Back to school: Better grades don’t require abuse of prescription drugs


PETALUMA, CA, Sept. 1, 2014 – It used to be all you needed to do well on your high school calculus test was a disciplined study plan, a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast. Nowadays you might need to add a dose or two of Adderall or Ritalin as well. Or so it would seem.

The pressure to get good grades in order to be accepted by the best colleges and universities, combined with an often crushing load of extracurricular activities, has convinced an increasing number of high school students that the only way to stay ahead is through the use – and frequent abuse – of prescription drugs.

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“It’s throughout all the private schools here,” said DeAnsin Parker, a New York psychologist who treats kids from affluent neighborhoods like the Upper East Side, in an interview with the New York Times. “It’s not as if there is one school where this is the culture. This is the culture.”

Adding to the problem is the fact that these drugs are all perfectly legal, although not always obtained by legitimate means. Some students will pretend to be suffering from classic symptoms of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) simply to be given a prescription that they will then use themselves or sell to others. Although these medications are designed to relax someone with this condition, those without the disorder find that it gives them the energy they need to study for hours on end and maintain focus during difficult tests.

Although one of students quoted in The New York Times article didn’t think ingesting these so-called academic steroids was any different from taking vitamins, the practice can lead to depression, mood swings and even long-term addiction to other drugs, both legal and illegal.

Unfortunately, asking these children to “just say no” is simply not enough to get them to change course, especially when the apparent reward outweighs whatever risk is involved.

Perhaps a more effective approach would be for parents and educators to instill and encourage a more balanced understanding of success, and a stronger, more spiritually based, sense of purpose and identity. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” said a well-known teacher from the ancient Middle East, “and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Presumably “all these things” would include decent grades and a good education.

Mary Baker Eddy, a theologian and educator herself, described the upside of such spiritual pursuits in even more specific and contemporary terms. Referring to what she called “the laws of God” – including what she understood to be God’s unconditional and unrelenting love for each and every one of his sons and daughters – Eddy said:

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“Business men and cultured scholars have found that [an understanding of these laws] enhances their endurance and mental powers, enlarges their perception of character, gives them acuteness and comprehensiveness and an ability to exceed their ordinary capacity. The human mind, imbued with this spiritual understanding, becomes more elastic, is capable of greater endurance, escapes somewhat from itself, and requires less repose. [It] develops the latent abilities and possibilities of man. It extends the atmosphere of thought, giving mortals access to broader and higher realms. It raises the thinker into his native air of insight and perspicacity.”

Endurance. Acuteness and comprehensiveness. Insight and perspicacity. These are just what every student desires and requires in order to be successful, both in school and throughout their lives, and what every one of us has the capacity to inspire and support.

Eric Nelson’s columns on the link between consciousness and health appear regularly in a number of local and national online publications. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter @norcalcs.

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  • PublicHealthAwareness

    Good on you Eric for identifying a huge problem in our schools. It’s a very touchy subject with many people because a lot will argue with you that it helps kids with ADHD. However with that said, as someone who works in a pharmacy, there seems to be a lot of kids taking ADHD medications. I’m hoping these children end up taking these medications as adults because if they were to all of a sudden stop taking them, they might not be able to focus and do as well in their career as they would have from taking the drugs. This could be dangerous in professions requiring a lot of cognitive reasoning. Just my two cents.