Lesson: Prescription Stimulants

First published 2011. To view the latest Heads Up content, click here.

Use the lesson and student worksheet below to reinforce comprehension of the student article “Prescription Stimulants.”

Dear Teacher:

The final installment of this year’s Heads Up series focuses on prescription stimulants and why abusing them is dangerous.

When taken as prescribed by a doctor, prescription stimulants can safely and effectively treat disorders such as ADHD, improving the lives of millions of kids (and adults). But teens are also abusing these drugs. For example, Adderall® is one of the drugs most frequently abused by high school seniors, with 6.5 percent of them reporting nonmedical use in the past year.

By sharing this article with your students, you will help them to learn how these medications work, and why it is dangerous for them to take these drugs to get high, lose weight, or stay awake to study. 

I encourage you to use the article and the exercises to help your students understand the dangers of prescription drug abuse.


Nora D. Volkow, M.D.
Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse


In This Installment:

  • Student article: Facts about prescription stimulants, how they can safely treat ADHD, and why abusing them is dangerous 
  • Student worksheet: A quiz to reinforce key facts and concepts presented in the student article 


Lesson Plan and Worksheet

Overview: The lesson below and the reproducible worksheet on the reverse side reinforce student comprehension of key facts and concepts in the article “Prescription Stimulants.”

Alignment With National Standards

• Science (NSES): Life Science: Structure and Function in Living Systems; Science in Personal and Social Perspectives: Personal and Community Health
• Life Skills (McREL): Self-Regulation; Thinking and Reasoning


Student Article

Before-Reading Questions:

  • You may have ADHD, know someone with ADHD, or have learned about it in the news. What does ADHD stand for? What do you know about ADHD?
  • What do you know about prescription stimulants such as Adderall® or Concerta®? What are some of the ways in which stimulants are used?

After-Reading Questions (factual responses in italics):

  • How do prescription stimulants help to treat symptoms of ADHD? (They have a calming effect that helps people with ADHD focus; doctors prescribe a dosage that is sufficient to decrease ADHD symptoms.)
  • Why can abusing prescription stimulants be just as dangerous as abusing an illicit drug like cocaine? (Both prescription stimulants and cocaine increase levels of dopamine in the brain. However, when prescription stimulants are taken in high doses, or in ways that get the drug to the brain quickly (e.g., snorting, smoking, or injecting), they can produce abnormally high levels of dopamine in the brain, resulting in intense feelings of euphoria. This increases the risk of repeated use and also addiction.)

Critical Thinking:

  • Behavioral therapies can help treat people with prescription stimulant addiction. Considering this and other facts in the article, what do you think the center illustration in the article represents? Why do you think the artist included a single leaf on the tree on the abuse side?
  • Imagine your friend is taking prescription stimulants to lose weight or because he or she believes it helps with studying. What are some facts you might share with your friend to explain why this behavior is risky?


Student Worksheet

Use the quiz to reinforce comprehension of facts about prescription stimulants in the student article. Answers: 1. A; 2. A; 3. B; 4. E; 5. C; 6. C; 7. B; 8. A; 9. D; 10. D

Click here to download and print a copy of the Student Worksheet (PDF)

Click here for the Student Worksheet online (HTML)


Poster Activity
Have students create a poster that shows facts about prescription stimulants and the health risks associated with abusing them. The poster should include a headline, images, and facts from the student article or additional independent research. Have students present their posters to the class.

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