Editor’s Note: The interview sources in this piece have asked to remain anonymous for fear of professional repercussions. In accordance with The Daily’s ethics policy (which can be found in full in our bylaws) the Managing Editor and Editor-in-Chief are aware of and have verified all of the sources’ identities. 

Content warning: Mentions of substance abuse

Becoming a university student means experiencing many ‘firsts,’ one of which being the first time you might try stimulants — caffeine, nicotine, cocaine, the list goes on. For me, Adderall arrived months too late, but it changed my life nonetheless.

Had I known the achievement-obsessed lion’s den I was walking into when I arrived in Ann Arbor my first time, I probably would have left that same night. It’s hard to see this environment when you’re sitting on the Diag, watching people bounce a basketball around, friends walking side by side, smiles on faces and block ‘M’s emblazoned on shirts.

What does it mean to be a Michigan Wolverine? How many tour groups have to walk by me before I get the sudden urge to let it all out, to scream in their face and warn them that Ann Arbor is brutal, that it’s eat or be eaten on a daily basis. During those hallowed ‘Campus Days,’ what they don’t tell you about being a Michigan Wolverine is the number of hours you’ll spend ruining your eyesight staring at a computer screen, nearly sobbing because you can’t figure out how to calculate an integral. To hear roommates screaming down the hall and witness strangers wiping away tears in the UGLi, afraid to admit defeat.

How many more nights can I handle looking up from my screen and seeing the sun rise in the distance? How many more eyes can I look into, drained of their color and plump, before I finally say something?

There is a communal suffering we all bear witness to, sometimes falling into the very trap ourselves, and yet this is something many of us refuse to talk about. It’s time we change that.


My story with my ADHD diagnosis began during my very first semester on campus. It was fall semester and COVID-19 was at its peak, reducing me to Zoom lectures that I couldn’t bear to attend and homework groups I couldn’t bother to meet with. I had all the time in the world it seemed, just like during quarantine, but something was different. 

My mind was persistently aware of the schoolwork slowly piling up, but I could do absolutely nothing to induce movement in my body to change anything about it. Sitting behind the worn down desks of South Quad dormitories made me feel queasy, a constant reminder of all the things I had promised to complete and never did. 

Then winter semester came around, and I was still wasting hours of my time working on Canvas discussion posts and applications to internships I knew I wouldn’t get, and still falling behind my peers. It was a rat race, and I was losing.

Eventually, I got my slice of heaven: I was diagnosed with ADHD my sophomore year of college, and I could finally silence my frenzied thoughts with a little pill each day. Then, as more and more people learned of my treatment plan, and I began to ask those around me what they think of stimulants like Adderall, I quickly realized that my medication was a valuable commodity — pharmaceutical gold to certain Michigan students.

When you’re a Wolverine, you’re either buying or selling, trading or spotting — like at any other American university, Adderall is a precious commodity in our collegiate climate. You hook friends up with people who know people, facilitate silent exchanges on Venmo with cryptic descriptions, an illegal trade we’ve almost normalized. But these are symptoms, not the cause, of the increasing dependence on stimulants among college students.

I set out to follow the breadcrumb trail, tracing the origins of the campus-wide Adderall abuse by seeking out students and asking them about their stories with this coveted little pill. In some sort of twisted way, I desperately sought a solution from the words of those affected most, the people who sit next to you in lecture as you both ignore each other’s despair — a silent recognition that needs to be vocalized. 

Everyone remembers their first time

Like most things, drugs often sneak into your life quietly and unexpectedly, but they leave a big impact. It’s not exactly a secret that college students are twice as likely to use stimulants than other non-students at their age, and that 5 to 35% of students have tried Adderall without a prescription, but numbers don’t always tell the entire story.

Data can illustrate trends and correlations, but it says nothing about the real motive behind campus-wide Adderall use. Sometimes, upholding the notion of ‘leaders and best’ pushes us to a breaking point, a point that can be remedied by a productivity pill. 

Here’s what my peers had to say about their first time with Adderall.

