Chemical Escape


Over the last year or so, I have read several articles about the usage of adderall by young adults in college and in the workplace.  The newly redesigned SELF magazine (I LOVE the redesign) featured an article about the increasing use of adderall with young women (the issue with Julianne Hough on the cover).  Reading that article reminded me of the rather common use of chemical stimulants during my school years, starting in high school, and throughout.

Admission:  I went to a private school where copious amounts of Mountain Dew, Coke, and coffee were rather commonplace.  The pressure to excel in class, on the field, and to stay thin, or fit, was super high.  Nevermind the ultimate goal, which was to get into a top ranked ivy league school.  While I don’t know how widespread cheating was, I did see it, although in rather localized instances.  While no one discussed ritalin, or adderall, I was aware of certain individuals who were granted special accomodations, whether extra time, or different testing times, for their assignments or exams.  It was strange to me to see these individuals receive this special attention, even though I could not tell anything different about them, but it also didn’t concern me.  It’s not something you put much thought into in high school.

It was the same in college.  Mountain Dew, or some crazy caffeinated drink, to keep you going through the long hours of the night trying to crank out a paper, or memorize as much information as possible was commonplace.  I know in college, I took a cue from my fellow students, and when I procrastinated to the very last second, I prepped for allnighters with multiple bottles of Mountain Dew.  However, the physical and mental drain that occurs pulling these allnighters is sickening.  By my junior year, the idea of pulling those empty calorie-infused allnighters made me nauseous, nevermind the pressure to create a full edited, proofread paper in one shot with footnotes, or endnotes.  I started planning my time better.  But by my senior year, I started noting mentions of adderall by people seeking to get it from whomever was willing to give people their pills, or more likely, was selling them.

By graduate school, my blinders were off and it was apparent to me this was the drug of choice to add a competitive edge.  Caffeine was small-time.  I became aware of students soliciting other individuals for adderal, or other chemical stimulants, for a competitive edge in their studies.  Usage was far more open, and people were very comfortable talking about who was selling, and asking whether they could get some.  People were very open about their own usage.  You would think that usage of chemical aids to help someone perform would end after the end of someone’s academic career, but interestingly enough, it just get’s a little bit more illicit.  However, now the use of stimulants, relaxants, and downers are employed much more regularly.

I was surprised to note, while in graduate school, the number of people who began to rely a little too much on alcohol to unwind after class, on weekends, and even after the end of schooling, as the most preferred method of unwinding.  Except, these weren’t nightcaps.  This was full on buzzed, broaching drunkeness, but not blind drunkness, fortunately.   Frequently.  It became a joke to me that people start graduate school and immediately become functional “alcoholics.”  The joke while I was in grad school was that I, too, would fall for the bottle.  (Except that wasn’t going to happen  because I do not like alcohol – blech.)  Alcohol may be the preferred method of relaxing, but close behind was pot.

This is were I look like a rube, but I was really shocked when I discovered how common pot smoking was.  Yes, I am revealing my goody two shoeness in this capacity.  I always associated illicit drug use with delinquents who weren’t going anywhere with their lives, so to see highly accomplished, upwardly mobile, educated folks inhaling without an inhibition was kind of shocking to me.  (Yes, I was a geeky, awkward, shy and cloistered teenager and young adult.  People who get to know me are very shocked at how blind I was growing up, or don’t see how I could not have been exposed to it.)  But pot smoking and functional alcoholics are quite common in undergrad and in graduate school.  (Some of you may be shaking your heads at my naivete, but apparently I had my head too safely hidden in my books.)  Now, it’s easy to think that this behavior ends once school ends, but really it’s just a gateway to harder, more illicit drugs for some heavy abusers of the “safer” drugs. 

I became aware of the use of cocaine as a stimulant to give a chemical edge by dual super hard workers and partiers, while in grad school, but it was always isolated to those chemical John and Jane Does, who were already kind of out there, and a hot mess to begin with.  What surprised me was the use of cocaine, by highly educated, professional, have it together folks.  These are individuals you would never believe do the stuff, or would ever have a need to “escape” anything.  Cocaine is the new party drug used by young, educated professional folks in clubs, or small houseparties, with bottles of Grey Goose nearby.  I am always shocked to find out who has tried occasionally, or who are regular users.  These are not the faces of cocaine abusers you see highlighted on the 10 o’clock news.  Frankly, cocaine is an expensive drug, so only those who have money have easier access to it. 

The point being?  A lot of people are trying to cope with LIFE.  Whether it’s coping with stress of competing by seeking an edge, or looking to relax from that stress, or looking to escape it altogether with complete avoidance, or seeking a new chemical brain high, people are not trying to deal.  I used to feel like a complete nerd because I didn’t see the point of smoking (never smoked), or why getting drunk is FUN (UM NO), don’t even get me started on the illegal stuff  (NO, I will not add that to my bucket list), but you know what – NOT ANYMORE.  No, I am still nerdy, but I don’t feel bad about it.

What’s interesting about all this recreational drug use (or abuse), is how it is described as a party other people want in on.  The users, or abusers, not necessarily the same as it depends on the drug, are rarely honest about why they are really doing whatever it is they are doing.  It’s always treated as no big deal, or a stage in life, a much needed pick me up, or just having SOME FUN, but no one ever says: I hate my life, I feel too much pressure, I feel empty and this makes me feel, I am afraid of failing and need to keep going, I am so stressed I can’t relax without a downer, I am soooo scared and tightly wound that I can’t relax without it.  Now, when I see someone who is normally reserved getting completely TRASHED and STUPID, I don’t think – WOW, that guy is having fun.  I think -WOW, I wonder what that married, mild-mannered average joe with three small children is escaping from.  Truth.

For me, I think it’s more avoidance than just having fun.  I don’t think momentarily scrambling your brain cells is a good thing.  Clearly, everyone can do what fits their circumstances.  But sometimes I wonder if people just aren’t taking the time to notice the small things in life that totally make being aware and alert on your own truly worthwhile. 

*This post has nothing to do with individuals who are using doctor-prescribed medication to correct chemical, or emotional imbalances they suffer from.


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