Finals week. Those two words conjure up a stream of crazed thoughts among the best of us. Hours spent aimlessly staring at the clock in the library, Facebooking or simply reading that damn paragraph over and over until it finally registers – that is what finals week is supposed to be about. College students are not supposed to have the will, the desire nor the aptitude to actually sit down in the library and study continuously for hours on end.
Enter 2007. I find myself sitting in the 24-hour study room at 12:30 a.m. on the Tuesday of finals week. I am not surprised by the abundance of people populating the room at such a late hour. After all, it’s finals week. I am surprised, however, at the gargantuan task of finding someone who does not have some sort of stimulant in front of them. From Red Bull to Rockstar, cappuccino to triple-shot espresso, Coke to Pepsi – everybody has something keeping them awake and focused. The tension is palpable. Everyone is on edge from the combination of stimulants, stress and lack of sleep. Shocked? No, this is the society Generation Y has grown up in.
While I could delve into a psychological analysis of why there has been such a proliferation of stimulant-use in the 21st century, I will instead concentrate on the real issue at hand. The use of certain prescription drugs by students without prescriptions has recently gone through the roof. The most popular drugs are amphetamines, found in products like Adderall, which has the effect of helping one stay awake and focused. Students buy these nondescript and innocuous looking pills from other students who, rightfully or not, have a prescription entitling them to use the drugs. The prices are low, short-term side effects are minimal and the effects are undeniable. In the frenzied pace of the UC quarter system, where finals and midterms are everything, popping an “Addy” can be the quickest way to an A.
The question that ultimately must be asked is whether this is fair. Can Adderall in schools be discussed on the same plane as steroids in sports? Steroids are performance-enhancing drugs; they give an unfair and illegal advantage to athletes who take them. What better way to describe Adderall than as a performance-enhancing drug? It is both illegal and unfair for students without a prescription to take it. Adderall and sterioids have not been studied enough to safely say that long-term side effects are minimal. The use of both drugs for illegal means is also equally underreported. Students who do not take Adderall but still study for hours have a right to feel they are being cheated.
What can we do? The problem is threefold. One, there are no punitive short-term side effects that would inhibit some students from taking the pills without a prescription. The nonchalance with which some students take the pills is frightening. Two, the effects are so beneficial that even if there were strong side effects it might not deter students from taking it. Three, America as a society has no idea how far-reaching the abuse of these pills truly is. America knows that pills for attention deficit disorder are over-prescribed, but not enough attention is paid to students abusing them without prescriptions. Students who go about their studies in the right way are being cheated, especially in courses where students compete directly against one another.
It’s time that students and faculty alike realize that we are living in a world where taking a caffeine pill is often easier than buying a cup of coffee. We live in a world where students take pills without realizing the ramifications of doing so. The first step we must take, from students to teachers, is to publicize the problem.