Jennifer Christner, M.D., an adolescent medicine specialist at the University of Michigan Health System, says misuse of stimulants can lead to depression, irritability, stomachaches and headaches. Serious abuse of these drugs can lead to very dangerous side effects, including hypertension and stroke.
The performance pressures from end-of-semester exams and papers can take a toll on students, even leading them to turn to potentially harmful substances to keep them awake and alert.
Recent studies show that a growing number of high school and college students are turning to stimulants like ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) drugs and energy drinks to help them through their stress — particularly during exam time, says Jennifer Christner, M.D., an adolescent medicine specialist at the University of Michigan Health System.
“Studies have shown that anywhere from 5 to 35 percent of college students are misusing stimulants around stressful times with academics. There is also some evidence that high school students — anywhere from 8 to 10 percent — can misuse stimulants during these times,” she says.
Approximately 25 percent of high school and grade school children have been approached by friends to use their medication, Christner notes. This causes children to be more susceptible to misusing medications that are not prescribed to them, a decision that can be damaging to their health.
“It is never a good idea to use anyone else’s medication, whether it is a prescribed medication or over-the-counter,” she says. “Of course, if you have ADHD, then use your stimulant on a regular basis and not just when you really need it at crunch-time.”
The growing popularity of energy drinks can also be harmful to a child’s health, Christner adds.
“There is harm when someone is taking more than one or two of these drinks a day,” she says. “The caffeine can lead to jitteriness, anxiety, increased heart rate and the more serious side effects of high blood pressure, hyperthermia and stroke.”
While Christner notes that drinking one energy drink during a demanding time is usually acceptable, there are ways that a person can maintain energy levels and avoid stimulants altogether. To help ease academic anxiety, she recommends that students do their work steadily, as opposed to saving it all for the last minute. She also suggests keeping up with regular exercise, eating a balanced diet and getting proper rest.
Concerned parents can also take steps toward preventing their children from overusing stimulants, Christner says. Parents can role play with their children and ask them what they would say and do if they were offered medications from their friends. Parents can also be conscientious during the time of their college-aged children’s exams simply by calling and asking if their son or daughter is doing okay.
Christner also advises family members to look out depression, irritability and other warning signs of stimulant abuse.