In a casual conversation with a friend a few weeks ago, I was taken aback by a rather nonchalant comment. “But I mean, caffeine’s a drug too. What’s so bad about Adderall?” On the one hand, he had a point, didn’t he? Adderall may be a psychoactive substance that directly interferes with normal brain chemistry, but caffeine effectively tricks your body’s cells into thinking they’re being stimulated when they are not by inhibiting a, “you should probably calm down now,” protein. To make matters worse, caffeine is structurally similar to a brain chemical that promotes sleep (Nichols, 2016). So on a basic level, caffeine is also a psychoactive substance that directly interferes with normal brain chemistry. Sound familiar?
But I mean, come on. Adderall is an amphetamine! It’s one functional group away from crystal meth (methamphetamine). How can this possibly be a conversation? Ask the students, young and old, who are currently using the drug unprescribed. Adderall is becoming a persistent reality for so many college students trying to survive in a high-pressure academic environment. The offer is enticing. Impenetrable focus. For long periods of time. On very little sleep. Sounds like a dream, no? A recent article in the New York Times Magazine, entitled “Generation Adderall,” thinks otherwise (Schwartz, 2016). The author details the rise and fall of her college Adderall addiction, which began as a hopeful attempt to excel academically, but quickly started consuming her days, her nights, and her every thought. Accounts like this reveal the not-so-secret truth about the negative effects of taking drugs that are not prescribed for you, bolstering the anti-Adderall camp.
I still feel uneasy, because the cons on the caffeine side of the debate seem nearly as egregious, given that coffee addiction can be incredibly debilitating. Frankly, Adderall does help some undergrads tackle taxing finals periods. Plus, Adderall can affect innate focus and can cause massive sleep-disruptions in some individuals. So how are we supposed to know who should be taking Adderall, given the fact that it clearly benefits those who use it prescriptively. The drug is a life-changer for those with ADHD (although the overdiagnosis of ADHD in this country is a topic for another time). Yet, coffee is a staple in the office, the lab, the hospital, you name it. America literally runs on coffee (Dunkin Donuts would like to take credit, but I would have to think that Starbucks is, at the very least, catching up). And the verdict also isn’t out as to whether or not caffeine leads to net health benefits or net health burdens, so I really can’t comment on that either. Which makes me uneasy as I foster my two-cup-a-day coffee drinking habit. But I’m not just uneasy because of my personal stake in the matter. I’m uneasy because it appears as though this country has made some arbitrary decisions about how we consider mind-altering substances. Should coffee be more taboo? Should Adderall be less? When does a passion for a cup or two of joe, spiral into a debilitating need, and how do we prevent that? If this paragraph was confusing, consider the multiple facets of this argument that I haven’t even mentioned, including America’s general over-medication, rising prescription drug costs, medical marijuana legalization. Situations like these can confound our views, making it hard to objective weigh the risks and rewards of any given drug or substance. We live in a complex, drug-driven world, and I clearly don’t know how to feel about it, but I do know that we definitely need to be asking better, more rigorous questions about the substances we are putting in our bodies.
Nichols, Hannah. “Caffeine: All You Need to Know.” Medical News Today. November 10, 2016. Accessed November 25, 2016. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/285194.php#how_does_caffeine_work
Schwartz, Casey. “Generation Adderall.” New York Times Magazine. October 12, 2016. Accessed November 25, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/16/magazine/generation-adderall-addiction.html?_r=0