A sophomore majoring in philosophy in LSA, like many others, happened to stumble upon access to Adderall through pure luck. “I think I tried Adderall for the first time in my sophomore year of high school — a friend had it. And they’re like, ‘yo, you should try this. It’s crazy, it helps you focus and it makes you feel good.’ And I was like, ‘oh, sounds good.’ I’m like, it goes with the ADHD thing, but I’m very impulsive and have no willpower. So, if something’s in front of me, I’m gonna take it. … So that was it and I loved it.”

For those with ADHD, Adderall can give us a breath of fresh air, as the winding and persistent overlapping conversations in our minds die down to mere whispers.

An LSA sophomore majoring in sociology reflected on when they first became lovestruck by the pill’s effect. “I was 15 or 16. I bought it from my drug dealer who I used to (buy) these THC pills from. He kind of skipped out on me a couple times, he’s just so unreliable because that’s how drug dealers are. But he felt bad. And I think he just threw one (Adderall) in for free. … I took it and … I sat down and drew pictures, which is very strange for me, because I don’t like to focus. I don’t like to pay attention to one thing, but I did it. I spent two hours on it. And afterwards I really liked (Adderall).”  

A computer science student in the college of LSA reflected on their first couple of experiences with Adderall. “The first time I ever got Adderall, I bought it off a friend. It was actually Vyvanse, but same shit different name. The first time I took it was actually at the Union at 6 p.m. to do work, or it was to go to Necto. …That’s how I got it the first time, because someone offered to give it to me.” Like many students, this particular individual found Adderall by way of a friend who had it, rather than intently seeking it out themselves. Thus, an informal but meticulously-cultivated network of Adderall users and dealers begins to take form on campus.

Additionally, they mentioned the first time they took Adderall in conjunction with another drug, an extreme dose of caffeine. “There was a period of time where I was staying up every night for quite a while. That’s happened quite a bit in computer science. And one of my friends who has an Adderall prescription, she opened up one of the capsules of her Adderall and poured it into a Bang energy (drink). And I thought, this is a good idea and I need this right now. And so I drank it.”

According to fellow students, finding Adderall also seems to involve being at the right place at the right time.

The computer science student continued, and our conversation quickly turned to the cyclical nature of Adderall usage on campus: “Anytime I mentioned that I have (Adderall) someone will be like, yo, where’d you get that? Literally everyone, like if you say the word Adderall on this campus everyone goes like, where’d you get it from? Okay, you pay five? I pay 10. Where’d you get that bro?”

Successfully acquiring Adderall on campus is indeed a game of knowing people who know people.

It’s not a sin if you’re not a sinner.

How do we define the ends justifying the means? “Drug abuse is bad” is quite an archaic notion, almost too black and white for our generation. Researchers cherish categories and numbers and correlations, but I find them to be a detached approach to complex anthropological questions. Humans are smart, adaptable and first and foremost, curious. And curiosity, it seems, is a major factor of first-time Adderall use.

One such source reflected on how Adderall piqued their curiosity, stating “I just wanted to know what (Adderall) was like, because I feel like you can’t really have an opinion on it until you try it. … And then I was like, ‘oh my god, is this the way I’m supposed to feel?’ If I had more access to it, I would use it for day-to-day tasks, and I’d use it for going out. But (Adderall is) so rare that I have to ration it and be like, okay, I have one big paper, so it’s not really even that I can plan ahead (to grind out my work).”

So, scheduling the hours we spend doing schoolwork becomes a leveraging game, in which we must maximize the amount of work we get done in one day, thanks to one little pill. You write one whole paper in one single day because you have just one pill to help you out.

For many of my peers, Adderall usage was the magic key with which they could finally unlock what they thought they were ‘supposed’ to be feeling, during the time of life when we’re supposed to be the happiest and most carefree. Another source elaborated, “In fact, after I took Adderall or whatever, after I started taking stimulants, I was like, ‘wow, this is really good. It makes you really calm and productive and happy.’”

Several of the students I interviewed shared my experience in only realizing they had ADHD after coming to the University, and feeling the academic and social pressures increase tenfold.

