Pep pills focus students’ energy in wrong places

It’s early morning and Johnny is finally done studying for a test he’ll take in four hours. He’s ready for whatever the teacher throws at him. If only he could keep his hands from shaking

It’s early morning and Johnny is finally done studying for a test he’ll take in four hours. He’s ready for whatever the teacher throws at him. If only he could keep his hands from shaking so much. He’s relied on pills to pull an all-nighter.

Without those pills, he wouldn’t have the highest grade in the class. In the competitive world of college, stimulant abuse by some creates an unfair advantage over others. Having an unfair advantage over the competition isn’t acceptable anywhere else in our society. That’s no more evident than in the world of sports.

Steroid abuse and performance-enhancing drug use by sports professionals have flooded the news in the past few years. Media attention has focused questioning eyes on everyone from cyclist Floyd Landis and his victory at the 2006 Tour de France to power-hitter and former home run hitter Mark McGwire.

But the sports professionals’ use of enhancers don’t involve pounding a Red Bull in the dugout before slamming another home run. Performance-enhancing drugs or supplements are specifically designed to alter the body and mind, allowing them to function in a way that they cannot under normal conditions.

Caffeine-infused energy drinks or coffee may keep you awake for a long period of time – just enough to study for a midterm in the morning. But prescription stimulants do more. Drugs like Adderall and Ritalin will not only keep you awake, but will increase mental alertness and concentration, allowing the user to not only take in information, but recover more information as well.

So why shouldn’t everyone have an everlasting supply of super pills? Besides being a questionable moral choice, personal use of stimulants could have enormous benefits. Industrial productivity would be at a scale that was never dreamed of before. There would be a supply of shift workers who never tire and are always alert. Technological advances could grow, supplying the needs of an information-
hungry world where people are in a constant mode of processing and creating information.

Strikingly, history has already shown us the possibilities of a society on stimulants. There are documented accounts
of German soldiers during World War II being given amphetamines to boost alertness and fight off fatigue and sleep deprivation. And the American military has a history of supplying “go-pills” to soldiers and pilots, something that has been common since World War II into the present day Iraq war.

But a military use of uppers is only half the story. Jack Kerouac, a founding father of the 1950s Beat generation, used the then-over-the-counter stimulant Benzedrine to write his groundbreaking novel “On the Road.” He typed his book on a 120-foot scroll in a three-week stretch.

So if uppers have been a staple to speed-addled fighting forces and literary geniuses, some may wonder the harm in having students resort to popping pills to help fight the war against homework.

Success in school is generally defined by what grades a student receives as a result of better study skills and work ethic. Those grades are based on a level playing field created by the grading system.

Someone who has attended class regularly and performs well on homework and quizzes should logically receive a high score. But what about the student who decides to pop a pill, cram for the test the night before and still receive that same grade as his or her peers? In this scenario, there is no equality in the system.

If the system breaks down, then it falls on those in charge to create checks and balances to help curb the abuses that create the problems. But the ultimate balance is a moral one, and it falls on the student.

As long as stimulant abuse goes on within the student population, people will only think about the short-term success of passing the next test. Students should realize that the long-term effects of breaking the system will only lead to less-than-lenient grading in the future, and hard classes becoming even worse tomorrow.

Gabe Mink can be reached at

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