Adderall & ADHD Medication as Study Aids and Teens

Adderall & ADHD Medication as Study Aids and Teens - The deeper lesson.

For years teens and college students have been using medication intended for treating symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as study aides.  The medications tend to be stimulants that increase concentration and energy in people who do not have ADHD.  Teens use them to study all night long, cram, or to study for subjects that are boring to them.  Obviously teenagers self-administering stimulant medication is very concerning.  Without the supervision of a psychiatrist is it easy for teenagers to overdose. They may combine these drugs with other medications that may have dangerous consequences for them.  Teens have also been known to develop symptoms of depression because of this medication, something a psychiatrist should definitely be aware of.  Stimulant medication is also hard on the heart and an undiagnosed heart condition paired with reckless administration of stimulant medication can have deadly consequences.  Stimulant medication also carries the risk of addiction or dependence.   Apart from these medical and health related concerns there are other consequences. A 2012 article written by Kathleen McGrory of the Miami Herald covers the surge in demand for study drugs. 

Psychologically, teenagers who dabble with these ADHD medications are not learning to solve the problem of how to study for something boring in a healthy way.  They are finding their solution in a pill.  And that is a troubling precedent for someone with a perfectly functional brain.  They are learning that they can’t do it.  They can’t figure out how to make it happen without something from outside themselves.   I believe that these teenagers have vulnerability in their sense of agency.  A person’s sense of agency is that part of themselves that can work out how to solve a problem using their own mind.  It is a belief that even though something is boring or difficult or tedious you can do it.  These teenagers are learning not to trust the power of their own minds and if they don’t trust it they will never develop it.  These teenagers are afraid of a hard time, or a challenge because they may be terrified of failure.  A sense of entitlement that seems to constantly say “I shouldn’t have to go through hard times” can also get in the way of a teenager developing his or her mind.  No matter how you slice it, using medication without a doctor’s guidance is a terrible idea. 

But what’s the attraction?  Usually with teenagers this behavior has a quick fix fantasy appeal.  They have not been shown or they have not seen for whatever reason that working hard on something is worth the effort even beyond the positive effects at the end of a particular effort.  I love to say it like this:  The better you get at doing things you don’t like to do or don’t want to do, the easier life will be for you.  Learning to work hard and not take the easy quick fix is an enormously powerful skill that society values no matter what!  The reason society values it so much is that not a lot of people can work like this.  So if you can get there it gives you a huge advantage over others.  If teenagers can accept this as a personal and fundamental truth they won’t feel the need to take ADHD meds.  Of course, this realization takes maturity and time to develop as well as an honest reflection of your own weaknesses as a person.  This is why counseling can be so life changing for teenagers – it encourages exactly these healing and growth promoting tendencies.  

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By Miguel Brown