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Using Ed-Tech Instead of Adderall to Survive in College

by Justin Marquis Ph.D.

Imagine a utopian future where all of your nutrition came in one shiny pill. You could also take a pill to cure the common cold, one to run faster, another to ensure fertility, or prevent it, another to keep depression or anxiety at bay, one to make you smarter, and one to make you a super-efficient worker. This was the science fiction vision of the 1960s and 70s, but it has largely passed from public consciousness because most of the imagined scenarios ended badly for those taking the pills in question and for society as a whole. See the video clip below from Stephen Kings Firestarter (1984) as an example.

In the last 10 to 15 years, however, as part of our quick-fix, shortest PED route to success culture, the last of these has come back in the form of the ADHD wonder drug Adderall. A pharmaceutical invention that, when properly prescribed, gives those with Attention Deficit Disorder the much needed ability to concentrate on routine daily tasks and things such as school work.  For those without ADHD or ADD, the drug provides an adrenaline boost and an ability to hyper-focus on task. Now it has apparently found its way to college campuses where it has become a problem of epidemic scale (NPR, 6, Feb., 2013).

As a college student myself who struggled with remaining focused on academics amidst the vast wealth of sports, video games, clubs, relationships, and myriad other activities, I can see the appeal of being able to take a pill that would allow me to do all of the above and still excel academically. But what is the cost on students’ health and future performance? Are there ways of achieving some of the benefits of this wonder drug without having to risk addiction?

The Adderall Problem on College Campuses
Adderall abuse on college campuses is a relatively new phenomenon and as such, the information about its prevalence is a bit cloudy. Reports claim that anywhere from 35 to 85 or even 90 percent of college students are taking this drug without a prescription (NPR, 6, Feb., 2013). One addiction expert who called in to NPR’s On Point classified Adderall as an amphetamine that is a gateway to other, even more dangerous substances. That report is available in its entirety below.

While the debate over the actual numbers rages on, Adderall abuse on college campuses continues to be a significant and growing problem.

What Adderall Does for Students
In addition to providing an enhanced ability to concentrate, Adderall also may give some users a sense of euphoria (CNN Health, 1 Sept., 2011). There is an excellent article in the New York Times Education section, "In Their Own Words: ‘Study Drugs’" that presents first-hand accounts of the reasons why students use the drug and its effects on them. What is of interest to note from one of the stories in the article is the sense of hopelessness and loss, despite the euphoric effects,  that is evident from the "Giving In" story when  a female student from Minneapolis finally decides to try Adderall. The self-satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that this student talks about before taking the drug was stolen from her by giving in.

What she did not realize, and that most students in her position also don’t, is that she was on the right track before taking the drug and that there are supports available to help mediate the sense of being overwhelmed that she states pushed her to Adderall. Strong study habits aided by some innovative technological tools can make the overwhelmed high school or college student better equipped to deal with their day-to-day stress and help them develop lifelong habits that will make Adderall unnecessary.

The Long-Term Benefits of Technology Over Adderall
While the temporary positive effects of un-prescribed Adderall use may seem worth the risk for students struggling to keep up in their education, the list of possible side effects is quite daunting as the following list from Drugs.com reveals:

  • "headache, weakness, dizziness, blurred vision
  • feeling restless, irritable, or agitated,
  • sleep problems (insomnia);
  • dry mouth or an unpleasant taste in your mouth;
  • diarrhea constipation, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting;
  • fever;
  • hair loss loss of appetite, weight loss; or
  • loss of interest in sex, impotence, or difficulty having an orgasm.
  • fast, pounding, or uneven heartbeats;
  • pain or burning when you urinate;
  • talking more than usual, feelings of extreme happiness or sadness;
  • tremors, hallucinations, unusual behavior, or motor tics (muscle twitches); or
  • dangerously high blood pressure (severe headache, buzzing in your ears, anxiety, confusion, chest pain, shortness of breath, uneven heartbeats, seizure)."
    (Adderall Side Effects, Drugs.com)

While the negative effects of technology use are occasionally mentioned, they are nothing compared to those above. The positive effects, however, can be quite impressive, and while potentially addicting, will make you a more productive lifelong learner who can take pride in having accomplished things without bowing to the temptation of a quick fix solution. Here are just a few of the side effects of technology use:

  • Connection to others, including professors and experts in the field, through social media and electronic communications
  • Improved technological literacy – an invaluable skill on the job market
  • Access to a wealth of knowledge and information
  • Permanent records of your work and interactions
  • Enhanced organization skills
  • Ubiquitous access to your schedule and information

Gaining the benefits of technology use is fairly simple to do, and every student has access to these benefits without the risk of dangerous side effects or incarceration. Here are a few tips for keeping ahead of your school work using technology.

Make Your Smart Phone Work for You
That device in your pocket is more than a way to send text messages or update your Facebook status. It is a small yet powerful computer that you can use to keep your personal and academic lives organized and scheduled.

  • Use the calendar and reminder functions and put every event, appointment, and due date in religiously.
  • Break assignments down into manageable chunks such as creating an outline for a term paper, and put those due dates in as separate events – and make sure you meet them.
  • Make use of cloud-based options such as Google Calendar or iCloud to keep your schedule synched on all of your devices.
  • Use cloud-based applications to do work in spare moments. College is about the learning and filling any spare time with academically relevant activities should be a priority. Waiting for the bus? Do some course reading or draft a paper on a tablet computer. Send a text message, Tweet, or email a question to a connected professor rather than a friend while waiting in line for dinner.

Take Advantage of the Power of Technology You Underuse
You use some amazingly powerful programs on a daily basis without ever realizing their full potential. Take the MS Office Suite for example. Did you know that you can use Word to "Auto Summarize" papers for you? Or that you can make Outlook send SMS text messages to your phone when an important message is received? What about using Access or Excel to keep track of all of the books you have read, papers you have written, or course material you have learned, then using those programs’ features to sort and organize the information for you. Here are several tips to get you started from INVESTINTECH to get you started.

Become a Habitual Power User
The best way to make use of technology to help ensure that you won’t be tempted by Adderall is to, as Huey Lewis put it, find a new drug. I recommend technology. While any addiction is a bad thing, one to learning and the latest technology is not the worst case scenario. Playing video games and technology have been demonstrated to turn on the same pleasure receptors in the brain as some drugs, so the euphoric effects of Adderall could be somewhat mitigated by a modicum of game play. Beyond games, technology is a self-perpetuating addictive cycle of planned obsolescence and new innovation. Use technology to keep files organized and find things quicker.

There are always new gadgets, programs, and social media platforms to investigate and many of them can make you a more efficient learner, lifelong "Edventurer" and, ultimately a person capable of depending on themselves to get the job done in a demanding world. With a little motivation, some careful planning, and smart use of the latest technology, you can conquer college without the use of PEDs.

Have you fallen into the Adderall trap in high school or college? Do you have additional tips to share to break the habit or avoid it altogether? Please share them here or on Google+ or Twitter.