Stimulant use among young people in the United States is rising. Many teens and young adults take prescription stimulants such as Adderall (dextroamphetamine-amphetamine) and Ritalin (methylphenidate), for conditions such as ADHD or narcolepsy. These drugs work on the central nervous system, including neurotransmitters involved in hyperactivity and impulse control.
Many users obtain stimulants without a prescription for recreational or illicit use. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies Adderall as a Schedule II drug due to its high risk for abuse.
Young people often use these so-called “study drugs” to stay awake and avoid sleeping. A new research letter, published in JAMA Pediatrics, reports an increase in stimulant use among adolescents and young adults aged 13-25 years old.
Risks and signs of stimulant misuse
Stimulants like Adderall carry a risk of dangerous side effects, from high blood pressure and muscle weakness to psychosis and fatal overdose. Individuals who misuse stimulants may show a variety of signs and symptoms. These include:
- Hyperactivity and/or twitching
- Excessive, rapid talking
- Strong desire to work, study, or engage in other activities of long periods of time
- Impatience, anxiety, or nervousness
- Frequent headaches
- Lack of appetite or otherwise unexplained weight loss
- Irregular heartbeat
- Mood swings
The increase in stimulant use also may accompany a rise in opioid overdoses. Seeking illegal sources of Adderall, teens and young adults may unknowingly purchase fake pills that contain fentanyl. According to the DEA, 40 percent of the pills the agency tests contain a lethal dose of fentanyl.
Certain behaviors are also accompanied by stimulant addiction and abuse, such as:
- Using drugs prescribed to someone else
- Taking a higher dosage than prescribed
- Injecting, snorting, or smoking stimulant pills
- Combining stimulants with alcohol or other drugs
- Taking the drugs for something other than their prescribed, legal use
- An intense craving for stimulants
- Inability to stop using the drugs, even if it causes harm to finances, career, or relationships
- Taking dangerous risks to obtain or use the drug
A study published in 2020 found a number of factors that correlated with the use of stimulants without a prescription or ADHD diagnosis among college students. These included lower parental education, attending private school, lack of depression or anxiety diagnoses, and use of marijuana and tobacco within the previous 30 days.
How clinicians can help address stimulant misuse
The appropriate treatment plan and support can help young people avoid illicit stimulants.
- Consider a variety of therapeutic options, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and family therapy.
- Encourage clients to gradually stop their stimulant use, rather than quitting them suddenly.
- Discuss healthier stress and time management techniques.
- Create a plan for healthy sleep habits.
- Partner with other health providers, such as primary care or pediatricians, and community members, such as high schools, to address stimulant misuse in young clients.
- Known signs and symptoms of ADHD misuse and ask appropriate screening questions for young clients.
As rates of stimulant misuse and other types of substance abuse rise, behavioral health providers should be prepared with the appropriate tools. BestNotes EHR software, designed for addiction treatment and other types of behavioral health services, supports intake assessment, medication management, telehealth, and other crucial parts of your organization. Contact us today to schedule your free demo!