Your Brain on Stimulants, Part 3: Misusing Prescription Stimulants—Myth vs. Fact

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Read part 1 of this series here; part 2 is here.

 What does it mean to misuse prescription stimulants?

  • Taking more of a stimulant than the doctor prescribed;
  • Taking it more frequently than prescribed;
  • Taking a stimulant that was prescribed for someone else, like a friend; or
  • Taking it if you don’t have ADHD.

Sometimes, people misuse prescription stimulants just to get high, or because they think the stimulants will help them lose weight, or boost their study performance. While prescription stimulants do promote wakefulness, studies have found they don’t enhance learning or thinking ability when taken by people who don’t have ADHD.

However, misusing prescription stimulants can lead to:

  • Sleep problems, depression, and paranoia;
  • Serious heart complications, including stroke (at high doses); and
  • Abnormally high levels of dopamine in the body. This produces the “high,” which increases the risk for misusing the drug again and, in some cases, becoming addicted.

The good news is that teens’ misuse of the stimulants Adderall and Ritalin has been decreasing in recent years. For example, about 6 percent of teens reported misusing Adderall last year, a slight decrease from 2015, and only about 1 percent report misusing Ritalin, down from a peak level of 5 percent in 2004.

You can keep this positive trend going. Avoid using prescription stimulants unless they’re prescribed for you, and spread the word about the risks in misusing them.

Learn the facts about prescription opioids.

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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