Teens Who Misuse ADHD Drugs Most Likely to Start Between Ages of 16 and 19

The peak ages for starting to misuse prescription stimulants, such as drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), are between 16 and 19, a new study finds. The researchers say education programs should start in middle school to keep more young people from starting to misuse prescription stimulants.

Misusing these drugs can have risky side effects, such as dependency, hallucinations, suicide or sudden death, according to the University of Michigan Medical School researchers. They analyzed data from more than 240,000 teens and young adults. The findings are published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

They found each year between the ages of 16 and 19, just under 1 percent of teens start misusing using prescription stimulants, such as Ritalin or prescription diet drugs, MedicalXpress reports. Prescription diet pills were the most popular stimulant drug misused by females, while males preferred Adderall. At age 18, the rate of starting stimulant misuse was twice as high among females as among males.

“We need to have a realistic understanding of when young people are beginning to experiment with stimulants, so we can prevent them from misusing for the first time,” study author Elizabeth Austic, PhD, said in a news release.

Austic noted most education and prevention programs for stimulant misuse have been aimed at college students. “People have been thinking this is a college problem, but they just don’t realize how prevalent it is at younger ages,” she said.

Teens may misuse stimulants in an attempt to improve grades, to gain a sense of euphoria or to recover from hangovers, the article notes. They may perceive ADHD drugs as safe because they see friends and siblings take them daily under a doctor’s care. These medications have very different on the effects on the brains of people without ADHD, Austic said.

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