Elite high school students across America face a lot of pressure to do well in school, to participate in numerous extracurricular activities, and to get into prestigious colleges that will prepare them for high-powered, lucrative careers. How do many of these students deal with the pressure and ensure their success? They take drugs.
The misuse and abuse of stimulant drugs like Adderall and Ritalin, commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children has become part of the culture at many elite high schools, and the trend isn’t just limited to the famous prep schools on the east coast. “We’re seeing it all across the United States,” said Drug Enforcement Agent (DEA) special agent Gary Boggs (NYT).
Students craving the focused energy and ability to go without sleep that these drugs provide often seek out other students known to have a prescription and buying pills off of them. Others fake the symptoms of ADHD to their parents and doctors in hopes of scoring a prescription of their own. The misuse of drugs like Ritalin and Adderall has become so prolific that the DEA lists them as Class 2 controlled substances, joining the list along with cocaine and morphine.
Using these drugs without doctor approval and regulation can lead to a host of side effects, including “depression and mood swings (from sleep deprivation), heart irregularities and acute exhaustion or psychosis during withdrawal… Little is known about the long-term effects of abuse of stimulants among the young. Drug counselors say that for some teenagers, the pills eventually become an entry to the abuse of painkillers and sleep aids” (NYT).
How standardized tests fit in
Many students use stimulants to improve performance on high-stakes standardized tests like the ACT and SAT. Unlike other forms of cheating, drug use is difficult to detect and prove after a student has taken the test, allowing students using these drugs to earn valid scores through an unfair advantage.
This year, 10 students from Irvine University High School earned a perfect score of 36 on the ACT. Because no one at the school has questioned any of the scores, they are all considered to be valid. But Irvine University High School is an elite high school that could very well be harboring an underground drug culture amongst its top students. This problem leads to questions about what students are putting themselves through, whether it be drug use, sleep deprivation, or intense stress, to earn these high scores.
Solving the problem
Clearly, the high-achieving students using these drugs aren’t typical drug abusers. They merely see drugs as a means to an end: better grades, better test scores, and admission to a better college. Parents, teachers, and school counselors should be on the look-out for signs that students are working themselves too hard or possibly using unethical methods to improve their grades. The cut-throat culture at some of these high schools has encouraged hypercompetitiveness. Now it’s time to back off and let students know that it’s okay not to be perfect.