Along with several other types of medications, prescription stimulants have continued to cause an increasing number of problems around the country, especially for younger people. Not only are these drugs thought to be largely over-prescribed, but they are also heavily abused by high school and college students.
Research suggests that any short-term boosts in mental performance from taking “study drugs” were offset by long-term decrease in brain plasticity, needed for planning ahead, switching between tasks and being flexible in behavior. Researchers from the University of Delaware and Drexel University College of Medicine reviewed the latest research on medications like Ritalin and Adderall and their effects on the juvenile brain. According to their report, “smart drugs” are not always benign.
The study looked at a range of popular drugs including popular ADHD medication Methylphenidate (also known as Ritalin and Concerta), the narcolepsy drug Provigil, and alertness increasing drugs called ampakines. Since these drugs are widely used without a prescription, experts are especially concerned about the effects of the drugs when misused. Long-term side effects in young brains include decreased nerve activity in the brain as well as memory and complex learning abilities.
According to a survey conducted last year by The Partnership at Drugfree.org and Metlife Foundation, one in four teens has misused or abused a prescription (Rx) drug at least once in their lifetime – a 33% increase over the past five years. The results of the survey also revealed that one in eight teens, or 13%, have taken the stimulants Ritalin or Adderall when it was not prescribed for them, at least once in their lifetime.
Increasingly more people are being diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed these drugs, even adults. In a news release, lead researcher Kimberly Urban of the University of Delaware stated: “The human brain continues to develop until our late twenties or early thirties. Young people are especially prone to abuse smart drugs, but also more vulnerable to any side effects. We simply don’t know enough about the long-term effects of these drugs on the brain to conclude they are safe.”
Based on conclusion from recent research, it is clear that the scientists and the medical community need to carefully evaluate and research each new drug to gain a thorough understanding of every drug’s impact on the brains of its users. In addition, parents must be encouraged to know the potential dangers of any prescription drug available to their children since misuse of prescription drugs can potentially lead to problems later in life, not to mention addiction.