A couple of decades ago, if a high school student had to pull an all-nighter to finish a paper, he or she might stop by a drug store and buy a box of NoDoz. These seemingly innocent caffeine pills in the little white box were viewed as an emergency product, to be used sparingly, and only in the most pressing situations.

The times have definitely changed.

Today, there’s a newer class of stimulants, and they can’t be purchased over the counter. However, that hasn’t stopped high school and college students across America–often at the most prestigious schools in the country–from obtaining them in droves. Welcome to the new world of amphetamine and stimulant abuse.

These amphetamine-based psychostimulants are very widely prescribed to young children and teenagers, mainly to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The most common are Ritalin and Adderall, but other drugs such as Vyvanse, Focalin and Concerta have also made their way into medicine cabinets across the United States. Unfortunately, they are also finding their way into the hands of otherwise healthy students who have ambitions of straight A’s and stratospheric SAT scores.

ADHD Medicine is Easily Obtained

For those with a legitimate diagnosis of ADHD, drugs like Ritalin can be essential to help them concentrate in traditional school environments. But many students who use the drug do not have ADHD; they have either obtained it illegally–usually from a friend at their school–or by faking the symptoms of ADHD to a psychiatrist. Because of the chemical properties of these ADHD drugs, this amounts to nothing more than popping speed and it can lead to teenage drug abuse.

Many teens may not intend to use the drug recreationally, but the outcome often results in teenage substance abuse nonetheless. Indeed, many users are straight-laced, high achieving kids who take ADHD drugs solely for their effect of producing long-term periods of concentration and alertness. Such mental and physical states are ideal for marathon test sessions and late-night paper writing, and users often dismiss the notion that they will become a teenage drug abuse statistic.

With the immense pressure for students to get into the nation’s top schools, many students have routinely turned to using these stimulants. The problem arises when use becomes abuse, creating a new and often ignored drug subculture. Amphetamines can be highly addictive, especially after long-term use, and can cause neurological damage to young, developing brains.

A recent New York Times article chronicled the increasing use of ADHD drugs and the largely under-reported cases of addiction which often result from long-term use. What emerged is a clear picture of a changing landscape where drug use is seen as not only acceptable but essential to achieve expectations in the pressure cooker world of higher education.

“It’s throughout all the private schools here”, claimed DeAnsin Parker, a New York City Psychologist whose clients regularly include teenagers from Manhattan’s elite high schools who are exhibiting signs of teenage drug abuse. “It’s not as if there is [only] one school where this is the culture. This is the culture.”

Recent studies have shown that up to a third of all college students have used ADHD medicine at least once, strictly for the reason of improving school performance. One high school student in the Washington, DC area used Adderall with such frequency that he went into convulsions after taking many times the usual prescribed dosage. He required a seven-month stay at a drug treatment center before he was safely rehabilitated.

People Become Desensitized to the Dangers of Taking Drugs

While some may justify pediatric neuroenhancement as a necessary evil to obtain stellar academic credentials, the truth is that the use of ADHD drugs can create very serious problems, including addiction. What’s worse, when a person gets into the habit of taking a pill to solve one problem, the jump to other prescription narcotics may occur with relative ease.

In other words, ADHD medicine is the new gateway drug.

“Sadly, the perception that these drugs are ‘prescribed’ often diminishes the fear that SHOULD precede taking these medications for the wrong reasons,” explains Lisa Colacurcio-Cohan of Cornerstone Recovery Center, a drug addiction treatment center in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

“Once you break the seal on using pills, or any of that stuff, it’s not scary anymore – especially when you’re getting A’s,” said one of the students from the Times article. Once he entered the world of stimulant abuse, it wasn’t long before he got his hands on the popular painkiller Percocet. He eventually descended down the road to heroin addiction.

Simply put, taking ADHD drugs without actually having that disorder can be very dangerous. Getting good grades isn’t worth the risk of teenage substance abuse. If you or someone you know is relying on prescription amphetamines for this purpose, call a drug treatment center right away to find out more about possible solutions.