Late night cram sessions at the library are an all too common, yet too true, stereotype of a typical college lifestyle. All-nighters have become normal nights, and the drive to succeed has overcome many people’s lives. The twenty first century is more fast paced, technologically advanced, and competitive than ever before, which is why it makes sense that the new drug of choice for college students is not one used for recreation but one used to “get ahead.” The pressure college students face on a daily basis is what influenced the increase in the non-prescription consumption of the drug, but not everyone is on board with this new drug of choice.
The off label Adderall use is in direct relationship to the fast paced and technically advanced social changes that are occurring while they are studying at university. An article from the New Yorker states
"Neuroenhancers are perfectly suited for the anxiety of white-collar competition in a floundering economy. And they have a synergistic relationship with our multiplying digital technologies: the more gadgets we own, the more distracted we become, and the more we need help in order to focus."
Moreover, college acceptance rates are getting lower and the student body that is getting accepted gets more and more competitive each year; and the institution continually reminds the students of that. Workloads are getting heavier, but students are still asked to get good grades, participate in clubs and organizations to build their résumé, look for internships that can lead them to a potential job straight out of college, and to do all this on top of maintaining a social life. According to University of Michigan’s Substance Abuse Research Center
"…white male undergraduates at highly competitive schools are the most frequent collegiate users of neuroenhancers. Users are also most likely to belong to a fraternity or a sorority, and have a GPA of 3.0 or lower. They are ten times as likely to report that they have smoked marijuana in the past year, and twenty times as likely to say that they have used cocaine. In other words they are decent students where, to be a great student, you have to give up a lot more partying than they’re willing to give up."
These statistics describe the participants of this subculture; students who are smart enough and dedicated enough to get into the rigorous schools, but those who like to participate in the social world that college has to offer them. The use of recreational drugs is not to say that Adderall is a gate way drug, but to describe the behaviors that those in the culture participate in in order to explain more thoroughly why they would need Adderall. The hangovers and long nights out without a doubt effect their school work and Adderall is their quick fix in order to focus and get work done efficiently. Essentially Adderall users don’t want to be the best at their school, but the best that they can be within their current lifestyles (The New Yorker).
How the drug is administrated also influences the viewpoint that college students have on their practice. The fact that they are taking the pill as it is prescribed to those suffering from ADHD, taking it orally for help with concentration on school work, allows them to justify their off label use of the drug as “good” and not something “bad” that people on the street would do. It is widely believed in the subculture that they are using the drug for the right reasons, to stay focused and excel in school. Students don’t see any harm in taking a drug not proscribed to them in order to stay up five extra hours in order to finish a paper.The rigorous colleges that many of those participating in the subculture attend are a breeding ground for the competitiveness that influences it, so many people see Adderall use as a trendy way to keep up with their studies.
Those who are not using do not share the same viewpoints that the users of Adderall rave about. According to the New Yorker
"At many colleges, students have begun calling the off-label use of neuroenhancers a form of cheating. Writing last year in the Cavalier Daily, the student newspaper of the University of Virginia, a columnist named Greg Crapanzano argued that neuroenhancers ‘create an unfair advantage for the users who are willing to break the law in order to gain an edge. These students create work that is dependent on the use of a pill rather than their own work ethic.’"
This is the common complaint that comes from full time college students that are not participating in the Adderall culture. They are worried about being at a disadvantage because they don’t want to break the law in order to get their work done, and this growing anxiety is motivating them to fight against the use of Adderall in an attempt to get it recognized as a form of cheating on an institutional level. Those within the subculture argue that the use of Adderall is not cheating because they still had to come up with the thoughts that went into their essay or that they used to solve a challenging physics problem, Adderall only allowed them to focus their thoughts.
More opposition towards the subculture come from those who worry about the dangers of such frequent non-prescribed Adderall use. Those in the subculture view the drug as completely harmless, likely due to the fact that many of them have grown up with people who were diagnosed with ADHD and have been taking the drug their entire life. However, even Keith Connors, a man who fought to legitimize ADHD in the medical world, is worried about the incredible scale that Adderall is being given out. At a conference in Washington he stated that the rising rates of diagnosis and use is “a national disaster of dangerous proportions” and stated that “this is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels” (The New York Times). This is likely due to the fact that Adderall is a schedule II drug. What many users are stating is a harmless drug that they won’t become addicted to is actually classified as a drug that has “a high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence” (MedShadow). The fears about the side effects of Adderall are not a direct response to the college subculture as one may think, however. This worry and even disgust with the rate that the medication has been given out is more focused on the pharmaceutical companies for advertising the drug incorrectly. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has cited Adderall for false and misleading advertising since year 2000. Their ads that Adderall is essentially “safer than aspirin,” when in reality abuse can lead to depression and anxiety, has no doubt been a factor in the widespread use of the amphetamine on college campuses. Reports of this somewhat “fad” of using Adderall to get through tough weeks of college and the medical knowledge that Adderall can have serious side effects and be a dangerous drug has caused more medical professionals to get involved with educating the public about the real dangers that this popular practice could be having on the new futures of America.
Colleges are even joining the fight to stop the spread of the use and trade of the amphetamine on their campuses. The recent non-stop media attention surrounding the off label use of the drug has encouraged schools to implement multiple strategies in order to protect their students from the potential risks of Adderall. For example, at California State University, Fresno students must go through two months of testing and paperwork before the student health office will even approve a diagnosis of ADHD. Then to get the prescription for Adderall the student most sign a formal contract “promising to submit to drug testing, to see a mental health professional every month, and to not share the pills.” Marquette requires students to sign a release form allowing the health office to call their parents and confirm their symptoms and medical histories. Duke even agreed with Greg Crapanzano that the use of Adderall is a form of cheating and added that “the unauthorized use of prescription medication to enhance academic performance” qualifies as academic dishonesty (The New York Times).
At it's best Adderall is being seen as a way to improve grades and study harder, but at it's worst it is being seen as a dangerous cheating mechanism. Only time will tell if Adderall use becomes more widespread and socially acceptable or if regulation will be increased.