By: Sandra Potter, JS Student
Drug abuse has traditionally held the social stigma of being a vice of the poor; because individuals of povery-stricken areas are unable to afford the legitimate means of supporting themselves or to cope with their situation they turn to drugs. But recently an article brought to light abuse of drugs within affluent high schools not to get high, but to get better grades. Students of prestigious schools experience so much pressure to succeed academically they feel they must use drugs like Adderall and Ritalin, pharmaceutical amphetamines for treatment of attention disorders, to remain competitive. (Schwarz, 2012) This may break the stereotypical beliefs on motivations behind substance abuse, but there are still criminological theories to explain the motivation behind the crime.
NIDA, the National Institue on Drug Abuse, report abuse of Adderall to be at 6.5% for 12th graders in the U.S., but this number may not entirely reflect the trend of more affluent high school students using the drug for better grades. An independent study in Pediatrics Journal states an observed increase in ADD and ADHD diagnoses, prescriptions, and subsequently amphetamine abuse. (Setlik, 2009) Normally, a doctor or psychiatric evaluation is required for a diagnosis in either of these diseases, but saavy students can easily fake symptoms to get a prescription, which they can later abuse and sell to other students. ADD and ADHD amphetamines work by changing the brain’s regulation of the neurotransmitter dopamine, but repeated exposure can permanently change dopamine levels in the brain, especially for children due to their pliable and underdeveloped brain chemistry. For a student with no attention disorder, the drugs give increased concentration, better recall, and more energy to study all night. But as with other amphetamines, there are immediate and long term effects on the body and adrenal system: withdrawl symptoms and depression, increase in heart rate and even tachycardia and seizure in overdoses, stress on hormone systems, suppression of appetite, and sleeplessness.
There are existing criminological theories to explain this particular mode of substance abuse. Robert Merton’s theory of anomie was developed in 1938 and has since been revised and adapted numerous times to fit modern society. The basic theory states that crime and deviant behavior occurs as a result of an individual’s goals for success not being achieved with the opportunities available to them. The innovator mode of personality adaptation, an addition to Merton’s theory, states that an individual wants socially-accepted success but chooses potentially illegal alternative means to achieve that success. (Hagan, 2011) The substance abuse crisis of US high schools is demonstrating this theory; students feel such pressure from parents, coaches, teachers, and themselves to be academic successes but they feel that traditional means of studying is not adequate for them to outcompete each other in grades. More and more students turn to drug abuse when they see their peers increase their grades with ADHD medication, and because most of these students do not even realize this medication is a scheduled drug by the FDA (Schedule 2, which is defined as a therapeutic drug with high potential for abuse) they do not know they are committing a felony offense that could cost them their academic career.
Parents and school administrators for the most part are either unaware of this problem or do not consider it to be as dire a problem as alcohol and marijuana use among high school students. Meanwhile, these guardians continue to pressure their students and children to succeed at the threat of punishment for failure. Until these students are given emotional support and professional help rather than unmitigated pressure they will continue to abuse these drugs to the point of overdose or graduation to more serious drugs.
Hagan, F.E. (2011). Introduction to Criminology—theories, methods, and criminal behavior. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.
Schwarz, A. (2012, June 9). Risky Rise of the Good-Grade Pill. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/10/education/seeking-academic-edge-teenagers-abuse-stimulants.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=us
Setlik, J., Bond, G.R., Ho, M. (2009). Adolescent Prescription ADHD Medication Abuse Is Rising Along With Prescriptions for These Medications. Pediatrics, 124. Retrieved from http://www.pediatricsdigest.mobi/content/124/3/875.full
2011, March. DrugFacts: High School and Youth Trends. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/high-school-youth-trendsTags: adder all, Drug abuse