The Good Grade Pill


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While I was doing research for my last blog on the overprescribing of ADHD medications to children, it kept overlapping with another issue, the use of these meds as a sort of study drug. I've known about it for a while, but I never thought it was that big of an issue, and that they weren't used by any significant percentage of students to make it a widespread thing. That was an assumption that over the past week I have found to be terribly, terribly wrong.

 

While I was doing my research I ran across this article first. What it says is pretty simple, in kids with ADHD, the use of Adderall was linked to higher test scores. I also found that in a double blind placebo trial of the drug, it was proven to have significant effects on patients with ADHD, in that their attention was much more focused than that of patients who were given the placebo. So for it's intended purpose, it works, and quite well.

 

 So I did a little research in attempt to find out how many kids per grade use it for ADHD, and what I found was, well, a bit different than I was looking for. The New Yorker ran a spread on the use of ADHD medication by college students, and the New York Times did a similar story. The main underlying fact that both stories outline is one that is quite surprising. Adderall isn't just being used by procrastinators to cram for exams or to write papers four hours before their due date, it's being used by everyone. Some of the users are Ivy League students who are leaders in clubs, major organizations, and student government. They play sports, tutor, work as interns, and do just about anything else that can done to overachieve. In short, they aren't stupid or lazy at all. In fact, they are some of the smartest, hardest working people in the country.

 

It's not just these cases either, as an increasing number of students are beginning to use the drug. In the most recent survey, 6.5% of full time college students reported using the drug regularly, and 34.5% reported using it at least once. And judging by the two articles above, and these stories sent into the New York Times by people who have used the drug, it makes a clear difference.

 

So why is it than an ADHD drug is being used to help get higher grades? Let's start at the basics, what is Aderall, and how does it work. Well it's a stimulant, so it's effect is sometimes described as similar to high doses of nicotine or caffeine. It does this by increasing levels of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain, which allows the user to feel more awake and concentrated. This is why it has been used to treat ADHD, so that the user can focus as opposed to being constantly distracted.

 

Why is the above paragraph significant? Well, to sum up is what I just explained:

 

Adderall does NOT make you smarter.

 

Taking the drug will by no means give you a higher IQ, help you learn a certain subject, skill, or anything like that. Whenever I said it has similar effects to coffee, I mean just that. Adderall is quite literally coffee on some serious, serious steroids. All it does it make you concentrate really, really hard.

 

Then why is it being used so much? Well that's a three-letter answer, GPA.

 

Exactly one week ago I had to go the career fair for a class of mine. I went around asking hypothetically, what would I have to do get an internship at their company. I got a list of some things that almost every company was looking for on a resume, but one thing in particular stuck out to me. Every company looked for as high of a GPA as possible. I then asked whether or not they looked at the exact class grades, and to my surprise, they all told me no, and that they only looked at the GPA. College admissions are becoming the same way, where the only two things that matter are your GPA and class rank, not what you took to get there.

 

The way everything is seeming to work nowadays is that you have to be the equivalent of Jesus to get just about anything you want after college. You need to be an active student, who leads anything he or she participates in. You also need to do some sort of internship or side job to teach you the skills you will actually need, and on top of all this, you need to keep perfect grades.

 

I know I'm making a big claim by saying that the current GPA system is causing drug abuse, but from what I've read over the past ten days, it truly is. The articles and stories I have referenced throughout this all support my claim, and it truly is ridiculous. It is almost as if nobody cares about the process anymore, as if everything is just a means to an end. The adventure has become completely insignificant to the destination, and what you learn on the way no longer matters.

 

The entire process of writing this particular blog has made me ask one question every step I take, and I've wondered whether or not I should mention it considering this is, after all, for a science class. However, as Andrew has mentioned, science has led to some serious philosophical thinking over the years, and this case has been no different (to me, at least). And what is the golden question exactly?

 

Why am I in college if the most important thing people are going to look at is a single number at the end of my four years here?

2 Comments

I know kids who took Adderall before the SAT's and got somewhere around 600 points higher than when they took it the first time, which both says a lot about the way this drug makes you focus and how much stress kids are under about certain test scores and numbers these days. That being said, Adderall is extremely dangerous when taken in the wrong dosage, so I really don't think its worth it, even with the pressure of GPA and whatnot it isn't worth possibly having a seizure and dying.

The danger of the drug is not so much from taking too much and dying, but actually the side effects. The medical trial with ADHD patients referred to above (which can be found What you want the link to say">here ) mentions insomnia as a side effect in over 20% of the patients. However, that is not the main side effect that I would point to to consider it dangerous. Rather, regular users tend to report memory loss of large chunks of time while they are on the drug, and it's also been known to have serious effects on one's personality. So even though Adderall won't create holes in your brain like other drugs, it has it's own specific set of dangers as well.

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