Study Finds Stimulant Abuse Often Starts In High School, Not College

By McCarton Ackerman 06/08/15

High school students have been found abusing drugs like Adderall and not just for recreation.

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Although prescription stimulant abuse is most commonly associated with all-night study sessions among college students, a new study has found that this abuse is most likely to begin in high school.

The findings, set to be published in next month’s issue of the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, came from researchers at the University of Michigan Injury Center. Led by Elizabeth Austic, Ph.D., the scientists analyzed data from surveys of more than 240,000 teens and young adults.

Austic noted the the peak age for illegally using prescription stimulants was between 16 and 19 years, with the drug abuse occurring as early as middle school in some cases. The respondents aged 20 and 21 had the same rate of beginning to use stimulants as those aged 13 and 14.

Stimulant misuse was also far more prominent among women, with the rates being twice as high among them compared to men. Women most commonly used prescription diet pills, while Adderall was the most popular substance among men. Both genders cited improved academic performance and the feeling of getting high as the most common reasons for using these stimulants.

The research also showed that there was a racial component to prescription stimulant abuse. White and Native American teens abused these drugs more than all other racial and ethnic groups.

In May 2014, a poll presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies’ annual meeting showed that nearly 20% of college students had misused ADHD drugs. Those polled said it was purely for academic performance and that they didn’t either use the stimulants recreationally or have a prescription for it themselves. Perhaps surprisingly, one-third of them believed stimulant use was not a form of cheating.

Because this abuse was often done in conjunction with other drugs, emergency room visits for stimulant use have doubled. Ironically, the subsequent addiction to these drugs led to decreased academic performance.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.