Opinion

Study drugs and your teen | Parent Talk

It has been hard to miss all the attention being given to the legalization of marijuana for adults—even in Super Bowl coverage. Many adults are understandably concerned about the increased availability of pot and its effect on our kids.

Less, however, is being said about a very real and alarming youth drug trend: the increased use of amphetamines.

Commonly known as meth, speed, Ecstasy or coke, amphetamines stimulate the central nervous system. For years, TV and movies have portrayed how young adults use these drugs to pull all-nighters before exams or to party all night long.

But did you know that growing numbers of children and teens are abusing legal amphetamines such as Adderall and Ritalin, used widely to treat attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?

Clients at YES say they are taking these drugs not necessarily to get high, but often simply to get through their day. And what a day it is! Consider a student who gets up at 5:00 in the morning to go to early sports practice, followed by a demanding day at school and a swim meet at a neighboring school. She crams in some studying in the car after her dad picks her up. She eats a late supper and then heads to her room to finish her term paper and study for a physics exam—all the while texting with several friends. It’s after midnight before she collapses into a restless sleep, because she’s thinking about her part-time job, youth symphony, church youth group and the family ski trip coming up. It’s no surprise that such a teen resorts to stimulants just to keep her head above water.

Staying up late by taking “study drugs” often begins with highly advertised—and ridiculously caffeinated—energy drinks like Red Bull or 5-Hour-Energy. When these readily available stimulants no longer make the grade, some youth step up to prescription drugs. At YES we repeatedly hear that our clients buy Adderall or Ritalin from their friends who have legitimate prescriptions (to manage ADD or ADHD). Some kids either don’t want to take their medication or would rather have the money. Simply put, school has become “the place” to score easy speed.

When a child takes another student’s prescription, the risk of overdose is high (obviously, there are no recommended dosages or pharmacist’s instructions). Unfortunately, kids assume that since the drugs are legal and their friends are supposed to take them every day, the pills won’t be harmful.

Another source of prescription stimulants may be in your own medicine cabinet. Teens have learned that antidepressants and Sudafed (or other cold medications including pseudoephedrine) can help with an all-nighter. I’ve suggested it before in this column, and I cannot stress enough, that you need to keep all prescription medicines in a locked cabinet or box whenever you have children in your home.

“I take what I need to stay awake” is something we often hear at YES. Many young people connect their substance use to the growing pressure to succeed. The expectations placed on youth these days are truly unprecedented. We encourage our kids from a young age to excel in school, sports, volunteer commitments and artistic endeavors. We sign them up for lots of enriching activities. We give our kids smartphones that put the world in their hands 24/7. We want their college applications to stand above the crowd so they can go to the school of their (or our) dreams.

It’s so important to take stock of your family’s schedule. Is the desire to expose our children to everything life has to offer compromising their healthy development and ability to cope? I encourage all parents to adopt three resolutions for the year to come:

Expect less. Involve your kids in an honest discussion about their schedules. Is there anything outside of schoolwork that doesn’t feel right for them? Is there something they want to give up to create more time in their week? Perhaps your son or daughter hasn’t known how to tell you this for fear of disappointing you. Ask open-ended questions to guide the discussion, and let them know you will support their choices. Also, don’t expect an immediate answer. It’s a good idea to plan a time to return to the topic after your kids have time to think further on their own.

Talk more. Share what you have learned about the use of “study drugs,” and be honest about your concerns regarding potential harm. Without suggesting that your son or daughter is using these drugs, ask what he or she would do if a friend was taking someone else’s prescription to stay awake. This is a great way to learn what they know about ways to get help. Ask what methods they use for staying well-rested while juggling the demands of life—and don’t be surprised if you learn something that might work for you, as well.

Lastly, please lock your medicine cabinet. No parent wants to look back and say, “If only …” Should you have concerns about your child’s substance use or ability to manage the stress associated with modern life, agencies like YES can provide an assessment and additional resources.

 

Patti Skelton-McGougan is Executive Director of Youth Eastside Services (YES). YES is a nonprofit organization and a leading provider of youth counseling and substance abuse services in the region. Since 1968, YES has been a lifeline for kids and families, offering treatment, education and prevention services to help youth become healthy, confident and self-reliant and families to be strong, supportive and loving.  While YES accepts insurance, Medicaid and offers a sliding scale, no one is turned away for inability to pay. For more information, visit www.YouthEastsideServices.org.

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