College is stressful, as we covered earlier in the grind and glorified suffering. The pressure to achieve high grades or earn certain academic accolades can be all consuming in college, especially for freshman. The American Addiction Centers reported 88% of all college students are extremely stressed, and 93% of them are mainly stressed about “academic performance pressure."
Reasons for academic stress vary, and they are all valid. Some necessities require stress, like maintaining academic standing for scholarship or sport. First generation college students may feel disproportionate burdens compared to their peers. Perfectionists may experience undue pressure to excel. Those with learning disabilities may worry about their grades or abilities to have accommodations. Some new students will feel homesick, and others elated by newfound freedom.
All of these stressors can manifest in a harmful drive to achieve, which may lead to lack of sleep or interest in social settings and hobbies. Stress can have potentially damaging impacts on the body and mind, and its effect is even more worrisome alongside casual prescription pill abuse in college.
Specifically, students abusing prescription Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication has reached an all time high on college campuses.
ADHD is often treated with prescription medications, including stimulants, to reduce attention difficulties and manage impulse control. Some people with ADHD can be seen constantly fidgeting, interrupting conversations, daydreaming, getting distracted easily, or appearing disorganized. ADHD is a lifelong condition. It's not related to willpower in any way—It is a developmental disorder, not a mental illness.
Many students wrongly believe those stimulants—whether it's fast acting Ritalin (AKA uppers, kiddy coke, and speed) or long lasting Adderall (AKA beans, dexies, study Buddies)—will improve their ability to learn and result in better grades.
ADHD medications are Schedule II controlled substances—in the same category as heroin and meth—because they can cause physical and psychological dependence. This is why stressed students abusing the drugs for study binges are exceptionally vulnerable to becoming addicted.
Although these medicines are considered safe when taken as prescribed, those who do not have ADHD or other medical purposes to use them as stated by a doctor can risk harmful side effects. Stimulants can drive up blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature. At high doses, they can cause a stroke. With repeated use, stimulants can set in motion feelings of extreme anger and being overly suspicious and distrustful. Plus, lack of sleep and nutrition can lead to health problems.
During university, I knew taking uppers was so common and widely considered not a big deal, but it wasn't my business to ask what drove friends to try or continue taking the pills. I knew uppers were also used to get high or lose weight, since the drug curbs appetites. I had my own addiction—eating disorder—in college, and I didn't always notice when peers developed non-medical related pill habits. When I was aware, I didn't know what to do or if anyone else shared my concerns. I was unnerved to see how casual people were in talking about it, since it wasn't something I'd witnessed before.
This is for anyone worried about their friends. I'm writing to offer the perspective on what may drive a friend to continue using these non-prescribed medications, and why it's important to be there for them if they need someone to talk to, without necessarily intervening or commenting on their behaviors.
I discovered in eating disorder recovery that stressing about food and exercise had become a stand-in to prohibit me from processing real issues, like my underlying perfectionism. I imagine people who recover from addictions feel similar, ultimately realizing their substance use was a coping mechanism for an underlying stress. For those using uppers in college, for example, it must be a whole lot simpler to worry about getting good grades than the "stuff" that's going on in their lives. And that stuff, that's what friends are for.