My hands were shaking uncontrollably — I could not take notes in my classes. I was petrified a professor was going to take off points because my handwriting was so illegible on a test.
My eyesight was blurry — I could not concentrate on test questions. The letters would blur together until I was squinting and blinking my eyes to read a single sentence.
My mouth dried up. Every word I tried to speak in an oral exam grew in my mouth until it wouldn’t fit anymore and it just kind of fumbled out in a jumble of sounds.
My heart was slamming against my chest.
I got dizzy when I stood up; I was still dizzy when I sat down.
I had taken Adderall.
Everyone knows America is a fast-paced society. We go and go and never stop—and while this tendency is found in all sectors of American society, there is nowhere it is more prevalent than the American college campus.
We cannot start our day off without a full dose of caffeine to combat the insufficient sleep we got the night before, but just a cup of coffee to jump-start our system in the morning isn’t enough. Coffee, soda, energy drinks —these are the standard beverages of choice for the college-aged for breakfast, lunch, dinner and all the times in between.
Even with all of this caffeine consumption, we reach a point where the caffeine isn’t cutting it. It just isn’t enough to conquer the three tests you have on Monday, the paper you have due Wednesday, the class project on Thursday and work and school and family and friends and church…
So then what? Do you finally cave to the pressure, throw up your hands and tell everyone you don’t care what grade you get, that your GPA isn’t important anyway?
Quit your extracurricular activities; decide to not go into work one day?
Of course not. Because, like it or not, if you want to be competitive in today’s economy, your GPA matters. Your extracurricular activities matter. Your job matters.
So you keep pushing yourself and looking for ways to sacrifice one essential thing our bodies absolutely cannot live without—sleep.
I reached this breaking point recently. Three tests back to back, homework, a hefty bit of reading for my classes, a paper, a job and trying to still make time for church, family and friends meant I literally did not have time for sleep.
By Tuesday night, I had been awake for 40 hours on five hours of sleep — three hours Monday night and a two-hour nap Tuesday afternoon.
By midnight, with two tests coming up that morning, I knew I wasn’t prepared enough to go to sleep. But with three Monsters already in my system and still feeling tired, I also knew I wasn’t physically able to stay awake anymore on my own.
So, as a junior in college, I did what I always promised my parents and myself I would never do. I took Adderall for the first time.
An illegal drug for those who don’t have a prescription, Adderall is designed to help people diagnosed with ADD or ADHD focus. For those without ADD or ADHD, and those taking it late at night, it keeps you awake and helps you focus.
By 2 a.m. I was wide awake and being the most productive I have ever been in my life.
By 6 a.m. I felt very prepared for my first test; I had never retained information that easily. By 8:30 a.m. I felt almost as prepared for my second test.
I took my next dose of Adderall (I was using the slow-release capsules, which means the results last up to eight hours) at 8:30 a.m. to get my through my tests and work.
In the middle of my first test, around 9:30 a.m., I started experiencing some of the side effects Adderall can cause.
I began trembling uncontrollably, I was horribly dizzy and light-headed, my vision started to blur and I had a hard time reading the questions on my test. My mouth became incredibly dry and my heart was beating frantically.
I got out of my first test and immediately called four friends who I know take Adderall regularly, asking them if what I was experiencing was normal.
They all assured me that while it doesn’t happen to everyone, these were all possible side effects. So I continued with my day, going to my next class, though I could not take notes because my hands were shaking so badly.
I got out of my second test feeling confident in my answers, even though my hands were still shaking, my vision was still blurry and I felt cranky and irritable.
Even with the awful side effects, I could not deny the Adderall had done its job.
I had been awake for more than 50 hours, still functioning on the five hours I got Monday night and Tuesday afternoon. I had not slept at all in 24 hours. Not only that, but I think I did a pretty good job on my tests.
I went to work when I finished with all of my classes — definitely functioning a little below par, but all things considered I was doing a pretty good job. I was still shaky and still dizzy.
I finally got to bed around 11 Wednesday night — 64 hours after my week began, feeling confident about my tests. But also feeling very conflicted about the decision I had made to take Adderall.
Not only is this an illegal drug, but it is also a dangerous one. Taking Adderall on too little sleep and for continuous periods of times can result in severe damage to the heart — things like heart attacks or strokes are possible.
It is not something I plan to ever do again. The entire day I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience and I was constantly worried about my reactions to the drug. And it turns out I had a right to be nervous. When I looked up the side effects to write my story, I was experiencing just about everything from the “Dangerous, consult a physician if you experience this” list.
Even though I have been permanently turned off of Adderall from my own experience, the abuse of prescription drugs for energy and focus is a continuing problem at schools around the country.
According to a study done at the University of Kentucky, 34 percent of undergraduates have illegally taken attention deficit drugs. Almost 60 percent of upperclassmen use the drugs to stay on top of classes and work and in upperclassmen involved in Greek life the percentage jumps to 80 percent.
Just from my own experience at Baylor, I was one of two people in my group of close friends who had never used Adderall. The percentages from the University of Kentucky match up almost perfectly when I measure it against the people I know.
I also know that Adderall is very easy to obtain — I sent two text messages and had two pills in my pocket within an hour.
The scary part about this story is not that I, along with probably at least 60 percent of other upperclassman at Baylor, have taken prescription drugs to stay awake. The scary thing here is not that I could have had a stroke or a heart attack at 21. The scary thing is not how easy illegal drugs are to obtain or how frequently they are abused.
The real problem here is not Adderall. It is not students buying and using illegal drugs. The real problem is that students feel there is no other option.
No one wants to go three days without sleep. No one wants to experience all of the negatives of Adderall and other attention deficit drugs for laughs. No one wants to be this stressed out about life. We are this stressed, we stay up for days on end and we brave illegal and scary options for staying awake because we are expected to.
Our professors, our parents and our future employers expect us to have good academic standing. Our resumes require that we have the requisite number of extracurricular activities to stay competitive. Our employers expect us to come to work on time everyday and excel. Our parents expect us to call them and come see them. Our friends expect us to make time for them, whether it is to have fun or help them with their problems when they need it.
The scary thing is that this is what society wants from me. No one cares — not professors, not employers, not politicians — that an entire generation is risking its health regularly in order to stay at the top.
Whether it is strokes at a young age due to inordinately high caffeine intakes, ulcers or eating disorders due to stress, or even falling asleep at the wheel because of sleep deprivation —this generation has a problem with sleep. We have a problem with stress.
So this is one voice crying out on behalf of a generation. Crying out to say Wake up, America! Wake up. Slow down. You are killing those who are trying so hard to keep up.
-Anonymous Baylor student