Abuse of ADHD Stimulants Most Likely to Start in High School

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Young people who abuse prescription stimulant drugs normally used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or for dieting are most likely to start doing so in high school, according to a new analysis.

Among the reasons for the misuse of these drugs in this population is to achieve a feeling of getting “high,” as well as the belief that taking them can improve academic performance.

Elizabeth Austic, PhD, of the University of Michigan Injury Center, analyzed data from surveys of more than 240,000 teens and young adults. The peak age for young people to begin abusing the drugs is between 16 and 19 years old, she reported in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Although education and prevention programs regarding stimulant abuse have been geared more toward the college-aged population, Austic noted that they should start as early as middle school. Her research showed that respondents aged 20 and 21 had the same rate of starting to use stimulants as those aged 13 and 14.

At age 18, the rate of starting stimulant misuse was twice as high in women as in men. Prescription diet pills were the most popular stimulant drug abused by women at this age, while Adderall (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine) was the most popular among males.

Also, white and Native American teens abused prescription stimulants more than all other racial and ethnic groups.

Prior research has indicated that about 25% of adolescents who have a prescription for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication either share or sell it.

Abuse of ADHD Stimulants Most Likely to Start in High School
Young people that abuse stimulants are more likely to be white or Native American.

Despite stereotypes about college students resorting to black-market Ritalin to help them cram for exams, young people are actually most likely to start misusing prescription stimulant drugs in their high school years, according to new University of Michigan Medical School research.

The peak ages for starting to use these drugs without a prescription — in order to get high or for other effects — are between 16 and 19 years.

That's according to a new analysis of national data from anonymous surveys of more than 240,000 teens and young adults, which will be published in the July issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

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