Is It Really Drug Abuse If It's Adderall?

A new study reveals who is searching online for ADHD drugs, and the relaxed attitude toward "study drug" abuse. 


When I was in college, Adderall was the most popular drug that no one thought was a drug. It was treated like a vitamin or protein shake, something harmless you'd take to enhance your performance. While some trends have changed in the past decade, a new study by ProjectKnow reveals that study drugs are as popular as ever. Of the millions of students currently in college, one in six admits to abusing ADHD medication.

The study analyzed Google search trends from 2004-2014, observing the searches for the top four ADHD medications: Adderall, Vyvanse, Ritalin, and Focalin. The researchers then mapped the trends by city and state, as well as by month. Interestingly, the cities that had the highest number of searches were college towns like Austin and Boston. New England, home of the majority of the Ivy League schools, searched for study drugs more than any other area of the country. Even more telling, however, was that the searches increased in the months of the end-of-semester finals, December and April, and dipped during the summer months of June and July.

The number of students who report using study drugs regularly has remained mostly the same over the past decade. Those who report having tried ADHD medication has increased, meaning that it's becoming more and more casual (with people trying it at least once, but not making a habit of it).

The laissez-faire attitude toward powerful medications is incredibly dangerous. Amphetamines (Adderall and Vyvanse) and methylphenidates (Ritalin and Focalin) have a high risk of dependency and addiction. A study by the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation has said that “misuse of stimulants is associated with dangers including psychosis, myocardial infarction, cardiomyopathy, and even sudden death.” What’s ironic is that numerous studies have shown that if you don’t have ADHD, the drugs aren’t helping you focus and you’re actually experiencing a placebo effect.


We all like to joke about that Very Special Episode of Saved By The Bell where Jessie Spano became (briefly) addicted to caffeine pills, but the show was in some ways prophetic. Our competitive culture has told kids that their best isn’t good enough, that they have to be better than everyone else, they have to excel. And that pressure is causing them to turn to dangerous pharmaceuticals in order to get that “edge.”

Few are doing these drugs for fun or to escape; they’re doing them because they feel like they can’t live up to the expectation. America is obsessed with performance, with grades and income and status. But it’s a Sisyphean challenge — you study in high school to get into the “right” college; you take drugs in college to make the “right” grades, so that you can then get the “right” job. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having expectations of yourself, wanting to do well and be your best self. The problem comes when you feel like you are flawed and need a drug to fix that, and when you are pursuing an idea of happiness that is not your own.

So take it from this study by ProjectKnow, and take it from Jessie Spano: Study drugs are a bad idea. If you need help, or know someone that does, explore the many resources on the internet, at your college, or by calling a helpline.

PHOTO CREDIT: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

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Lori Chandler is a writer and comedian living in Brooklyn, NY. She has been published in The New York Times and on CollegeHumor. You can follow her on Twitter @LilBoodleChild to keep up with her latest pieces, performance dates, and wry observations. 

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Image: The Pudding
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  • Replace city names with those of their most famous residents
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Chicagoland is Obamaland

Image: The Pudding

Chicagoland's celebrity constellation: dominated by Barack, but with plenty of room for the Belushis, Brandos and Capones of this world.

Seen from among the satellites, this map of the United States is populated by a remarkably diverse bunch of athletes, entertainers, entrepreneurs and other persons of repute (and disrepute).

The multitalented Dwayne Johnson, boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dominate the West Coast. Right down the middle, we find actors Chris Pratt and Jason Momoa, singer Elvis Presley and basketball player Shaquille O'Neal. The East Coast crew include wrestler John Cena, whistle-blower Edward Snowden, mass murderer Ted Bundy… and Dwayne Johnson, again.

The Rock pops up in both Hayward, CA and Southwest Ranches, FL, but he's not the only one to appear twice on the map. Wild West legend Wyatt Earp makes an appearance in both Deadwood, SD and Dodge City, KS.

How is that? This 'People's Map of the United States' replaces the names of cities with those of "their most Wikipedia'ed resident: people born in, lived in, or connected to a place."

‘Cincinnati, Birthplace of Charles Manson'

Image: The Pudding

Keys to the city, or lock 'em up and throw away the key? A city's most famous sons and daughters of a city aren't always the most favoured ones.

That definition allows people to appear in more than one locality. Dwayne Johnson was born in Hayward, has one of his houses in Southwest Ranches, and is famous enough to be the 'most Wikipedia'ed resident' for both localities.

Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth, IL, but his reputation is closely associated with both Deadwood and Dodge City – although he's most famous for the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which took place in Tombstone, AZ. And yes, if you zoom in on that town in southern Arizona, there's Mr Earp again.

The data for this map was collected via the Wikipedia API (application programming interface) from the English-language Wikipedia for the period from July 2015 to May 2019.

The thousands of 'Notable People' sections in Wikipedia entries for cities and other places in the U.S. were scrubbed for the person with the most pageviews. No distinction was made between places of birth, residence or death. As the developers note, "people can 'be from' multiple places".

Pageviews are an impartial indicator of interest – it doesn't matter whether your claim to fame is horrific or honorific. As a result, this map provides a non-judgmental overview of America's obsession with celebrity.

Royals and (other) mortals

Image: The Pudding

There's also a UK version of the People Map – filled with last names like Neeson, Sheeran, Darwin and Churchill – and a few first names of monarchs.

Celebrity, it is often argued, is our age's version of the Greek pantheon, populated by dozens of major gods and thousands of minor ones, each an example of behaviours to emulate or avoid. This constellation of stars, famous and infamous, is more than a map of names. It's a window into America's soul.

But don't let that put you off. Zooming in on the map is entertaining enough: celebrities floating around in the ether are suddenly tied down to a pedestrian level, and to real geography. And it's fun to see the famous and the infamous rub shoulders, as it were.

Barack Obama owns Chicago, but the suburbs to the west of the city are dotted with a panoply of personalities, ranging from the criminal (Al Capone, Cicero) and the musical (John Prine, Maywood) to figures literary (Jonathan Franzen, Western Springs) and painterly (Ivan Albright, Warrenville), actorial (Harrison Ford, Park Ridge) and political (Eugene V. Debs, Elmhurst).

Freaks and angels

Image: Dorothy

The People Map of the U.S. was inspired by the U.S.A. Song Map, substituting song titles for place names.

It would be interesting to compare 'the most Wikipedia'ed' sons and daughters of America's cities with the ones advertised at the city limits. When you're entering Aberdeen, WA, a sign invites you to 'come as you are', in homage to its most famous son, Kurt Cobain. It's a safe bet that Indian Hill, OH will make sure you know Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, was one of theirs. But it's highly unlikely that Cincinnati, a bit further south, will make any noise about Charles Manson, local boy done bad.

Inevitably, the map also reveals some bitterly ironic neighbours, such as Ishi, the last of the Yahi tribe, captured near Oroville, CA. He died in 1916 as "the last wild Indian in North America". The most 'pageviewed' resident of nearby Colusa, CA is Byron de la Beckwith, Jr., the white supremacist convicted for the murder of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers.

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