1 Education WORLD Published: June 9, 2012 In Their Own Words: Study Drugs At high schools around the nation, pressure over grades and competition for college admissions are encouraging students to abuse prescription stimulants. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times UPDATED WEDNESDAY, JUNE 13 A 16-year-old, determined to succeed on her own merits, who finally bends under the pressure. Students with legitimate prescriptions who are hounded for their pills. Young men and women whose use of stimulants spirals out of control. After inviting students to submit personal stories of the abuse of prescription drugs for academic advantage, The Times received almost 200 submissions. While a majority focused on the prevalence of these drugs on college campuses, many wrote about their increasing appearance in high schools, the focus of our article on Sunday. We have highlighted about 30 of the submissions below, almost all written by current high school students or recent graduates. In often vivid detail snorting their own pills, stealing pills from friends the students described an issue that they found upsetting, valuable, dangerous and, above all else, real. Most of them claimed that it was a problem rooted not in drugs per se, but with the pressure that compelled some youngsters to use them. Alan Schwarz
2 GIVING IN Female, 16, Minneapolis Something inside of me that sparked the drive to be independently successful died, and I swallowed the pills. I was always a smart student. I did my homework, paid attention in class, and generally had enough drive to earn A's in the classes I took. I didn't have any need to take Adderall, and when people offered it to me, I always declined, thinking I was self-driven enough to achieve success without the use of drugs. My closest friends, who were a little bit less motivated than I was, raved about Adderall. Even my brother, a freshman in college, told me to take it. I kept declining and declining, convincing myself that people like me didn't need Adderall to help them get by. It wasn't until one week, when my homework load was particularly heavy, I considered using it. A kid in one of my classes sold Adderall and always offered it to me at least twice a week. To his surprise, and to mine, when he asked me that Tuesday morning if I wanted to buy some, I actually said yes. I bought two 20 mg pills from him for $6. That night when I went home and stared at the pills. I don't know if it was the lack of self-motivation, the chronic fatigue of school, or the sleepdeprivation, or a combination of all three, but something inside of me that sparked the drive to be independently successful died, and I swallowed the pills. Much to my dismay, I discovered that Adderall was everything people made it to be and more. I found a complete surge of adrenaline and ecstasy flow through my brain as I tackled factoring, science notes, and a four-page paper all in one night. And when that night's homework was done, I did the next night's. I was on a role, and I couldn't stop. After that, I began to use Adderall whenever I had a lot of studying to do. I also used it to help me focus during exams. Adderall is popular in my school, where it's highly competitive. Everyone is competing against each other for scholarships and it definitely gives you an extra edge over students who don't take it. As much as I was initally against Adderall, I cannot deny the fact that it's completely effective.
3 MORNING COFFEE Female, 18, Sarasota, Fla. It's my morning cup of coffee, only nobody told me the insidious side effects. Adderall has been, on and off, a part of my life since sophomore year in high school. Currently, I am a rising sophomore at a top 20 university out of state, and the decision not to stay clean plagues me every time I take a pill in the morning. At first, I used it in the same way as many other students, to crank up study sessions or to meet a strict deadline. By junior year, it had progressed to something much more than that. I started taking Adderall every single morning, just to wake up, and to give me enough energy to last through the day. On those long, foggy days I'd forget to take it, my mind would be in sleep mode, dozing in class and drifting in thought. While I had no problem giving these "study pills" to friends, I'd always warn them of the side effects, the reliance, the memory problems that inevitably resulted, and the harsh mood swings that they often brought on. My warnings seemed about as hollow as their acknowledgments of them. I knew (and still know) that they do more harm than good, as my moods can change on a dime and my memory is worse and worse, but getting a decent grade on a test that others seem to effortlessly ace seems worth it. Adderall hasn't become a study drug to me, it's become a way of life. It's my morning cup of coffee, only nobody told me the insidious side effects. The standards of a top ranked school have that ability to cloud my judgement, and though I'm completely aware of it, I know there's not much I can do. Though I can feel my heart beating faster than normal when I take just half a pill, the thought that my habit could be ruining my body is only fleeting, and I return to my work, just like everyone else around me.
4 TOO MUCH PRESSURE Male, 20, Los Angeles The immense pressure put on students by parents and educators has made taking speed a socially acceptable thing. Let me say first off that I take full responsibility in choosing to take Adderall as a study drug. It definitely helped me get good grades during finals, but plenty of students get good grades without it, and I would understand if somebody in my classes felt cheated because I took it. That being said, the immense pressure put on students by parents and educators has made taking speed a socially acceptable thing. I come from a family that gets disappointed and chews me out for B's or even B+'s and A-'s. My whole life I've been told that, no matter how smart I am, the only way to be successful (see: acceptable) is through academic excellence. Now, would my parents be upset that I've taken study drugs? Probably, and that's just symptomatic of the problem. I'm sick of the expectation of a perfect kid. The parents and educators in this article who express shock at kids using study drugs ought to look in the mirror; they are equally responsible. College is harder to get into today than it was and it is much more stressful and difficult once you get in. Change your unrealistic expectations or take the My Kid is an Honor Student bumper sticker off your minivan.
