HOUSTON - Prescription stimulants are so dangerous that the Drug Enforcement Administration considers them just as addictive as cocaine and morphine. The drugs Adderall and Ritalin are supposed to be used for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Local 2 found that some students are using them to improve their academic performance.
"Joe" is now in medical school. He told Local 2 he was prescribed Ritalin for legitimate medical reasons as a child, but evolved to abusing it as a study drug.
"I took a whole 30-day prescription of Ritalin in six days. It got to the point where I would hallucinate. I saw shimmers and shines," he said.
The jolt of energy unleashed by one pill was so strong and so intense, the one-time National Merit Scholar was able to stay awake and race through his homework marathon with laser focus.
"I stayed up four days straight on Ritalin and tobacco and caffeine, trying to study for my exam. I studied 90 hours. It was to the point where I was sitting in math class or physics lab and I went to write my name and I wrote a chemical compound."
Students, particularly those in high school, are under tremendous pressure to get straight A's and outperform their classmates academically and on the athletic field. So, experts said, more and more are turning to prescription stimulants to meet the expectations society puts on them and the ones they put on themselves.
"They think, 'That is really the only way they can make the grade that I have to make.' There (are) no two choices about it," clinical psychologist and school counselor Dr. Jennifer Welch said.
Psychologists and counselors warn that while students who abuse these drugs might think they're invincible, they are actually heading down the dangerous road toward addiction and may ultimately put their health in jeopardy.
"Their heart rate can increase. They may develop high blood pressure. They are putting themselves at a very serious risk," Dr. Marylou Erbland said.
Erbland is the clinical director at the Center for Success & Independence in Houston.
The warning signs that a child may be struggling with too much pressure are similar to the symptoms for depression or anxiety. They may be irritable, having difficulty sleeping or isolate themselves.
Experts said parents can help their kids by redefining success.
"Empower kids to take risks, make choices to maybe fail sometimes, to fall down and learn to be resilient and work through that. Those are the skills that are going to serve them better than the shortcuts," said Welch.
"Joe," who is now in recovery for another type of addiction, said it's a lesson he had to learn the hard way.
"I just put myself through the physical and emotional ring for no reason," he said.
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