Some teens use ADHD meds to ‘cope’ with academic pressure

The light-green Prius idled in a parking lot behind a Bay Area high school as the driver, a cheerleader, executed some mental arithmetic uncommon to high school math classes.
After a minute of silence between buyer and seller, the cheerleader turned around, declared the price per 30 mg, accepted her payment, and handed over a plastic bag of 10 small orange pills to one of her peers, who was wearing pearls.
The illegal drug deal wasn’t for a recreational drug such as Ecstasy, but for Adderall — an amphetamine prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The cheerleader said, in a good month she can round up about $800 just by pawning her older brother’s prescription.
“I don’t sell any other pills,” she said, “but according to my friends who do, Adderall is like the easiest drug to sell to kids our age. Everyone is trying to get into Harvard or something.”
ADHD diagnostic rates have risen an average of 5.5 percent a year since 2007, according to the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Generic Adderall prescriptions swinging around local high schools has increased almost directionally proportional to the rising ADHD rates, making the drug much more prevalent than in previous years.
“It’s way too simple now, almost everyone I know has a hook for Adderall,” a senior at a San Francisco independent high school said.
The senior along with the other high school students interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity for concern of their college prospects, and the reputations of their schools as well as their own.
“It’s a pretty simple choice — risk your mom catching you and getting grounded for a weekend, or bump your SAT scores to Stanford levels,” a junior at a Marin County independent high school said. “It’s like you have to take Adderall to compete in school now — everyone’s a superstar.”
The feelings aren’t uncommon. The college admissions process is incredibly competitive, according to Betsy Klene, a private college counselor based in Palo Alto. Some students have become more than willing to do whatever it takes to compete.
“Adderall was really prevalent in college and now it’s trickled down to high school — partly, I think, because parents are nervous about the college admissions process and the competition may push their kids to the breaking point,” Klene said. “In my opinion, the kids who take Adderall don’t end up any better than the kids who don’t.”
Teenagers who are diagnosed with ADHD and use prescribed Adderall often have to deal with misinformation that their ADHD medication gives them a leg up in the competition.
“Adderall ‘levels the playing field,’it gives students with ADHD an equal opportunity to do well,” Annie Glenn-Schuster, the program coordinator of the Marin County chapter of Eye to Eye, an organization that advocates for children who experience learning differences including ADHD, said. “When students without ADHD abuse medication like Adderall to increase their ability to compete, it puts ADHD students at a serious disadvantage.”
Selective universities in the United States accept on average less than 12 percent of the applicant pool, often eliminating star contenders based on less than a thousandth difference in the decimals of their Grade Point Average, according to a senior at a San Francisco independent high school. Extremely ambitious high school students say that the chance of that elimination cannot exist.
“I play three varsity sports, I’ve already taken five Advanced Placement classes and I lead two student organizations on my school’s campus,” she said. “I can’t be less than perfect. If Adderall is the only way to achieve that, so be it.”
What many highly ambitious students may not know is Adderall is a narcotic just as addictive as cocaine and Heroin, according to the CDC. Abusers are likely to go through withdrawals if they suddenly stop taking the medication.
“I did Adderall for a while, but it made my eyes strain and my heart hurt,” another student at a Bay Area independent high school said, “I eventually had to go to the doctor for inconsistent heart [palpitations].”
Adderall abuse can cause changes in mood and on an extreme, depression and anger management problems just like any other stimulant according to a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin.
“It wasn’t until college that I really saw other people pressured to abuse Adderall,” Natalie Garnett (‘11) who attends the University of California, Berkeley said. “I was surrounded by such driven girls at CSH that they kept me motivated.

Rebecca Siegel

Design Editor

The light-green Prius idled in a parking lot behind a Bay Area high school as the driver, a cheerleader, executed some mental arithmetic uncommon to high school math classes.

After a minute of silence between buyer and seller, the cheerleader turned around, declared the price per 30 mg, accepted her payment, and handed over a plastic bag of 10 small orange pills to one of her peers, who was wearing pearls.

The illegal drug deal wasn’t for a recreational drug such as Ecstasy, but for Adderall — an amphetamine prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The cheerleader said, in a good month she can round up about $800 just by pawning her older brother’s prescription.

“I don’t sell any other pills,” she said, “but according to my friends who do, Adderall is like the easiest drug to sell to kids our age. Everyone is trying to get into Harvard or something.”

ADHD diagnostic rates have risen an average of 5.5 percent a year since 2007, according to the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Generic Adderall prescriptions swinging around local high schools has increased almost directionally proportional to the rising ADHD rates, making the drug much more prevalent than in previous years.

“It’s way too simple now, almost everyone I know has a hook for Adderall,” a senior at a San Francisco independent high school said.

The senior along with the other high school students interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity for concern of their college prospects, and the reputations of their schools as well as their own.

“It’s a pretty simple choice — risk your mom catching you and getting grounded for a weekend, or bump your SAT scores to Stanford levels,” a junior at a Marin County independent high school said. “It’s like you have to take Adderall to compete in school now — everyone’s a superstar.”

The feelings aren’t uncommon. The college admissions process is incredibly competitive, according to Betsy Klene, a private college counselor based in Palo Alto. Some students have become more than willing to do whatever it takes to compete.

“Adderall was really prevalent in college and now it’s trickled down to high school — partly, I think, because parents are nervous about the college admissions process and the competition may push their kids to the breaking point,” Klene said. “In my opinion, the kids who take Adderall don’t end up any better than the kids who don’t.”

Teenagers who are diagnosed with ADHD and use prescribed Adderall often have to deal with misinformation that their ADHD medication gives them a leg up in the competition.

“Adderall ‘levels the playing field,’it gives students with ADHD an equal opportunity to do well,” Annie Glenn-Schuster, the program coordinator of the Marin County chapter of Eye to Eye, an organization that advocates for children who experience learning differences including ADHD, said. “When students without ADHD abuse medication like Adderall to increase their ability to compete, it puts ADHD students at a serious disadvantage.”

Selective universities in the United States accept on average less than 12 percent of the applicant pool, often eliminating star contenders based on less than a thousandth difference in the decimals of their Grade Point Average, according to a senior at a San Francisco independent high school. Extremely ambitious high school students say that the chance of that elimination cannot exist.

“I play three varsity sports, I’ve already taken five Advanced Placement classes and I lead two student organizations on my school’s campus,” she said. “I can’t be less than perfect. If Adderall is the only way to achieve that, so be it.”

What many highly ambitious students may not know is Adderall is a narcotic just as addictive as cocaine and Heroin, according to the CDC. Abusers are likely to go through withdrawals if they suddenly stop taking the medication.

“I did Adderall for a while, but it made my eyes strain and my heart hurt,” another student at a Bay Area independent high school said, “I eventually had to go to the doctor for inconsistent heart [palpitations].”

Adderall abuse can cause changes in mood and on an extreme, depression and anger management problems just like any other stimulant according to a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin.

“It wasn’t until college that I really saw other people pressured to abuse Adderall,” Natalie Garnett (‘11) who attends the University of California, Berkeley said. “I was surrounded by such driven girls at CSH that they kept me motivated.”

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