The Rise of Adderall in a Country Hooked on Grades | Teen Ink

The Rise of Adderall in a Country Hooked on Grades

March 18, 2013
By CFPrince SILVER, Washington, District Of Columbia
CFPrince SILVER, Washington, District Of Columbia
5 articles 0 photos 0 comments

The ever-increasing competitiveness of high school and college life has so perverted the teenage psyche that we don’t simply use drugs recreationally anymore—we use them academically. The incentive to use a “study drug” is simple: the regular, unfocused you is temporarily transformed into an academic juggernaut with seemingly no repercussions. And best of all, the drug is ridiculously easy to obtain—a prescription is hardly an obstacle when we all know at least one person on the medication (it’s the second most common prescription for students). The lackadaisical pothead of the 80’s bears little resemblance to today’s paradigmatic high school druggy: the hyper-achieving, insomniac student who may not have ADHD but sure as hell wants that PHD. But what is really going on inside an Adderall-ridden brain? Are the highs worth the lows? Is it cheapening not only our idea of academia, but our entire outlook on life?

The use of stimulants as “neuroenhancers” first infected popular culture during the Beat Generation of the 1960’s. In essence, this group of writers heralded unbridled literature written while the author was incredibly high on something, particularly Benzedrine, a potent amphetamine. The defining work of the Beat Generation is On the Road, a novel Jack Kerouac managed to write in three weeks with the aid of Benzedrine; Allen Ginsburg references the drug in his poem Howl, writing, “(Beatniks) chained themselves to subways for the endless ride from Battery to the holy Bronx on Benzedrine.” It was only within the last decade that amphetamines stopped being a supplement to pleasure-seekers and became mental steroids for the academically burdened.

Adderall, and other amphetamines like it, has a profound effect on brain chemistry, so the person you are now is a stranger to your Adderall-self. The primary effect of the drug is a dramatic increase in the release of dopamine between synapses in the brain. Dopamine is widely know as the neurotransmitter that generates pleasure, but the neuron that produces it also plays a role in determining which thoughts we actively process. This is because of the strong nervous link between the dopamine reward pathway and the prefrontal lobe cortex, the part of the brain that controls attention and our active memory. Adderall plays on this link by inundating the brain with dopamine, thereby causing the task at hand to be greatly rewarding, so we can focus on it without any distracting thoughts. Furthermore, Adderall takes advantage of the division of our brain, by which I refer to the theory that the left side of our brain favors logical, Apollonian thinking, while the right side harbors our Dionysian creativity. The right side is infinitely important the human experience, but it does produce the alpha waves that are our distracting thoughts (or, occasionally, insights). Drugs like Adderall suppress the right side while galvanizing the left side and our prefrontal cortex. Consequently, one becomes less creative and less likely to experience insight, but more focused and more likely to make new connections between ideas residing in the prefrontal lobe cortex. As Jonathan Lehrer stated in his book Imagine, “We might miss the forest, but we see each tree.”

But even if you don’t care about your creativity, or the neurotransmitters that regulate your emotions, there are many more perils in the use of Adderall. Oliver Sacks, a prominent English neurologist, stated, “I think that amphetamines are the most dangerous drugs physiologically because they will shoot up the pulse and blood pressure. . .” Indeed, Adderall is a potentially additive drug that can cause heart palpations, irritability, depression, extreme fatigue, and even psychosis (as seen in Requiem for a Dream). Adderall is a Schedule II class drug, meaning that selling it is a criminal offense punishable with jail time.

The timely film Limitless can be interpreted as an allegory to our society’s predicament with “study drugs”: the main character Eddie is a languishing writer who discovers success through the mind-enhancing drug NZT; however, his reliance on the drug delves him into pathos. Of course, this film ends happily, but consider the the real-life story of Vanderbilt student Kyle Craig. Although Craig maintained a respectable 3.5 GPA, he felt a visceral inferiority with respect to his higher-achieving peers. Consequently, during Craig’s sophomore year, he feigned ADHD, and his steady use of Adderall soon gave way to an insatiable appetite as the drug became a near life force. Craig’s beginnings of psychosis culminated in May just after his junior year ended when he jumped in front of an oncoming train. One can see that the human psyche stung-out on Adderall fails to see the joy of living and instead plunges the user into a cycle of self-loathing and inadequacy.

The CDC estimates that 1-in-5 students have abused Adderall. Even more disconcerting is an informal poll of 21 juniors at my school: 57% would condone the use of Adderall as a study drug and 43% would use it. Educationalist Sir Ken Robinson cites increasing ADHD rates as reason for educational reform, saying our current system “Kills creativity,” and he has a point. In a school system where right and wrong are black and white, where grading scales are as rigid as the desks, there is little room for the passive daydreamer, the philosopher, or the right side of the brain; can we blame a student for taking a drug to think a certain way when he/she is being taught to think a certain way?—is Adderall the conventional school system in pill form? In my opinion, “study drugs” can only take root in a shallow academic environment where grades are more important than learning, where the quantity of work done supersedes the quality of work. It appears as though schools can veer towards disparaging students’ for their deficiencies rather than building upon their talents, so much so that students are compelled to take amphetamines just to stay afloat.

Take Sir Robinson’s example of the Gillian Lynn. Lynn was suspected of having a learning disorder after receiving poor marks in school. In consultancy with specialist, Lynn was not put on medication, but instead the doctor recommended that she transfer to a dance school. Lynn went on to become one of the most successful theatre choreographers in history. If reform is needed, it must come from within, reminding students that they are not defined by their report card and attacking notions that their college choice dictates their future—our whole definition of success needs tweaking. Or, as Timeflies put it in 2011’s “Adderall and Red Bull”, “Get up off those study drugs, get up off your couch and do something that you really love.”

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