BY MADIHA AHMED
Beanies. Uppers. Speed. Double trouble. These are just a few names for one of the most familiar and most used (and abused drug) in academia. How could a drug be used for academia? Performance enhancing drugs are only for sports. Au contraire, cognitive performance enhancing drugs are quite common in the education setting, and are not always used in correct manner. Some of the most common are Adderall and Ritalin, to name a few. It is estimated that one to five percent of college students enter their freshman year with previously diagnosed ADHD/ADD. This is a serious issue that students face and the prescription medicine they receive is imperative in their ability to perform day-to-day activities. An issue arises somewhere along the path of getting to college and then again in college itself. Students are under more enormous pressures to succeed than ever before. In a study done in 2014, teens and college students report stress levels higher than adults for the first time in twenty-five years.
Stress levels are likely to increase by thirty four percent with a progressive year in school. A further possible source of stress for kids in the new age of technology are the pressures to fit in, made worse by social media. Along with these new and profound pressures, the pressure to succeed and level of performance in regards to school has become significantly higher than in the past. Students’ extremely elevated stress levels corroborate this. Pressure leads to depression and students often turn to performance enhancing drugs to help give them an edge in order to ace a final or whiz through a fifteen paper due the following morning. These pills are not hard to find for students and many are affordable enough for the average college student.
Albeit, the pressures of today’s world that students face will not go away and that in itself is a problem that must be dealt with. However, a bigger problem can be pinpointed within the system these students function. The bigger problem that is arising in academia is the availability of these drugs, ease in which it can be diagnosed, and the fact the moral question of whether or not to take them has become almost obsolete. Many students do not think twice before taking pills such as Adderall or Ritalin for a couple of reasons. Firstly, self-diagnosis of ADHD/ADD has become something that is not unheard of. Of course, a doctor must back up the claim and is responsible for the prescription, but many students chalk inability to concentrate in school alone to ADHD. The fact of the matter is that this diagnosis would have to take into account all aspects of daily life and school just alone cannot be enough. Secondly, if a self-diagnosis does not work, that isn’t a crippling problem for kids. Adderall and other such drugs are available on campuses, while many campus officials would not like to admit it.
Moral agency and authenticity take a huge hit when widespread problems involving “study drugs” arise. Unfortunately, the playing field will never be even in academia with this problem being so widespread, making the problem intrinsic to the system. Another ethical concern is illustrated by, US President’s Council on Bioethics, “If the development of character depends on the effort to choose and act appropriately, often in face of resisting desires and impulses, then the more direct pharmacological approach bypasses a crucial element…By treating the restlessness of youth as a medical, rather than a moral, challenge, those resorting to behavior-modifying drugs might deprive that child of an essential part of this education.” Since students are still developing mentally while they are in school, taking performance enhancing drugs in order to meet expectations leaves sparse room for growth, development, and overall readiness for the real world once they graduate.
On the flip side of this dilemma, the system in which students must prepare for the real world doesn’t always offer a level playing field and the competitive nature of academia fuels a rat race. This doesn’t necessarily justify the actions of those taking pills in sporadic doses when they don’t really need them, but certainly puts it in a pragmatic light.
When the Health Center at University of Miami was asked whether or not the problem extended to our campus, they did not claim to be unaware of the national problem of “study drugs”. Adam Troy, Health Educator at the University of Miami elaborates that, “it definitely is an issue that needs to be addressed. It’s an issue in multiple areas on campus, including medical and law students”. He qualified his statement later with “There are certainly cases of people who genuinely need Adderall and Ritalin, and they completely legitimate functions. We are one hundred percent in support of that. In the same time it’s about finding the balance even when you need it. When does the use of something become harmful and abusive? The responsibility falls to physicians and health providers to ascertain who gets it.” Currently the University of Miami physicians on campus do not prescribe Adderall and forward diagnosing patients with ADHD/ADD to psychiatrists nearby and study drugs have not become an issue for the Health Center. Troy furthers that there is not a psychiatrist on campus for these types of medications, but it might be something to look into for the future