Good-Grade Pills Exercise in Stupidity
If teens could take a pill that could help them achieve instant success in the classroom, a significant percentage would no doubt do so, even if they had been told those pills had dangerous side effects. As long as young people feel that failure in academics is not an option—and in this case “failure” often means getting a B+ instead of an A or scoring a 1900 on the SAT instead of 2100—they will be tempted to take risky shortcuts, since many kids have become convinced that being accepted by an esteemed university is the key to their entire future. So if a good grade pill should ever come onto the market, it is virtually guaranteed that many achievement-oriented young people would move heaven and earth to get their hands on it, no matter how hazardous it might be to the overall state of their health.
Unfortunately, the situation we have just described is no longer hypothetical. Drugs traditionally used to treat children and adolescents with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are now being used by teens and college students who are looking for a quick and effortless boost in classroom performance. The prescribing of stimulants like Adderall, Ritalin and Vyvanse to children with ADHD remains controversial, but these powerful medications are unquestionably inappropriate and most certainly dangerous for young people who do not suffer from this condition. Despite their identification as stimulants, these drugs have the capacity to calm the behavior of kids with ADHD, but when consumed by other youth, drugs like Adderall, Ritalin and Vyvanse have quite a different effect. These pills can provide a lasting shot of energy that will make marathon studying sessions that last far into the night seem like a walk in the park, and they also improve short-term focus and concentration to help kids function at a higher level during exams.
Prep school students surveyed privately estimate that up to 40 percent of their classmates are relying on ADHD drugs to enhance their efforts in the classroom, and many kids who were initially reluctant to use these drugs are now taking them anyway because they are scared of falling behind. Black market dealers carrying stockpiles of stolen ADHD drugs are showing up on public and private school campuses across the country (most are students themselves), and with 21 million prescriptions for these medications being handed out in the United States annually, finding adequate supplies to meet growing demand has not proven to be difficult.
Setting a Pattern for the Future
Like other stimulants, when used incorrectly, Adderall, Ritalin and Vyvanse can cause a smorgasbord of dangerous and disturbing side effects, including sleep loss, depression, sudden mood swings, rapid heartbeat, extreme exhaustion, anxiety attacks and fainting. These prescription medications pack a powerful punch, and in addition to everything else, they frequently act as gateway drugs that open the door to illegal drug abuse and addiction. The pressure to compete that high school students face will not disappear once they enter college or the business world, and early reliance on chemical assistance to help them cope will often lay down a template for a lifelong pattern of ill-considered behavior.
The stress that young people feel these days is understandable, and to a certain extent, their concern is even laudable because it shows they are ready and willing to take responsibility for their futures. But pills that stimulate good performance in the classroom are just a quick fix that will almost certainly cause more problems than they solve. Kids seeking the key to success in life should realize that nothing beats old-fashioned hard work and determination, in school or anywhere else. Smart and savvy teens who are worried about what will happen to them in the years to come need to understand that drugs like Adderall and Ritalin can quickly reroute them from a pathway of achievement onto a dead-end highway leading to nowhere.