The New Espresso

by Rachel Kosciusko

He was off to study political science at a liberal arts college filled with rich city kids used to living in luxury and taking shortcuts. Jeffrey knew he needed a creative enterprise to sustain himself so he would have enough time for school and partying. His answer was only a couple Google searches away: “Inability to focus, easily distracted, always procrastinating on writing down my music ideas, been this way since I was a kid, can’t sit in my government class discussion without randomly interrupting everyone.” Jeffrey assorted these exaggerated symptoms into a convincing speech for his primary care physician and left her office with a prescription for Adderall.

Adderall is an amphetamine psycho-stimulant widely known as a medication used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is also well known as an illegally marketed study drug used to enhance academic focus during crunch time. Consumers of this product on college campuses also employ the stimulant effects of Adderall and other similar prescription medications to drink more alcohol and therefore “extend the party.” As the non-prescribed use of ADHD medications has become increasingly popular and perceived as acceptable within student populations, parents and healthcare professionals have begun to express concern as to how these students could be damaging their bodies. This concern was amplified in 2012 when 25-year-old, pre-med student Richard Fee committed suicide after becoming dangerously dependent on Adderall. The New York Times covered this story in 2013 with an article entitled “Drowned in a Stream of Prescriptions.“ Meanwhile, national organizations like began to publicize studies portraying alarming statistics about the growing abuse of prescription drugs.

Yet, as these threats of abuse and overdose associated with ADHD stimulant medications have begun to circulate throughout the media, there are still some lesser-known concerns about the social and psychological effects of the rising stimulant drug market. In the competitive environment we are placed in as college students, there is an overwhelming pressure to achieve immediate success. This makes us forget that much of the school work we do now is meant to prepare us for the challenges ahead.

“What does it mean that you feel the need to take a pill in order to do well?” asks clinical psychologist and ADHD expert Brooke Molina, Ph.D. “You want to emerge with your college degree feeling confident that you earned it, and the next time in your life that you face a difficult circumstance, you're going to be able to accomplish that on your own knowing you have the coping skills, the brains, the energy, and the motivation... and you don’t need to take a pill to do it.”

Molina not only expresses concerns of dependence for the students who are using amphetamines as their new espresso, but also for the patients who do have honest prescriptions. In the past 15 years, psychostimulant medication has become the primary means of treating both children and adults with ADHD, but medication is not enough. Psychologists like Molina recommend that therapy should be involved. Parents should receive help learning how to raise a child who has ADHD, and schools need help learning how to teach a child with ADHD. This way, the patients are not solely medicated, but also empowered.

Young adults with ADHD in today's society not only struggle with the role medication plays in their own lives, but also with how it affects their relationships. “If anyone finds out you have a script,” says Jeffrey, “then you don’t really have an option. People will stop being friends with you if you don’t share your script.” Admittedly, while Jeffrey did get his prescription with the intent of selling Adderall, his comment raises the question as to whether or not this pressure to illegally sell prescription medications to friends is becoming a significant strain in college relationships.

The rise of stimulant drug abuse in the United States poses not only a strictly medical challenge to our generation, but also creates new psychological and social dilemmas buried within the matrix. Perhaps if we heed Molina’s advice and push the treatment of ADHD away from strictly medication and toward a combined behavioral and medical model, we can move away from the illegal markets that put students at health, legal, psychological, and social risk.