Adderall: The Drug That Parents Want Their Kids to Use (Even If They Don’t Medically Need It)

Can a new report from the American Academy of Neurology stop our addiction to Adderall?

I never wanted my kids to do drugs. Except for one drug: Adderall. I was curious about its purported ability to improve a user’s focus and academic performance. Both my children did fine in high school without the drug. But like a lot of parents, I always wondered: What might they have accomplished if … Maybe they would have been their class valedictorians. Maybe they would have gotten into Harvard. Maybe they wouldn’t have watched so much crappy TV and played so many video games and would have been more like this kid in Ambler who just won $75,000 in a nationwide science contest.

I wasn’t curious enough to haul either my son or my daughter to the doctor and ask for a prescription for Adderall, which the Huffington Post has called “the most abused prescription drug in America.” But the New York Times devoted space last year to an Atlanta pediatrician, Michael Anderson, who advocates giving the drug to kids at low-performing schools, in a sort of cosmic evening-out of the odds against their success. Says Anderson, “We might not know the long-term effects, but we do know the short-term costs of school failure, which are real.” The Times story mentions a 12-year-old girl whose parents agreed to let the doctor prescribe the drug for her because she was, they said, “a little blah.”

The temptation to judge one’s child to be “a little blah” compared to, say, that $75,000 winner surely is tempting. Here in America, we’re drenched from birth in the belief that we can do anything we set out to accomplish, and that our children can, too. If only they weren’t so damned distracted by the unimportant things—Facebook and Twitter, World of Warcraft and YouTube, the way the cat’s fur looks in a ray of sunshine, the latest rumor about Kanye and Kim.

Our kids sense our anxiety; it’s surely why 25 percent of young people at some colleges say they use these “study drugs.” According to this NPR report, it’s the only class of drugs that saw an increase in abuse in 2012. If even parents want their kids to take Adderall, why shouldn’t they?

Well, for one thing, it’s addictive—an amphetamine in the same class of Schedule II narcotics as Oxydontin and morphine. For another, the American Academy of Neurology just came out loud and strong against the practice, stating that prescribing Adderall to kids who haven’t been diagnosed with ADHD is “not justifiable” and “inadvisable,” because of the plastic nature of their still-developing brains. Neurologists suggest that doctors talk to patients and parents about why they feel a need for such drugs, and steer them instead toward ways to deal with competition and anxiety that don’t include powerful drugs.

It’s nice to think the AAN’s message will make a difference. But given the choice between hard work and a magic study pill—well, temptation will likely continue to prove too strong.