Sarah Skaluba: How far will we go?

By Sarah Skaluba, Senior Editorial Page Editor
Published April 18, 2013

"Anyone selling Addy? I have a 10-page term paper due tomorrow and it’s not going to write itself.”

Similar conversations run rampant throughout the libraries at Michigan. Taking Adderall to crank out a paper or cram for finals is commonplace, especially at a university that necessitates high academic achievement. We strive to be academically competitive, though it comes at a cost — literally and figuratively.

Adderall, the popular drug to address effects of Attention Deficit Disorder and abused by countless students across the nation, is a schedule II controlled substance, just like cocaine. Therefore, it’s not only extremely addictive, but boasts a long list of dangerous side effects ranging from hallucinations to paranoia. However, undergraduate and graduate students alike continue to pop Adderall like it’s the best thing since coffee — though let’s keep in mind that coffee is completely legal and doesn’t warrant a prescription.

As college students, we have a tendency to abuse our bodies. We chug coffee and energy drinks during the week, head to the bars on the weekends and sleep when time allows — which is more or less never. And now adding to this destructive mix of caffeine, alcohol, sleep deprivation and stress are study drugs — Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse, the works. These prescription drugs are being used by students without prescriptions to gain a competitive academic edge.

Like Lance Armstrong and his steroids, we now have college students and their study drugs. Whether pulling an all-nighter, cranking out a 15-pager or cramming for finals, Adderall is viewed by many as a quick fix — a necessary supplement to being a successful student in such a competitive environment.

Allison, a University student who regularly takes Adderall before heading to the library, gave me her own perspective on the study drug situation on campus. She explains, “It puts me in the zone … I can pull out a 10-page paper in one night.”

The immediate effects are worth it she says: “At the moment, you feel great, like everything is falling into place, that you are being so productive.”

But she’s also quick to admit the destructive and very real consequences of using such a powerful drug.

“Finals last year, I was taking 70 milligrams of Vyvanse every day … I became so anxious, had so much anxiety, and basically had a breakdown by the end. You don’t sleep; you don’t eat.”

But even with the anxiety and insomnia associated with such drugs, students continue to use them. They’re easy enough to get a hold of on campus, though not all students are willing to drop the $3 to $6 per pop, which is the price range of a pill.

The concept of study drugs does raise an ethical question. Does using these stimulants to achieve academic success give some students an unfair advantage over others? Or do the harsh side effects counteract any positive consequences associated with their use?

For example, is it fair that while I’m silently chugging my fourth cup of coffee at the library ready to claw my eyes out, my peers are popping Adderall next to me? I don’t believe I have the answer to this question, but I can tell you this: Americans as a whole are quick to turn to prescription drugs. As a society we seek the quick fix, regardless of how dangerous the side effects may be.

Rather than exploring other means of treatment such as therapy or rehabilitation, Americans turn to medication. We’re living in a pill nation, as NBC’s Today Show has so cleverly coined the United States. And the statistics are staggering — as a nation, we’re taking more prescription drugs than ever before — painkillers, anti-depressants, sleep aids, you name it.

Maybe it’s just part of the achievement- and success-driven culture we live in. At every level of society, this competitive tendency is evident, whether as a student at the University or a professional on Wall Street. We aim not only to achieve what’s expected of us, but to excel and push ourselves to our breaking points.

The millennial generation prides itself on working and playing hard. And though this can definitely be a positive attribute, at times we need to reconsider just how far we’re willing to go to achieve the super-human goals we set for ourselves. Academic success is important, yes, but in the end, our health and wellbeing is even more valuable.

Sarah Skaluba can be reached at sskaluba@umich.edu.