5 $5 FOR AN A Female, 17, Chicago The crash was a minor side effect to me. I merely felt exhausted and a bit shaky. Well worth it, I would think. High school pressure is everything. And when you go to one of the top high schools in the Chicago suburbs, you'll do anything that you can to put yourself above the other 1200 students. As AP Classes started adding up my junior year, I seemed to have an immense amount of work and absolutely no time to do any of it. I had always heard about people taking Adderall to focus, study longer, stay awake. Essentially, to create the time that they needed. So, as the workload piled up, my search for Adderall began. Within twenty four hours I had five pills in my hand, costing me a mere five dollars. Five dollars for an A on an exam didn't seem as if it were any kind of price to pay at all. Once I got my first A from using a drug the night before, I continued using it. It was my crutch. It kept me awake, allowed me to study for eight hours, and improved my grades. The crash was a minor side effect to me. I merely felt exhausted and a bit shaky. Well worth it, I would think. Naturally, the five pills were gone sooner than you could say AP US History. So I searched for more. It wasn't long until I found someone else who could get me more. Only this time it was Vyvanse, which was twice as strong. Only this time the price tripled. $3 a pill. Still, incredibly worth it. The Vyvanse crash was worse, but not bad to deter me at all. Then one day, I found someone who gave out Concerta for free. And from that moment on, I was hooked. The benefits way out numbered any kind of negative that came along with it, or so I thought. I soon start to see the downfalls in my relationships. I'd be unreliable, nasty, and just a flat out horrible friend. It seemed as though everyone was disappointed in me. Once this fact was screamed at me by a very good friend, I tried to stop. My use drastically decreased, but it's still the miracle solution to a long night filled with readings and papers to write.
6 NO EXCUSES Male, 17, Cambridge, Mass. I knew how to say the right things to the psychologist to get the diagnosis. I take Adderall. Maybe I have A.D.D. Maybe I don't. I don't really know. I knew how to say the right things to the psychologist to get the diagnosis, and the pills that make my life much easier. I go to a challenging and competitive high school. I don't have a good excuse. They let you use what you have, nothing more, and nothing less. That is enough. You can use what you have for longer, and it works more effectively.
7 AN UNFAIR ADVANTAGE Female, 20, Dallas The thing that I found the most frustrating was that their use of study drugs actually worked and some were rewarded for it. My grade was small but competitive. Some people decided to deal with the pressure by taking unprescribed A.D.D. or A.D.H.D. medications something I didn t condone and frankly, viewed as cheating. They bought the drugs to give them the edge they needed, the final push to stay focused and finish their work, no matter what the circumstances. The thing that I found the most frustrating was that their use of study drugs actually worked and some were rewarded for it. One, in particular, became salutatorian of my class while I, a hard-working and driven individual, was disadvantaged. I m not saying that some of these students aren t actually smart, because I m sure they are. But it s more about the principle of it all. We took the same AP courses, participated in the same amount of extracurricular activities and spent the same amount of time studying for our SATs and ACTs. Therefore, is it fair that they got that extra help, while I didn t because I decided to stay honest? And the most messed-up thing of it all is that in many cases it stemmed from the pressure from their parents. One could argue that they cared more about the end result rather than the process. Apparently they were so blind to their child s actions that they continued to apply unrealistic expectations that were only attainable through extra-human focus and intensity, which was exactly what they got from taking these drugs. It s as if some of the parents just wanted their kids to be the best for bragging rights. I am forced to consider two consequences to this issue: what would it say about these super intense parents reputation if it got out that their child was taking unsubscribed A.D.D. or A.D.H.D. medications because of the pressures at home. And what does it say about a school environment when the students invent a whole new meaning of overachieving?
8 HARMLESS SOLUTION Female, 17, Akron, Ohio With so much stress, the once blasphemous tactic now seemed like an obvious, harmless solution to pass finals. My first experience with stimulants began at the end of junior year. With finals right around the corner and hours of extracurricular activities, I was worried about running out of time to study. I vented to a fellow classmate about how unprepared I was, who immediately offered me Focalin. At first, I completely shunned the idea- I remember how months earlier, my friend had used Vyvanse to take the ACT -I believed taking A.D.H.D. medication without a prescription provided an unfair advantage to users. I considered it cheating. But with so much stress, the once blasphemous tactic now seemed like an obvious, harmless solution to pass finals. The same week I got two pills from my classmate. I took the first one during school and had never been more focused in my life-i basically acquired tunnel vision. For the next several hours, nothing- not the couple making out in the hallway, the obnoxious, gum-smacking gossips, even my friends -could break my focus. The drug made me confident and alert, so I decided to use the remaining pill to study. I ended up doing well on my finals, but the wholesome satisfaction of hard work usually present wasn t there- in its place, shame. My previous philosophy regarding A.D.H.D. medication resurfaced-i knew I that I had cheated. But without the help of the drugs, my grades would have tanked. Sadly, this preceding idea overpowered my original mantra when I bought 30 more pills the following week. After that, I only used the pills sparingly- for large projects or standardized tests-but every time I used them, I felt incredibly guilty. Now, I no longer use take stimulants out of moral standards.