“She has a really stressful home life—it’s high demand for high grades. She has to do well in class. She has a high stress level at home for her grades and for her weight, too,” said one Dos Pueblos senior of a close friend. “She” is a high-powered, intelligent, well-loved, and beautiful senior—the kind many aspire to be like in high school. Of course, she has a dirty little secret. It’s name is Adderall, and it’s helping tens of dozens of local teens cope with their lives when the pressure is too much.
Finals week came upon most of S.B.’s youth just last week, which means, in one student’s words, “it’s that time of year again—Adderall Season.” The prescription ADD and ADHD drug is renowned for its famous concentration and focusing power. According to my sources, it makes even the most tedious task fantastically doable. It makes you feel awesome. It’s better than a hundred Red Bulls—you can stay up the whole night without ever crashing. It’s the deus ex machina for the stressed-out teen—pop a little white-and-blue pill (usually around 12 bucks a pop) and suddenly the impossible, the hours of work, the painful, mind-distorting studying can be finished. Not only can you make it to the bottom of that bottomless pit of work, but your work is high quality. And since we’re in Southern California, after all, it comes with a pretty twist—serious appetite suppression that’s a wonder for weight loss.
The most important part of what makes Adderall unique is its use itself; Adderall is a study drug. One takes it because one is a straight-A student who’s struggling to take four APs and play varsity water polo and captain the Human Rights Watch club and lead a music quartet (these are not actual cases but they are representative) or any combination of school, extracurriculars, and life that simply exceeds the manageable. It’s not a party drug or a recreational time-waster. It’s in a class all alone, and with the prevalence of ADD and ADHD among youth today, it’s easy to get hold of. (“I just got sick of taking my pills one day, and so I thought I’d just sell the pills off,” said one sophomore.)
Last week’s showing of the documentary Race to Nowhere at the Granada saw upper-middle class, white, concerned parents pack the theater to hear the tragic story of how stress, and unfair expectations for teenagers, are leading to problems like Adderall abuse.Yet the Adderall user-and-abuser demographic is primarily that same group’s children.
Counselors and educators, when faced with a teen who adamantly declares that his or her work load is simply too much for one person to handle, frequently reply that everyone else is managing it. With the incredible pressure of college today—Yale accepts only 5.8 percent of applicants—it really does feel as if there’s no way to compete unless one is doing that extra sport or club that pushes one’s schedule over the brink.
Where is the disconnect that leads to teachers and parents failing to acknowledge a student’s perfectly valid realization that they simply have too much work? It’s a vicious cycle of abuse, and one that leads to vices and dirty habits. Santa Barbara’s affluence makes Adderall the natural choice. Students believe that if they’re not able to finish their work “like the other kids are doing,” then there’s something wrong with them, and that self-doubt leads to feeling that maybe they do need pharmaceutical help.
What we all need to remember is to take a breath, step back, and look at our students’ and our own lives. Maybe it’s okay to scale back a hair. It might mean no Harvard, but trust me—there are worse outcomes when drugs are involved.