As high school and college students prepare for exams, they face increasing pressure to succeed and often resort to over-the-counter medications in hopes of getting a passing grade. The abuse of prescription drugs is becoming more prevalent. Health professionals warn students and parents, hoping they realize the harm it can do to their health. Parents, meanwhile, may need to be more aware of changes in their children's behavior and possible abuse of prescription drugs, as well as illicit drugs. In addition, it is a good idea that parents start to emphasize effort over performance when children are young so that the desire for perfection and “by-any-means-necessary” competition is minimized and hard work is emphasized.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, prescription medications were the most abused drug by high school students, behind marijuana. Illicit drug use by 10th graders during their lifetime was up from 35.6% in 2007 to 37.0% in 2010, and 46.8% in 2007 to 48.2% in 2010.
Students may use Adderall and Ritalin because of the stimulant content. Adderall contains Dextroamphetamine, and Ritalin consists of methylphenidate. Although these drugs are used for the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, students use it for “performance enhancement” when cramming the night before the test in the hopes of passing their exams.
Today’s students are under more pressure than ever to succeed in the classroom and have to do better than their peers to achieve that success. Whereas students use marijuana and alcohol to relax, they often use stimulants as a way to gain that competitive edge. We live in a world today where success is celebrated and “win at all costs” is the prevailing attitude. Because they don’t want to be a failure, students may be tempted to push themselves to succeed and use “performance-enhancing” drugs to reach their goal.
Taking high doses of a stimulant can cause an irregular heartbeat, dangerously high body temperatures and possible heart failure or seizures. If a parent suspects their child is using drugs, they should look for the following signs: unusual changes in behavior or personal appearance; avoiding eye contact; disappearance of prescription or over-the-counter pills; radical changes in weight; frequent sickness; depression; headaches; and constant sweating.
When a student stops taking a stimulant, NIDA says, they may show symptoms of withdrawal such as anhedonia (the inability to experience pleasure), suicidal thoughts, feelings of anxiety and irritability, fatigue, lack of energy, changes in sleep patterns and intense drug cravings.
There is a misconception that abusing prescription drugs is less harmful than using marijuana or cocaine. That is not the case. Like taking illicit drugs, abusing prescription drugs can cause serious health problems in the long term. For the most part, students know that these drugs may be accessible in their own home (or in the home of a friend), so parents must be aware of what is in their medicine cabinet; that way, if anything goes missing, they will know immediately.
Sometimes parents may unknowingly, and with good intentions, push their children to succeed, which can be overwhelming. Further, some parents may feel pressure to put their children in “just the right school or enrichment activity.” However, the goal is to find the “best fit” for your child, not necessarily the “best school.” Parents can model for their children by setting realistic goals; realistic goal setting is the key in such situations. Further, the emphasis should be placed on effort in school, in that what matters most is that each child does their best.