of 26 and 34. Three of this group (actually 3.4) have abused one or more of these drugs this year.

Why Would Someone Abuse these Drugs?

This type of drug is prescribed for weight loss, an uncontrollable urge to fall asleep (narcolepsy), and problems focusing on tasks or paying attention in school. They bypass the body’s own natural ability to generate physical and mental energy. Some of them have the reputation of enabling students to spend longer hours studying, writing papers or taking tests. Many high school, college and graduate school students are stressed by the competition for admission to good schools, scholarships or grades and see these drugs as a solution. These unnatural solutions can come at a high price, however.

What Damage Could They Do?

When people abuse prescription drugs, they take pills not prescribed for them, normally take more than the recommended dose and may take them in a manner a doctor would never recommend—such as snorting the pills or dissolving it and injecting them. Especially when misused in these ways, they are highly addictive and physically harmful.

What signs of harmful use might show up? Among others, these:

  • Panic attacks
  • Delusions
  • Inability to sleep
  • Stomach pains
  • Anxiety
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Impaired judgment
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Heart problems—serious enough to lead to death
  • Stroke

The final result can be an addiction requiring drug rehabilitation for the individual to break free.

Parents May Miss Stimulants When Talking about Drug Abuse

It’s not uncommon for parents to talk to their children about underage drinking or marijuana. Some of them even warn their children off abusing painkillers like hydrocodone or oxycodone. But unless parents have experienced the problems of someone close to them who harmed themselves by abusing prescription stimulants, they may not include this type of drug in their conversations. So their children may find themselves in competition with other students who are using these drugs to help them study or write papers through sleepless nights. And that may tempt them to get some of these pills for themselves with the idea that then they can compete for better grades and scholarships.

Dad talks walk with son and talks about life and drugs.

Do you think that two out of a group of 100 Americans misusing these drugs is nothing to worry about? It comes to more than five million Americans, total. And every year, more than one million Americans initiate abuse of these drugs. Please—make sure your children are not among them. Educate them on the thorough harm that can come from misusing a prescription stimulant.


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.