Why Top High School Students Abuse Prescription Drugs

Elite high school students across America face a lot of pressure to do well in school, to participate in numerous extracurricular activities, and to get into prestigious colleges that will prepare them for high-powered, lucrative careers. How do many of these students deal with the pressure and ensure their success? They take drugs.

The misuse and abuse of stimulant drugs like Adderall and Ritalin, commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children has become part of the culture at many elite high schools, and the trend isn’t just limited to the famous prep schools on the east coast. “We’re seeing it all across the United States,” said Drug Enforcement Agent (DEA) special agent Gary Boggs (NYT).

Students craving the focused energy and ability to go without sleep that these drugs provide often seek out other students known to have a prescription and buying pills off of them. Others fake the symptoms of ADHD to their parents and doctors in hopes of scoring a prescription of their own. The misuse of drugs like Ritalin and Adderall has become so prolific that the DEA lists them as Class 2 controlled substances, joining the list along with cocaine and morphine.

Side effects

Using these drugs without doctor approval and regulation can lead to a host of side effects, including “depression and mood swings (from sleep deprivation), heart irregularities and acute exhaustion or psychosis during withdrawal… Little is known about the long-term effects of abuse of stimulants among the young. Drug counselors say that for some teenagers, the pills eventually become an entry to the abuse of painkillers and sleep aids” (NYT).

How standardized tests fit in

Many students use stimulants to improve performance on high-stakes standardized tests like the ACT and SAT. Unlike other forms of cheating, drug use is difficult to detect and prove after a student has taken the test, allowing students using these drugs to earn valid scores through an unfair advantage.

This year, 10 students from Irvine University High School earned a perfect  score of 36 on the ACT. Because no one at the school has questioned any of the scores, they are all considered to be valid. But Irvine University High School is an elite high school that could very well be harboring an underground drug culture amongst its top students. This problem leads to questions about what students are putting themselves through, whether it be drug use, sleep deprivation, or intense stress, to earn these high scores.

Solving the problem

Clearly, the high-achieving students using these drugs aren’t typical drug abusers. They merely see drugs as a means to an end: better grades, better test scores, and admission to a better college. Parents, teachers, and school counselors should be on the look-out for signs that students are working themselves too hard or possibly using unethical methods to improve their grades. The cut-throat culture at some of these high schools has encouraged hypercompetitiveness. Now it’s time to back off and let students know that it’s okay not to be perfect.

Related Stories:

Is ADHD Fakery on the Rise?

Recess, Not Ritalin, Can Help Kids With ADHD

Kids With High IQs More Likely to Use Drugs?



Past Member
.1 years ago

I was getting bore since morning but as soon as I got this link & reached at this blog, I turned into fresh and also joyful too. v

Ken N.
Ken N.3 years ago

The real challenge for elite student lies in doing every work even without the usage of medicated drug. These are bringing real danger on their life, since without knowing its side effect its unnecessary to take on drug just for the sake of leading from every front. The parent also got their responsibility to keep an eye on these factors, so that they can also educate their kids on achieving heights through naturals ways.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

add, also, peer pressure and issues at home. That can truly be the determining factor.

Angela N.
Angela N4 years ago


Deborah F.
Deborah F4 years ago

I agree. I heard some college kids discussing their "need" for ritalin in order to get through an exam. I was shocked. Then I found out, it happens all the time on campus. Then, I was sad. Maybe I'm just getting old.

Arild Warud
Arild W4 years ago

It's a sad story if kids need to take drugs to succeed.

Christina B.
Christina B4 years ago

Public education in Greece has a lot of problems. At least, prescription drug use is not among them. Actually, attention deficit disorder is mostly unheard of here.

PS. Those are some serious allegations against Irvine University High School. With absolutely no proof, either. Maybe the author of this article should be more cautious before making any more accusations.

Georgia Armstrong
Georgia a4 years ago

These kids need to wise up and fast. EVERY DRUG HAS A SIDE EFFECT. Due to poor health, I have been placed on a lot of medications in recent years. Stupidly I followed the doctors' instructions until I learned the drugs' side effects were harming me. One blew my weight up to almost 300 pounds. Try living with that. Another began damaging my kidneys. Yet another one - and I kept telling the doctor this particular drug was making me "crazy" and he told me my body needed to "adjust" to it - caused me to have a psychotic break. I lost a whole week of my life, waking up in a hospital having no memory of how I got there. After that episode, I wised up and began to pay attention to what I was taking. I took myself off that particular drug, after that doctor apologized for not listening to me. Now I am more particular about what goes into my body, knowing any drug can turn on me. These kids have no idea what these drugs can and will do to them, including kill them. I'm healthier now, have lost the weight and feel much better without the slew of drugs being foisted upon me. I am quite fortunate I didn't end up brain damaged.

Steven J.
Steven J4 years ago

Yes, students should not have to be perfect, let alone more than perfect:


marc page
Marc P4 years ago

PARTENTS: Your kid does not have ADD or any other abbreviated diagnoses. The REAL problem is that your child goes to school for 7 hours a day and is taught to take a test. Creativity and free thinking is crushed like a bug when exhibited by your child. Your child is force to sit for 3 hours of boring dumbed down 'educational' materials until lunch. The he or she is given MAYBE 15 minutes to wolf down a meal that looks like something the cat coughed up - And is less nutritious. Your child then has to go sit down in class for another 3 hours of the same mind numbing crap. There is no recess. There is no Band class, no arts and crafts or anything else that exercise the ENTIRE brain. There is gym maybe twice a week if they are lucky. Throughout all of this, if your child asks too many questions, if they doodle and draw pictures made from the fabric of their fantasies, or if they fidget too much, or their mind wanders because it is unchallenged by this foolishness, or worse, if your child is actually smart enough to rebel against this "Education." They are labelled ADHD, ADD, XYZ, or blah blah blah. There is NOTHING wrong with your child other than he or she is smart enough to recognize stupidity and get tired of it.