Students are Prescribing Their way to Success
Tom: I’ve had several bad experiences with Adderall. The first time I took Adderall I went to go put gas in my car, and while I was putting gas in my car,
I got a bloody nose from snorting it. I was freaking out and I was trying to take the gas thing out of the car, but I was holding on to the trigger and then I was covered in gasoline. I was covered in gasoline and blood.”
Me: Why did you decide to take it again after that horrible experience?
Tom: “You feel really awake. There are a lot of times when I take it and I’ll be super super productive.”
Tom has suffered from anxiety and depression since high school. He had never used drugs until coming to college and now is a heavy marijuana and caffeine user as well as an occasional Adderall. He’s worked on films in LA and peers say he’s the go to guy for great cinematography.
He’s successful at what he does but has needed drugs to function and hone his craft. He needed marijuana to relieve his stress and anxiety, he needed caffeine to get through a shoot, he needed some Adderall to finish an all-night editing session or paper. Tom is not alone.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says seven out of ten adults claim to experience stress or anxiety at least on a moderate level on a daily basis. America is known for their rigorous work ethic and today more and more studies are supporting the suspicions that Americans are working themselves sick. The National Institute of Mental Health says that “Only about half of the people in America suffering from a diagnosed case of depression are treated for the disorder.”
College students today are living in a diversely different world than college students ten years ago. Despite efforts of suicide prevention on college campuses it is still the second most common death among college students.
Carolin, a University of Iowa graduate, recalls a conversation with her aunt where she mentioned that she paid two hundred dollars for her first semester of college. “Thanks,” says Carolin, “I’m over here trying to pay my ten thousand dollar a semester loan while trying to not fail out of the courses I have to take to get my degree.” Between bites of her dinner she mentions she worked three jobs while in college. She felt a crippling need, like many other students, to finish school as fast as she could to lessen her debt.
The balancing act between going to class, doing the homework, and trying to pay off your day to day expenses has taken its toll on students. Whether it’s the historic and often criticized grading system, or the change in expectations, students today are having to deal with these stresses and many feel that something has got to give.
WHO’S DOING WHAT?
“Never give up.” Some people live by those words and use this mantra to excuse their use of stimulants in order to make their day to day success possible.
Shantel William, a very involved and influential student at the University of Iowa says “I think people would be surprised by who does large amounts of uppers and stimulants to get their homework done. It’s not the sketchy kids that show up at the end of the semester, it’s people that are trying to keep up. People in UISG, heads of organizations, people holding two jobs and internship and trying to do school.” She says that she personally goes through phases where she will use Adderall once a week to get things done and sometimes smokes to relax.
Some of these people that are often praised for their accomplishments are seen as the do it yourself type and use drugs to maximize their efficiency and sanity. According to college students at the University of Iowa, it’s not hard to do.
While emphasizing the importance of knowing who you’re buying your drugs from, she says that it’s easy to get Adderall and weed because it has become acceptable in our society. “I know people who can get whole bottles of Adderall who don’t have a prescription,” she says.
In 2010, ten percent of university students were diagnosed with or treated for depression. The Journal of Effective Disorder said, “The results indicated that the top three concerns were academic performance, pressure to succeed, and post-graduation plans.” Researchers found that transfers, upperclassmen, and those living off-campus were most at risk.
WHY ARE STUDENTS TURNING TO DRUGS MORE THAN EVER?
“You have to sacrifice something. And if you don’t want to sacrifice, fucking do drugs.” – Shantel
Sara says, if you are looking for weed you can probably find it at your next door neighbor’s house. Even in a state where marijuana is illegal and possession can get you hundreds of dollars in fines, many smoke every day. In fact, the American Physiological association reported that, “There is an important subset of emerging adults who use marijuana for coping purposes, and these individuals are at risk for a variety of marijuana-related problems.”
Carolin, Tom, and Shantel all do not have prescriptions but have easily been able to obtain it by one degree of separation. Sara, a senior at the University of Iowa says she smokes to relieve stress and that she doesn’t like to use Adderall but she does during what she calls big things. Big things like finals week papers, projects, and studying for tests that are worth a lot of points.
