Concerta in A minor; an ode to study drug abuse

Adderall, Ritalin and the toxic culture of American higher education


Will Nelson, Senior Columnist

I’ve never experienced burnout like this in my life. I feel like I’ve skidded to a complete stop six feet from the finish line, hems of my clothing smoldering gently and my face, elbows and knees covered with asphalt burn. Look into the distant, long-suffering eyes of any student on campus and you’ll know I’m not the only one feeling this way.

Spring: a time of new life, budding romance and study drug abuse. 

The finals season of 2021 has been a particularly bad one given the circumstances that I don’t feel the need to list. Conditions have been ripe for many students, myself maybe or maybe not included, to turn to things like Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta or Dexedrine to amp up their scholarly endeavors. 

Before I started writing this, I decided to look around on the internet to see what “the experts” had to say about this topic. Like drug education in general in America, I found the results appallingly nearsighted and lacking. 

Experts were quick to list “the dangers” of study drug abuse, citing things like mood swings, addiction, anxiety, heart attack and “loss of friends.” The tone of most of these resources was unbearably tongue-in-cheek and glib, essentially chalking up the problem to laziness on the part of students and suggesting that they get more sleep and try harder instead.

It also seems to me that adult professionals are generally under the impression that college students are using study drugs to ‘overachieve.’ This has not been my experience at all. The vast majority of students I know who use study drugs aren’t trying to overachieve, they’re just trying to achieve. They’re just trying to scrape by.

College students have a lot going on these days. I was talking to my mom the other day over the phone and she mentioned her concern that my spending time at the protests in Brooklyn Center meant that I didn’t have enough time to focus on academics. I had a hard time trying to explain that I felt as if standing up for issues in the community that I care about is equally as important as the education that I’m sinking myself into a lifetime of debt to acquire.

Homework and protests aren’t the only things that students have to worry about either. We’re also trying to flesh out our identities, seek employment and housing, explore our sexualities and make friends. Is it so surprising that when we do find a moment to work on homework that we want, and perhaps need, to make most of it? That’s why students use study drugs. 

From a student standpoint, it’s incredibly easy to blame your professors for overwhelming you with homework and exams, but that too is nearsighted. Professors are also experiencing pressures to set certain standards for their students, and even the most empathetic and understanding of them still has to answer to curricular requirements. 

The problem we have here isn’t one of lazy students, nor of inconsiderate professors, it’s a colossal, overarching problem with the culture of American higher education, and no amount of cute self-care Instagram infographics will be able to solve it.

Our education has become so numeric that a difference in a few digits of a test grade can determine whether or not a student can stay in their chosen career path. There’s precious little room for students to shape their education to fit their needs and wants. The pressure to do well so frequently transcends the pressure to make healthy choices.

Students shouldn’t have to use chemical agents to succeed in college, and the fact that some of them feel as though they need to is a bigger problem than the fact that they do.

If used irresponsibly, study drugs are bad news and can be dangerous, but before we start shaming students for using them and using fear tactics to get them to stop, we should examine the problem within its societal context. Study drug abuse is just a symptom.