Teens Are Using Study Drugs Sooner Than You May Expect

How early are teens beginning to misuse stimulants, like Ritalin? These survey results may surprise you.


Even though drugs like Adderall and Ritalin are prescribed to people struggling with ADHD (or other behavioral disorders), they aren't always the only ones taking these pills. In reality, these stimulants oftentimes get into the wrong hands and double as "study drugs" for students hoping to improve their productivity. This kind of misuse is often associated with a college-aged crowd, but new research shows the peak age to abuse stimulant drugs is actually from 16-19 years old.

This study comes from the University of Michigan Health System, where they conducted a national anonymous survey of more than 240,000 teens and young adults. These results could mean that education about prescription drug abuse should start as early as middle school. As explained by the study's author Elizabeth Austic, Ph.D.,

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.

Essentially the researchers found that if a person is going to begin using stimulants, they are more likely to start in their late teen years. Another interesting aspect of the results? By age 18, young women were twice as likely than their male counterparts to start trying stimulants. However, this didn't always include study drugs — it was open to all prescription pills, such as diet pills, which were popular among females. Adderall was most popular among males.

Just because a drug is prescribed to someone by a doctor doesn't mean that it's safe for everyone to try it. Doctors put a lot of thought and consideration into the prescription process. Plus, misusing these drugs at a young age can have long-term consequences. Austic says,

The earlier people begin misusing drugs of any kind, the more likely they are to develop drug dependence problems. The fact that the peak ages for starting to misuse prescription stimulants are between 16 and 19 should be concerning to those who understand how drug dependence works.

By starting a conversation with teens early on, they're more likely to know the truth (and dangers) of stimulants, versus myths they may hear from their friends.

Share our "Debunking Myths About Study Drugs" blog post, along with our story "Good Teens Turned Drug Addicts." While the latter story is focused on other kinds of prescription drug abuse, it's worth a read.