However, weed and Adderall aren’t the only things that students use to try to stay on top of their work, caffeine is the most addictive drug in the world, and these are just the next line of drugs that students are using to cope with the pressures and anxiety of college life.
Sara considers herself unlike the average student. She says she’s had anxiety her whole life and started dealing with depression after transferring to Iowa. The University of Iowa senior says she’s never been one of those students that doesn’t have to put effort into her academics. “We live in such a competitive world. In school, I feel like you’re competing with yourself to pass and do better, but you’re competing against other students too, and you’re constantly feeling inadequate if you struggle in school.”
Similarly, Sara attributes this drug use to the overwhelming nature of the college atmosphere today. She says that average users say, “This is really overwhelming and I kind of want an escape,” and “people find it in drugs. They not only find it as an escape but an academic advantage. I don’t think a lot of people realize how those drugs can mess with them.”
Regardless of the side effects, people turn to marijuana and Adderall to relieve stress and similarly to succeed while remaining what many say is “sane.”
They’ve exhausted other options
Those with anxiety and depression that do seek help often try different medications to find the correct one. This can take months, or years.
Tom says “I found I could get an immediate relief from marijuana instead of anti-depressants, which are usually a crapshoot. I have not found a good anti-depressant that I can stick too. They take so long to get through your system or to even find out if they’re helping you the right way.”
When it comes to dealing with stress and anxiety of school and life as a college student, many find it easier to turn to marijuana or another substance to relax or go into hyper drive to finish an assignment. There are different ways of relieving stress such as working out or doing something you enjoy for a hobby but, as many students keep iterating:
“Do I really have time for that?”
The US is one of the most medicated countries in the world. Adderall has quickly become one of the most overprescribed prescription drugs in America.
“I had a friend who was being prescribed something over 50 – 80 milligrams of Adderall,” says Tom. “She wouldn’t sleep ever and chain smoked hours on end. One of the biggest issues is over prescription.”
Students say people that take Adderall seem to either have some left over due to over-prescription or they just don’t like the feeling and sell it to get a few extra bucks.
Chronic users feel as though they have no other choice. Sara explains it like this: “Do you know those silly charts you see online that says good grades, social life or enough sleep, you can only choose two? Well that’s the reality. You can’t have it all.”
One study surrounding justification of illegal Adderall use found that “students frame stimulant use as both physically harmless and morally acceptable.”
This ideology helps those that are succeeding in school by using these drugs. One student mentioned if she went to the library at one a.m. , she would be able to find heads of organizations and influential students who are drugged out trying to get their homework done. They know that they don’t have the time and feel that in order to get the work done for their class, their internships, their student organizations, and their other job to pay off their bills, they have to be hyper focused all night in order to keep their life up.
Shantel says, “You can either give up some of your health to have a better future or you can give up some opportunities to better your life and enjoy your sanity. You really have to choose.”
WHY SHOULD ANYONE CARE?
It may feel like drug use has always been a thing and students jeopardizing their health for grades isn’t anything new. The problem is that it is new. The use of illegal drugs in order to cope with college life and the normalization of them is increasingly putting people in danger.
Whether it’s at risk for possession of marijuana, increase in mental health problems, or addiction in Adderall, many students that take drugs recreationally are not aware of the over looming problems that come with casual use of some of these drugs.
Not only is it a health issue, but it is also an economical one. The CASA (the center of addication.org) says, “The taxpayer tab for government spending on the consequences of risky substance use and untreated addiction totals an estimated $468 billion a year* --almost $1,500 for each person in the United States.”
The amount of tax dollars that go into these problems don’t seem to be showing positive results in recent studies. So what has to be changed? In a guide for policy maker’s document published by CASA, they say Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) “can be effective in monitoring and controlling the overprescribing, inappropriate prescribing and diversion of controlled prescription drugs.”
Marijuana use to cope with anxiety and depression still needs further studies to determine long time effects. However, many states still have laws in place that could put users or those in possession behind bars for years. With over ninety four million people in the US admitting to having used marijuana, is it time for states to re-evaluate their laws or reevaluate their college structures? The thousands of students that have committed suicide and those that live with the day to day anxiety of college life say, “something’s got to give”.