A Quick Fix is NOT the Answer to A Societal Pendemic

I read in this Sunday New York Times Magazine’s “A Pharmaceutical Education” (Sept. 7, 2009) that in the United States the number of prescribed Aderall pills has increased from four to eight millions in the past eight years. And I can’t help but taking a dive in the past.

I was a freshmen in college at the University of Colorado at Boulder when I first heard of this “magic medication that made you pull an all-nighter.”  I was, as someone would like to say, “Fresh Off The Boat” from Italy and never in my life I had felt the need of having to deprive myself of precious sleep for some Organic Chemistry homework. But on my floor everyone seemed to disagree.

They girls of the room in front of ours were popping Aderall pills daily, staying up all night writing papers and missing classes in the morning to catch up during the withdrawl effect. The more I heard about the med, the more skeptical I became. Then, when I noticed the girls progressive weight loss, I started wondering if it could have been a result of the “sleepless” schedule and the missing meals due to their high on Aderall.

I was right, but helpless. They would not listen. They loved Aderall and it was hard to convinced them they could do just as well without it.

So, while my floor became addicted to the “magic pill” I become addicted to sports, joining the swim team and then the triathlon one. I found the same high they got from the meds in sports and that helped me concentrate better when it was time to sit at my desk and write the term paper or the lab report.  I am so glad, it never crossed my mind to follow in my floor-mates path and take Aderall to stay up and finish my homework. I think playing sports definitely helped keeping my head straight, but, to be honest, I strongly believe, that was the cultural gap that made the difference after all.

When I lived in Rome, Italy, If I couldn’t concentrate in high school I would take a walk or a run around the block and maybe take a bite of a slice of bread with marmalade and a hot chocolate to recharge. There were no “sudden” remedies in a pill shape. Let alone sleepless night allowed in my family.  It was all about finding the right method that worked for us to make it through one paper at the time.

When I first moved to the States nothing changed. I brought what I was used to do in Italy to the U.S. and it worked well, even though people thought I was nuts studying so much (never did they question it was indeed because I was a foreigner and I was doing Physics homework in English using calculus when all I learned in school was Philosopy, History, Biology, Algebra, Latin and Greek). Yet, the more I lived in the U.S., the more I noticed the necessity for college students to take Aderall and invoke “the concentration muse” being a result of the “over-stimulated” lifestyle they led. The constant fast pace life where no out-of-the-ordinary break is allowed is not only synonymous of “world leader in production and economical growth,” (before the economical crisis, of course!), but a curse for people who want to pay attention to only ONE thing at the time.

So Aderall is the “fast-effecting” solution to their “recurrent” problem. But, guess why it’s recurrent indeed? Maybe because popping the magic pill is not the long-lasting fix after all.

I used to be able to schedule one task and finish it before I thought of another and got distracted just by the thought of it. Now, I constantly catch myself writing a blog post, checking my email incessantly, answering my phone, editing pictures and Skype chatting with my sisters in Paris, all at that same time. So much for multi-tasking, but am I enjoying/paying attention or even remotely doing all these things as well as they could be done if I could only focus my mind effortlessly on one task ONLY?

The answer to the first part of the question is NO. And YES to the second part.

But, this is still not a reason to push me to take Aderall.

I rather see it as a very inspiring reason to take a step back and explore ways to calm the mind and re-center to the days when we had only one email account and no Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. This is a time where the extra run, bike ride, Yoga class or in-person chat with a friend over coffee might make us more sane and more willing to finish our work, homework or the book we started four months ago while reading the other one we put aside a year ago.

I have been taking this symptoms of “lack of concentration” as a personal challenge for the past few months and I can say I have learned a lot about my “weakness” and I am very excited to start fixing it even if I know it will take much longer than swallowing a pill. I did not get to this conclusion entirely on my own. My parents are to be thanked for having thought me to discipline myself since the beginning of days. Their example has helped me understand I sometime waste so much more time trying to do seven things at once.

Now, if only parents were less focused on their careers and more on the growth and education of their children, they might have time to teach them that simple solutions to complicated problems, such as a pill for lack of concentration are bound to bring many more complications afloat. And, most of the time, these result in desperate request for help that are out of our control, such as anorexia, depression and even suicide.

So, if college students are taking Aderall to stay up and finish their homework while thus becoming skinnier, depressed and incapable to have social interactions if not via computer, it’s not only their fault, but their parents’ too.

Simple solution: Get your kids to stay active so they can learn to burn their creative juice on paper when it comes without the need of a “cheating-yourself” drug. Teach them to eat well and have breaks in their working and study session and take at least a yearly vacation to explore different culture and lifestyles and embrace the difference in your own way at home.

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