CHICAGO (CBS) — When you think of drug rehab, cocaine and heroin may come to mind, but some different drugs are sending an exploding number of kids into treatment.
We’re talking about drugs for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. They’re abused by students who don’t have ADHD, but want an academic, social or athletic edge.
As CBS 2’s Mary Kay Kleist reports, this craving can lead to life-threatening addictions.
Annie Gendaszek was introduced to ADHD medications when she was just 13 years old, by a friend with a prescription.
“I really liked the effect and how they made me feel. So I sought out my own prescriptions from doctors,” said Gendaszek.
At the height of it during college, Annie was taking 200 mg a day, up to five times a normal prescription dose. After years of abusing the medication, she knew she needed help.
“Significant weight loss, irritable moods. I started lying, being dishonest, stealing,” said Gendaszek.
An annual government drug use survey found that more than 12% of college students admit misusing Ritalin or Adderall.
Dr. Cecelia Horan is a clinical psychologist at Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital.
She said, “Kids are selling it. They’ll bring in their own medication, or their brother’s or their sister’s, or even a parent’s. Kids can get high on it, they feel almost super powerful, like they can pay better attention, they can think faster.”
Dr. Horan says some young people also use it to lose weight.
Other experts say teens take it to improve athletic performance. In combination with other drugs or to just fit in with the crowd.
Dr. Horan said, “It’s an incredibly addictive type of drug.”
But what about the kids who are taking these drugs for medical reasons? Why don’t they get addicted?
“If they’re on a low dose, it’s not addictive for a brain that needs that type of dopamine production,” said Dr. Horan.
She says the drugs could be extremely dangerous in high doses, like Annie was taking.
“You’re going to start to see respiratory arrest, possible stroke, heart disease. There would also be personality changes, paranoia, irritability. It’s really very similar to cocaine. Cocaine works on the same dopamine receptors in the brain,” Dr. Horan said.
Addiction centers are seeing an influx of patients hooked on the drugs. Through rehab, Annie got the help she needed. She’s about to celebrate four years of sobriety.
“It’s a really sad and lonely place to be. But there is hope, and there is a solution,” said Gendaszek.
Experts point out in addition to being harmful to your health and addictive, selling your ADHD medication, or even just giving it away to your friends is actually a felony offense, subject to serious penalties, including fines and jail time if convicted.