Thinking About Stimulant Abuse
I’ve been thinking about how to comment on a recent The New York Times front page story , “Risky Rise of the Good Grad Pill.”
So many dynamic issues- health, mental health, family, school, expectation, brain development, legitimate and illegitimate pharmaceutical use, drug abuse- are woven through this piece it’s difficult to come at it in limited space and at a sharp angle.
In a nutshell, NYT reporter Alan Schwarz documents the pervasive use and abuse of stimulants (e.g Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta and others) by students looking for an edge in the competition for acceptance to highly competitive colleges.
Please read the article if you haven’t already.
And, let’s be blunt, this is an issue- not limited to- but more prevalent in the affluent world than say, in Mississippi, where I live.
NYT readers, and the subjects of Schwarz’s article, are the folks who can afford to take their kids to doctors for diagnosis and evaluation. Because of resources and health care access, we don’t see a lot attention deficit diagnoses or autism spectrum diagnoses in Mississippi. Adolescent stimulant abuse is simply more prevalent in the circles where you can afford the diagnosis and prescription.
But, my background and work are in the world of private schools and their affluent communities. So, here’s my .02.
First, part of me wants to correct one of Schwarz early assertions that the rise of stimulant abuse for academic success is a recent event and that this misuse, and abuse, of the drugs has trickled down from collegiate and graduate school levels. That’s just plain wrong. I saw Ritalin abuse in the very early nineteen eighties- maybe even in the late 1970′s. My memory is a little fuzzy on the first time I heard, or saw, someone without a known attention issue abuse Ritalin.
Back to the article. Schwarz does nice work exposing so much that is so wrong:
- Too many kids on stimulants.
- Not enough pre-presription screening by prescribing M.D.’s.
- Manipulation of prescribing doctors by adolescent patients. The kids learn the language of attention deficit diagnosis. Then, they work the Dr. for a diagnosis and script.
- Manipulation of parents by their children.
- Parents- where do I start- their unnecessary, and sometimes unreal, expectations for the kids. Their failure to supervise. The seeking to alleviate an issue by medication rather than structure or other means?
So, yes, attention stimulants are being abused.
Having read Schwarz’s piece- and, if you’re connected to adolescents via family, work, neighborhood, church, or social organization- you have to ask yourself what you might do and/or teach kids differently so that they don’t feel the need, or pressure, to abuse stimulants while chasing achievement?
What can adults do differently? What are the solutions? What do we change?
I’ve got a few simple starting points. Will they fix the world? No. Might they help on building healthy relationships? Yes.
- Change parental expectation. Parent expectation needs to be realistic and teach that being less than perfect is a fine way to go through life. In fact understanding and coming to terms with one’s limitations might, indeed, be healthier than depending on stimulants.
- Make sure that every kid knows that it’s perfectly fine, and OK, to be who they are. That means being good at some things and maybe not so good at others.
- Accept that not every child should, or needs, to go their parents dream college.
- Parent supervision and counsel needs to improve.
- Communicate better. This goes for any adult working the adolescent realm.
- Supervise the kids better. Set limits. Ask what going on. Watch. Listen.
- Confront kids and reign them in when something’s amiss.
- Demand honesty from yourself and your children.
Again, none of these are earth shattering, but all build, and rely, on healthy, honest interaction and the acceptance of one’s limitations. Reliance on stimulants simply prolongs the reckoning of personal growth in which we each come to terms with what we’re good at; what we’re not so good at; what we shouldn’t be when we grow-up and what we might should-be as we grow up.
Healthy living might be the best way to lasting achievement and fulfilling life.
The abuse of stimulants is short term conceit. The stimulant will fix me and get me what I want. If only it were that easy.