One student reflected on the brutal process they had to endure to obtain an ADHD diagnosis: “I’ve always thought I had ADHD because people have mentioned it to me my whole life. … Then, I was so down bad at the end of first semester that I went home and did this f**king six hour long test (to get diagnosed with ADHD), which was abysmal, so I’ve spent the last f**king four months trying to get an Adderall prescription, and they’ll give me everything under the sun, give me every combination, try any drug that isn’t a stimulant. So yes, the answer is yes. I do think I have ADHD. In fact, I know I have ADHD.”

Some students have struggled to attain the help they need for treating their ADHD, as many mental health professionals will be automatically suspicious of your intentions, assuming you’re just another desperate college student in need of something that’ll boost school performance. When I sought pharmaceutical help from a psychiatrist, they were reluctant to put me on stimulants right away, despite Adderall being the gold standard of treatment for these conditions.

Curiosity and treatment for ADHD, however, does not seem to be the only cause of Adderall-seeking behavior for many Wolverines. Many people (justifiably) blame our obsession with academic performance on late-stage capitalism.

An LSA sophomore explains the nuances of what it means to take Adderall. “Actually, a lot of my friends have diagnosed ADHD and they all say they feel like I have worse ADHD than them. But I don’t know. My friend also has it and he’s diagnosed but he doesn’t really like (Adderall). Because the whole idea of needing Adderall, he thinks, is based on a productivity kind of — not to be this bitch — but capitalist mindset, you know what I mean? We’re saying that your brain is working wrong because it’s not productive enough.”

The more I talked with my peers the more I realized that perhaps attending this University is the gateway to an ADHD diagnosis, that our brains are held to inflated expectations in this environment.

Another source adds, “If I wasn’t here, I would not need (stimulants) to function, because there’s so much going on that no normal person would do. Maybe when I was a kid, (my ADHD) didn’t really affect me. But now we’re cogs in a machine, and doing so much shit that no human should do. I would be fine if you let me pick some berries and make some baskets. None of this would be a problem. No one would even know what ADHD is.”

Work hard … play hard?

I didn’t go to a particularly underperforming high school, but I think I got used to getting away with doing the bare minimum as a teenager for far too long. I became well-adjusted to doing my homework in the class period before it was due, skimming readings and finishing papers at the last minute. You can imagine my shock when I learned that a Michigan education can often require a 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. commitment. But, I wasn’t the only one who experienced such a drastic shift in expectation.

An undeclared LSA sophomore expanded on their experience with attending a school that had no grading system, and instead let teachers compose paragraphs about their students’ performance. “I went to a high school with no grades. So, coming to Michigan was kind of a weird culture shock. … Everyone sticks their personal worth on grades in a lot of ways and like, I don’t know, that really stressed me out. But especially when you’re trying to make friends in the first part, the only thing you know about basically everybody is that you’re going to Michigan. So you just talk about like, ‘ugh this class is stressing me out.’ And that feels like a constant conversation filler, which really upsets me.

For some, working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. can still mean falling behind.

Another source comments on the excruciating lengths they’ve been forced to take in order to fully complete all that was demanded of them. “There have been weeks where I’ve gotten under two hours of sleep for the entire week, and have been working consistently for 12 hours a day — and I still fall behind. I don’t know how they, especially in (Computer Science), pretend that it’s easy, and then just not say anything. Even caffeine, I definitely use caffeine more than I do Adderall, but I still do (use Adderall), because sometimes I physically need to keep myself up or else I can’t understand how one person is supposed to do all of this shit and get like, seven hours of sleep at night?”

The pressures to overexert oneself in regards to schoolwork are excruciatingly prominent, but when coupled with an equally demanding “play hard” mentality, everything on campus starts to seem blatantly unattainable.

The same source continues, “I think there is this constant notion like, everybody seems to be in 500 billion clubs and doing things with a billion friends. It seems like there’s no room for error. I did not have a great time during COVID and so I didn’t want to join stuff or do stuff. And, I just feel left behind by the (social campus) culture because I’m not in a frat, I’m not in clubs and I just do my own work.”

For others, intimidation can manifest indirectly as a result of observing their peers, which heightens the pressure nonetheless.

