It is estimated that about a quarter of college students use Adderall or Ritalin as study aids in college. These and similar amphetamine based drugs are “cognitive enhancers.” About thirty minutes after a pill is taken, students find that they are better able to focus on their school work without tiring. Adderall and Ritalin are commonly shared by young people with an attention-deficit diagnosis (ADD or ADHD), given to friends who do not have easy access to these drugs. There is no question at all that the drugs do work as a study aid. The problem is that they work in part by stimulating the brain’s reward centers just like any other addictive substance, and this can lead to long-term abuse and associated health problems.
If you have a college/university student, or even a student in high school who wants to get into one of the elite colleges and is often burning the midnight oil to do so, have a frank conversation about “Addy” (the street name for Adderall) and other similar drugs. Here are some points that you might want to consider:
1. No Grade is Worth Risking Your Health. What are your and your child’s expectations with regard to grades? Are they reasonable? Are they healthy? If your child is stressed out, the root of that stress needs to be addressed. No grade is important enough to risk your long-term health over. Help young people learn perspective and balance.
2. Do Not Doctor Shop. Some young people will fake ADHD symptoms in order to gain access to prescription medications like Adderall and Ritalin. This is the exact behavior drug addicts use to score drugs they want access to. While your child’s drug use may not rise to the level of addiction, the habit of lying to his/her doctor to get drugs is a very dangerous precedent to set.
3. Talk About Real Consequences. Is there a family history of addiction? Is it possible your child might drive a car or engage in other activities while under the influence of Ritalin or Adderall? The centers of the brain that are responsible for impulse control and understanding the consequences of our actions are not fully developed in high school and college students. Help young people draw the real-life connections between their actions and potential consequences so that they can make clear decisions.
4. Choose Not to Judge. Parents, lots of teens and young adults use Ritalin and Adderall as study aids and don’t see anything wrong with it. If you begin your conversation with finger pointing and over-dramatize during the conversation, it is likely your child will tune you out. Instead of saying, “Thou shall not…,” why not recognize that while many people are making the choice to use these drugs, you hope that your child will choose a different path that promotes a healthier way of life.
5. Ease Up! A “B” is not the end of the world. In fact, it’s a pretty respectable grade. Instead of focusing on specific outcomes, encourage your child to do their very best. If they need tutoring or special help, seek that out. Most important, be a young person’s source of encouragement, not their source of fear and stress.