The consumption of substances by youth during exam period

Is your teen stressed about up-coming end of the year exams? If so, stay vigilant. Like many others, your child could give in—and not without risk—to the appeal of various products that contain caffeine, psychostimulant substances, or natural ingredients in the hopes of heightening concentration and energy levels.

Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulating substance that heightens vigilance. It can currently be found in various forms in a number of consumer products. Its presence is sometimes clearly advertised and other times it is subtly hidden.

Prolonged overconsumption of caffeine can cause a syndrome called “caffeinism”, which produces symptoms that vary in intensity and severity, including insomnia, agitation, nervousness, anxiety, trembling, headaches, heart palpitations, gastroesophageal relux, and depression. The effects of caffeine and one’s tolerance to it depend on body weight and various individual factors.

Products containing caffeine

Coffee naturally contains caffeine. In small doses, it is a gentle stimulant that improves reflexes; in strong doses, its undesirable effects are usually outweigh its benefits.

Energy drinks are manufactured products that contain, above all, a high caffeine content (up to 10 times more than soft drinks) and sugar content (up to 9 teaspoons in one can of 250 ml). Other ingredients are also present, such as taurine (an amino acid) and guarana (a plant containing seeds that have the highest concentration of caffeine in the plant kingdom).

Energy drinks are inexpensive and easily accessible at the corner store or the grocery store. Because of their easy accessibility, they are considered to be "ordinary" by youth, who consume more and more of them. Yet, they are addictive and cause cravings which are accompanied by other undesirable effects such as headaches and fatigue. Additionally, the high sugar content in energy drinks promotes weight gain and tooth decay.

Psychostimulant products

Several drugs and prescription medications (including methylphenidate, better known under its commercial name—RitalinMD) and certain over-the-counter medications are among psychostimulant products. People who take them recreationally usually do so because they generate heightened vigilance and concentration, or a feeling of euphoria. However, these products cause a multitude of undesirable effects, including agitation and irritability. In high doses, more severe and serious effects are observed.

Patients who take a psychostimulant available by prescription, must first have received a medical diagnosis which justifies its use. In the case of methylphenidate, the diagnosis may consist of attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity (ADHD).

Natural products

Several natural products affect the brain, especially by producing a relaxing and calming effect or by fulfilling a potential dietary deficiency. Others are known for their capacity to heighten physical or cognitive abilities by increasing muscle mass or improving memory or concentration, for instance.

The desired effects of these products by users are usually less remarkable and sometimes appear in the longer term compared to the effects of manufactured products. Nonetheless, natural products are not necessarily without risk. In some circumstances, they can cause undesirable effects which are sometimes serious. In addition, efficacy claims for these products must always be supported by convincing scientific evidence. Always ask your pharmacist for advice before purchasing any natural health product.

How can you help your child to find other ways to overcome stress?

Choosing a healthy lifestyle usually helps to ease the stress that young people may feel. From this perspective, here are a few simple measures that you can recommend to your adolescent which will make him/her feel more alert during the more challenging weeks of the school year.

  • Go to bed early, approximately at the same time every night.
  • Avoid stimulating activities just before going to bed.
  • Eat healthy and at regular intervals.
  • Take the time to relax and have some fun.
  • Prepare methodically and a long time in advance for exams.

The consumption of medication by teens

Misuse of prescription or over-the-counter medication by teens is a growing phenomenon in North America. Furthermore, the consumption of medication for recreational purposes—among other things, to get high or to improve physical or cognitive performance—is observed in both young people and adults.

The decision to take medication or not must always be the result of a thorough assessment of its potential beneficial effects and of the risks associated with its administration. All too often, teens do not have access to adequate information to make an informed decision.

Keeping an eye open—for the right reasons!

If you are a parent and store medication at home, stay vigilant. Limit access to medication by storing it in a safe place. Bring back any medication that is not necessary or that has expired to the pharmacy. Clean out your medicine cabinet regularly.

You can speak to your teen about medication use to raise awareness about the risks related to it. Encourage discussion by asking open-ended questions.

Parents must also watch out for signs of changes in behaviour or abuse of energy-providing substances (or any other substances) in teens. If your teen presents symptoms that suggest he/she is taking any kind of substance, you must speak to him/her and intervene quickly to avoid the vicious cycle of addiction and the significant risks it can have on health.

Your pharmacist—a beacon to guide you

Remember that your pharmacist is there to help and advise you. Speaking to your pharmacist before taking any medication is always the best option at any age. No other healthcare professional is better suited to inform you about the effects of medications, their interactions, side effects, and the related risks of toxicity or addiction. Don't hesitate to speak to your pharmacist about any other products that can be used for recreational or non medical purposes, such as energy drinks or products that contain nicotine. Teach your teen that a pharmacist is an ally—this will help improve health and well-being!

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The consumption of substances by youth during exam period

Is your teen stressed about up-coming end of the year exams? If so, stay vigilant. Like many others, your child could give in—and not without risk—to the appeal of various products that contain caffeine, psychostimulant substances, or natural ingredients in the hopes of heightening concentration and energy levels.
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