It was impossible to miss, appearing on the front page of the New York Times: a healthy, promising student – dead by his own hand, after a history of Adderall abuse.
I imagine you have read the story of Richard Fee, and if you’re a parent of a tween, a teen, or a college student, then you understand my fear.
I have two sons in rigorous university programs. How would I know – really – what they are or aren’t doing? What is “business as usual” on campus, when it comes to pulling an all-nighter, or several in a row?
How would I know what the adolescent or young adult might justify when there is easy access to a legal substance?
Addiction to Study Drugs: Brain-Doping
Reading about the Adderall abuse and death of Richard Fee was heartbreaking. It was also deeply troubling.
Like most parents, I worry about my kids. In some ways, I worry less because they’re no longer under my roof. In other ways, fully aware of the pressures they’re under and the sense of immortality we tend to feel at 18 or 21 or 23, I worry more. What teenager or even young adult isn’t tempted to experiment – especially when away from home?
Dr. Todd Essig, writing for Forbes, addresses the complexity of these addiction issues in a way that feels informative and pragmatic. I read his coverage in two parts, “When Study Drugs Kill,” and have been thinking about it since. He writes:
Part 1 of “When ‘Study Drugs’ Kill” included the story, originally told in the NY Times, of a talented young man who used the now typical college student study strategy of taking Adderall to boost performance. Tragically, his story led to a fulminating addiction to stimulant medications that only stopped with his suicide.
But Dr. Essig goes beyond rehashing this story. He addresses specific means to cope with brain-doping in this context. To me – and here I am speaking purely as a parent – his approach seems both practical and realistic. He does not downplay the dangers; on the contrary. But Dr. Essig provides suggestions to the user, like “off time” from the drugs, and trusting someone with the truth of their usage.
Ethnic, racial, gender and other divisions are impossible to ignore. Age – especially for women – is an increasingly tricky balancing act, as many undergo whatever procedures they can afford to hang on to the appearance of youth. This is more than a matter of self-esteem. It’s about competing, and for some, surviving.
We take or create an edge wherever we can. Are we really surprised at Lance Armstrong’s deception? And the pressures on athletes to push their bodies beyond extraordinary limits? Adderall or other drugs to amp up focus and pull off incredible feats of academic performance? Is this the society we’ve become?
So it would seem, at least in some circles.
Chocolate, Caffeine, Exercise, Sex
What’s your poison – or your pleasure?
We might argue that chocolate, caffeine, the gym or Zumba – not to mention a few rounds in the sack – are all good, healthy, wonderful ways to keep us feeling up and subsequently productive. I would agree, wouldn’t you? The problem is one of excess, preoccupation, and obsession.
Most of us sense when we’ve crossed over a line.
I can learn from Dr. Essig’s words, knowing myself to be all too reliant on black coffee late at night, and too little sleep, much too often. Then there are those occasional bouts of chocolate as another means to keep going, keep going, keep going – until I’m ready to drop. This is not the same situation as a chemical addiction, but these sentiments feel applicable all the same:
While drugs can make a task easier, especially when feeling over-burdened, they do not make success possible. You do. Always remember that success is the residue of good design, hard work, and talent. Success comes from what you do and who you are instead of what you take.
I am also considering Dr. Essig’s advice when it comes to any substance or set of behaviors that may seem “harmless,” and yet become necessary to propping us up. I’m asking myself if I can do without, even during “off-time,” and if their presence in my life is something I’ve trusted to a friend.
Doped or Duped?
We could argue definitions of addiction or leave that to the experts, yet I can’t help but note the increasing number of advertisements for pills and products that fill our airwaves and flash across our displays. I can’t help but think of our easy acceptance of pharmaceuticals as the answer to all ills from the blues to shyness to a few extra pounds around the middle.
Is there legitimate need? Of course.
Is supply driving demand? That, too, but with alternatives – lifestyle or natural alternatives for many of us – as I look to my own medicine cabinet, my fridge, my routine, my bad habits as well as the good, and realize I can make changes for the better.
And still, like most parents, I will worry for my children.
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