Study Drugs Run Rampant and Wreak Havoc at Colleges and Graduate Schools
Posted Nov 10 2012 8:49pm
By Valerie Harris
Feeling fearless in the face of obstacles is one of the main reasons young people are attracted to illegal stimulants. Today’s piece acknowledges these cognitive “advantages” but focuses more heavily on the risks, particularly for those hoping for fruitful college, grad school, and career experiences.
Writer Valerie Harris zeroes in on the potentially devastating effects of Adderall abuse, and looks at ways students can find similar gratification elsewhere.
Over the past decade, abuse of “study drugs” such as Adderall has increased rapidly among students on many college campuses.
Alan DeSantis, a professor and researcher at the University of Kentucky, recently found that 30% of students at his university have illegally used a stimulant like Adderall or Ritalin.
Furthermore, half of all juniors had taken similar drugs and 80% of upperclassmen in fraternities and sororities.
Though Adderall is undoubtedly effective in improving the ability for focus and concentration in most users, its continued use can lead to adverse effects that are counterproductive towards students working towards successful academic careers and professional lives.
While many students assume ADHD drugs are harmless due to how freely they are often prescribed by doctors, their side effects can in fact be numerous and, at times, very dangerous. Minor side effects include anxiety and transient depression, while more serious effects can include heart palpitations, elevation of blood pressure, Tourette’s syndrome, seizures, stroke and psychotic episodes.
Overdosing on Adderall can be particularly devastating, and can lead to cardiac or pulmonary arrest, severe and lasting mental defects or even death.
Even if students are aware of the many potential side effects of Adderall, it is easy to underestimate the drug’s addictive properties. Adderall is an amphetamine, and as such, the federal government lists it as a schedule II drug. This means that it has “the highest abuse potential and dependence profile of all drugs that have medical utility.”
There are also legal consequences: as a schedule II drug, illicit use or sales of Adderall are treated the same as methamphetamine or cocaine. As awareness of abuse grows, jail time and fines are likely to only become harsher.
Though many students have come to rely on Adderall use to remain engaged in studying for exams or large essays or projects, statistics show that the majority of Adderall users are rarely the highest achieving students.
On average, the GPA of Adderall users in college is below 3.0, and while the drug most likely proves beneficial in the short term, many of these students are probably procrastinating the learning of valuable study techniques that negate the need for chemical enhancements.
Grohol asserts that students can’t “force” themselves to be in the right mindset, but that “researchers have found that how you approach something matters almost as much as what you do. Being the in the right mindset is important in order to study smarter.”
One suggestion Grohol makes is to study in a place that is conducive to concentrating. Libraries, study halls or quiet coffee houses are often effective locales, but he warns not to pick one that is “good enough” for one’s needs, but that is instead “an ideal study place.”
Much of Grohol’s advice can simply be pared down to “avoid distractions,” a difficult task in modern society, especially for many college students. Avoiding computer use, or bringing anything other than essential tools needed to accomplish a task can be cumbersome, creating new distractions and at perhaps even exacerbating any anxieties.
Students who use study drugs often challenge popular stereotypes of “drug abusers.” Many are ambitious students looking to take any competitive edge in order to achieve in their academic life and beyond. Yet, only by living a healthy, balanced life and learning the discipline necessary to excel in challenging coursework will these students ever really be prepared for success in their careers.
While study drugs can simulate the feeling of engagement with one’s work, a balanced life and genuine interest in learning can be far more effective in leading to long term achievement in one’s endeavors.
Valerie Harris is a freelance writer and researcher from the Pacific Northwest who loves to read the Economist, ride her bike and lament about her future choice in graduate schools. She hopes to someday earn her PhD in research methodology.
Gifted, talented and pathologized: Mood Disorders, Misdiagnosis and Medication — Gogo Lidz said her psychiatrist plied her “with a small galaxy of ADD drugs: Metadate, Dextrostat, Dexedrine Spansules, Adderall, Adderall XR, and Strattera… The stimulants turned me into a tweaked-out whiz kid. It was as if I had been nearsighted and now had X-ray vision. Adderall XR was my drug of choice. It turbocharged my brain during the school day, but when I got home, I crashed hard. Sometimes I’d lie in bed for hours and sob.”
The Seduction of Cognitive Enhancement — “My Adderall helps me think so much clearer.” [From an ADD forum.] — Steven Zeitchik says in his article about the movie “Limitless” that “down-on-his-luck New York writer Eddie (Bradley Cooper)” takes a magic potion – a “miracle street narcotic in the form of a translucent pill, NZT that enhances mental performance beyond any reasonable expectation. (Yes, it’s fictional.)”
As film reviewer Roger Ebert notes, “it is a pill that suddenly puts his entire brain online. He finishes his novel at typing speed. He wins at poker, invests in the market, and runs it up to millions. He fascinates a woman who had rejected him as a loser.”
Who wouldn’t want that? It’s easy to be lured by the promises of a smart pill or cognitive enhancer that could help us not only think more clearly and access more memory, but feel good about ourselves and be tireless and endlessly confident.