Generation Z is the first wave of students to experience limitless access to prescription stimulants, such as the notorious Adderall. This access — in conjunction with unforgiving societal pressures — has altered the nature of its use.
Adderall first emerged in the American pharmaceutical industry in the 1920s. Its audience gradually diversified, first used by the armed forces, then more so by working professionals and now by young adults determined to be hyperactive.
Used to increase productivity and optimize concentration, Adderall has become America’s favorite drug. It has graduated from the realm of ADHD and snuck into the world of academia and education.
The new, fast-paced student culture — characterized by high pressure, competition and permanent fatigue — serves as the logical backdrop for Adderall’s prevalence across college campuses.
Nearly two-thirds of college students are offered Adderall or other study drugs by the time they reach their senior year, according to a study in the Journal of American College Health. More importantly, nearly one-third accept. That is a significant number of young adults priming themselves for addiction.
The uses of Adderall vary among the student body. Adderall has taken on the form of a university currency, being exchanged for alcohol or answers to homework and assignments. Some rely on the drug to carry them through finals week, some rely on it for a boost in motivation and others seek out Adderall to fulfill a thirst for achievement — a phenomenon that our “grinding” societal mantra continues to feed.
In a landscape that demands a strong work ethic and spotless academics, the drug appeals to overworked bodies who are in pursuit of shortcuts to remain in the race and get ahead of their peers.
Yet academic institutions are not entirely to blame — social media provides an additional incentive to take Adderall. Influencer culture has made Instagram feeds only showcase superior lifestyles, prompting individuals to reassess their own goals and achievements. In turn, comparison and competition infiltrate our headspaces.
Adderall provides a simple bypass to keep up.
This all grows more problematic when we imagine the same cohort embarking upon demanding careers. It is hard to believe that students who used — and perhaps abused — prescription medication during college would halt their usage as they enter an even higher-stakes environment, this time involving financial and social consequences.
Adderall can be seen as a way to pad against the possibility of downward mobility.
So, what will the future of prescription stimulants look like in colleges and the workplace? The Adderall epidemic is more than an addiction to the drug itself — it begins with a toxic, obsessed and undiagnosed addiction to achievement.