Monday Feb 4, 2013
The Problem: A Historical & Social Perspective: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by impulsive, hyperactive, distractive tendencies, and difficulties focusing.1 While the nature of this condition may be “maladaptive” in the context of modern society, some authors have viewed ADHD as having beneficial qualities in our evolutionary past.2, 3 Etiologic research indicates that natural selection favoured ADHD traits because they were necessary for hunting, and therefore survival.2, 3 As civilization developed over multiple centuries however, these inherent traits became ‘medical symptoms’ of a neurological disorder, simply because these traits had no adaptive function in its emerging culture. In the 1980’s ADHD had become widely accepted as a medical disorder, and soon after was the development of prescribed treatments such as Adderall to diminish the symptoms.4 Approved by the FDA in 1996, Adderall quickly became one of the most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD, and still is today.5 The use of Adderall however has become a growing concern specifically among university students, due to the substantial increase in illegal Adderall consumption across university campuses.6 Whether students are seeking an academic edge, suppressing their appetite to induce weight loss, or simply wanting to feel high, these ‘rewarding’ outcomes induced by Adderall have contributed to its popularity among university students.7 Research of the literature unearths an especially alarming theme, indicating that the use of Adderall by students has become a salient part of the university culture.4 Of the 34% of college students who admitted to the illicit use of ADHD medication, 63% reported that their first use was during college.4 The former percentage is likely an underestimation of the true prevalence, as subjects may not openly admit to illegal substance abuse. This is reflected by the 44% of students in another study who reported that they knew students who used Adderall illicitly8, removing them from the spotlight. These increasingly high figures are likely the result of the overwhelming academic and social pressures placed on university students, and this growing trend reflects their intrinsic need to meet the increasingly high expectations created by today’s society. For example, with exceedingly high GPA cut-offs for graduate programs and fiercely competitive job opportunities9, university students feel an overwhelming pressure to excel academically and thus engage in illicit Adderall use. Furthermore, with the immense social pressures placed on young women to conform to an idealistic image of femininity, we see female students abusing Adderall solely to lose weight, 7 because contemporary media portrays beauty as being dangerously thin.10
The Impact: Health Risks, Social and Ethical Concerns: Adderall is a highly controlled substance, and despite the possibility of serving 2 years in jail or paying a $10,000 fine for possession without a prescription11, university students continue to consume the substance like it is candy. When asked how difficult it was to obtain Adderall illegally in college, 39% of subjects claimed that it was “very easy”, 43% conveyed that it was “somewhat easy”, and fewer than 1% reported that it was “very difficult”. 4 Furthermore, 96% of subjects rely on obtaining Adderall illicitly compared to the 4% of subjects who receive a prescription from their physician to treat their diagnosed ADHD.4 These statistics raise many health concerns, ethical issues and have a profound social impact on this population. With the alarmingly high percentage of illicit Adderall users coupled with its easy access, students have begun to normalize its use, where 96% of these students are blindly consuming the drug without being educated or monitored by a physician, or first being...