A sociology major explains how observing their friends’ lifestyles has managed to alter their outlook on the Michigan work culture as well. “I know that people love to post about even (their) bad academics. They’re like, ‘I’m up at 2 a.m., 3 a.m., 4 a.m. studying, where are you? What are you doing?’ And it’s like, this is the grind of a STEM student. I’m not a STEM student. I’m human. I don’t have any drive. I literally just f**k around. But, I know that a lot of math or science friends (who) do post about constantly being in that grind. … I guess it is a little, I don’t know if it’s competitive, but it’s scary. It’s intimidating to want to participate in things that are not just classes and friends, because there’s so much stuff that you can do at Michigan.”

Our self-worth and its consequences

There’s a nifty thing called the N-effect — it states that the more competitors there are, the less likely we are to compete. Investigated by Michigan’s own Professor Jessica Garcia at the Ross School of Business, researchers have found that average SAT results tend to be lower when the test-taking environment is more densely populated. 

With an undergraduate student body of almost 32,000 and some lectures reaching over 200 students in weeder and introductory courses, designed to “weed” out the weaker students while letting those who are “more capable” prevail, it’s almost expected that many U-M students will be impacted by the N-effect.

When you start to doubt the same intellect that got you here in the first place, many turn to a variety of stimulants to boost their cognitive and physical facilities. And Adderall is just one of many treatments for the pain of inadequacy and diminished performance.

One source speaks on how positive self-worth and satisfactory academic performance necessitated his Adderall use: “The only reason I want to turn in my work is so I don’t fail college and so my parents don’t know that I failed college. I have no motivation by myself to do this. … I think it’s the same thing with self-worth. It’s kind of more like, social self-worth, you know? I don’t want people to see me as just being this dumb, lazy individual. I want people to think of me highly.”

Over 80% of college students measure their self-worth by external validations such as GPA, successful completion of extracurriculars and parental satisfaction, and this can have dramatic consequences on mental health, making one more likely to abuse drugs (what a shocker) and fall into a cycle of depression and anxiety. But some students have found a way to successfully detach their grades from their identity.

Despite being a major in the stressful field of computer science, this sophomore denounces any connection between their school performance and self-worth. “I don’t put any of my self-worth on my grades. What I keep trying to remind myself is that this is just for my job. This is not for my life. I just want to live, I want to live comfortably and be able to eat, pay my bills, and I don’t know, not hate my life. I’m not working to get the best grades or be the most productive, have the best resume. It’s hard, though, when (your University career) becomes your entire life.”


Where do we go from here? What is the moral obligation to acknowledge these issues, to make it known that we have a problem, to admit that there is something to resolve on our campus, something that extends beyond the control of the student body?

Many of us suffer in silence, and some of us happen to experience these issues firsthand. But what’s not talked about, what they completely omit about being a Michigan student, is that the experience as a whole can change you completely —  for better or for worse.

I think many of us can attest to the notion that, when we leave, we are not the same individual we were when we arrived on campus. College is a foundational component of our fleeting youth, something that’ll remain even after the years have washed away our memories. How we treat ourselves now, how we look after our sleep and our diets, how often we do our laundry and make appointments and finish pressing assignments, they become something we intrinsically carry into adulthood. It determines how we respect ourselves and more importantly, how we love ourselves (or sometimes the lack thereof).

What does it mean to be a Michigan Wolverine? Are we defined by our perpetual drunk stumbles to Joe’s Pizza, our game day ragers and Adderall-fueled nights? No, there is an answer that lingers even after one has perused every college information website, beyond the SAT score graphs and the trends toward normalized drug abuse. 

There is an essence to the Michigan experience, an unspoken element of strife and competition that we perpetuate by not speaking on it. In our attempts to become leaders and best, we’ve wiped away an important, human element of our lives. By not confronting what is obvious, by hiding our struggles through quirky remarks about staying up late, we let a hidden disease manifest further. 

What it means to be a Michigan Wolverine is to be someone who perseveres, even in the face of an invisible but debilitating crisis, but that all means nothing if we don’t bother to mention our collective suffering. What it means to be a Michigan Wolverine is to know all of the things that Wolverines just don’t talk about.

Statement Columnist Valerija Malashevich can be reached at valerija@umich.edu.