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Pressure to Succeed is Making Our Kids Sick

Many teens report an inability to function without meds — no matter how they get them. What is going on?

School stress starts early these days.

Thanks to Common Core curriculum standards, “play” is no longer considered an adequate teaching tool. Kindergarten classrooms are also far more academically oriented than ever before. Kids are coming home with hours of homework every week — in elementary school. And high-stakes standardized exams cause unneeded angst.

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In some states like Florida, students in certain grades even face the prospect of being held back a grade if they fail the test. What happened to school being a place where teachers could foster a love of learning?

Student anxiety only gets worse as kids get older.

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“School is stressful because kids are expected to always be ‘on.’ They’ve got to focus for eight hours with few breaks. And in today’s world, with budget cuts in the arts programs, not many kids have built-in creative outlets,” said Jamison Monroe, founder and CEO of Newport Academy, a multi-faceted addiction and mental health treatment center geared specifically toward teenagers. Newport Academy is based in Newport Beach, California, and also has locations in Fairfield, Connecticut, and New York City.

“School has been branded as the way to better yourself — as a way to move up on the food chain, increase your income capability, trade your apartment for a house in the ‘burbs, to live a better life,” said Monroe.

He has seen firsthand how the pressure of school can affect the mental health of teenagers.

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“As a culture we are obsessed with being ‘better’ — better than our peers, better than our neighbors, better than the national average, better versions of ourselves,” he said. “This obsession has put more and more pressure on students to perform — not only academically, but to pad their resumes so full they don’t have any time to chill out.”

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While some can handle the stress, others can’t, Monroe said. And more teens are coping by abusing prescription medications, like those for ADHD, either legally or illegally.

Monroe shared more of his thoughts with LifeZette in an interview.

Question: Why are so many teens abusing prescriptions for ADD/ADHD medications?
Answer: Teens abuse prescriptions for ADHD medications for two reasons — to get an advantage in school, and to get high. We find teens use these prescriptions to pull all-nighters, to get through finals, and many other creative ways to cram in study time where sleep may be impeding. And then there are the kids that use it to get high. At our teen rehab facility, we have treated a number of kids who have been addicted to ADHD medications. Many of these prescriptions are simply amphetamine — meth — in a pill form.

Q: Why does there seem to be an increase in teens being diagnosed with ADHD?
A: The answer here is many, but two primary reasons are that stress, lack of sleep, and poor diet leads to attention deficits, and that ADHD medications are performance-enhancing drugs, even for kids who don’t have ADHD. Many kids claim they cannot keep up unless they have access to this advantage, so kids are literally begging to be diagnosed.

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Q: Why are doctors over-prescribing medication?
A: One of the biggest reasons for over-prescribing is a lack of proper testing for diagnosis. More and more kids are getting ADHD meds from their primary care physician and not from a psychiatrist, who is doing a thorough evaluation prior to prescribing.

“Some kids are literally begging to be diagnosed.”

Q: How does this prescription medication abuse affect a teen’s day-to-day life?
A: If a teen is caught up in prescription medication abuse or addiction, many report not being able to live their day-to-day life without their pills.

Q: What are the long-term effects of ADHD medication abuse?
A: The sad thing is that we don’t know what the long-term effects are yet. In talking with patients, we’ve heard reports of decreased ability to feel any joy without the medication, even after being off it for a year.

Related: The Drugs That Are Wrecking Our Kids

Q: What can parents do about ADHD medication abuse?
A: Prevention is key here. If you suspect your child may have ADHD, look into all of the environmental factors that may be causing attention issues — diet, lack of exercise, lack of time outdoors, structure of their day. Then look at tools that have been proven to improve attention levels, such as mindfulness and meditation.

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