October 24, 2017

RUSSELL | The Stewart Avenue Junkie Network

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They tell you some of the first signs of drug abuse are social; a person changes their look, their friends, their personality. Maybe they become more irritable, or their whereabouts more mysterious. Addiction is a catalyst for subtle transformations, and often it’s the amalgamation of these little changes — not glaring red flags — that tip loved ones off.

In the past, I’ve seen shifts in my own friends from home, sometimes finding them more absent-minded, with new mannerisms and conversational reservations. It doesn’t even take a full-on tumble into hard drug abuse for one to seem a bit “off.” When a habit overtakes your life, the people familiar with your life notice, regardless of whether the habit causes long-term physiological damage.

Drug addiction can sometimes be a collective experience too. It’s always interesting to hear about drug hotspots in America — the rural counties out west where overdoses abound and politicians rack their brains to think up new drug policy ideas. Ithaca has at times been mentioned in conversations about these areas, as the burgeoning heroin epidemic seeps into the land above Cayuga’s waters.

The student body, however, is somehow removed, or at least thought to be removed, from this epidemic. Back home, most of us were the kids who either avoided drugs or didn’t let them affect too much of our lives. Cocaine and MDMA and Xanax are more than easy to find on campus, but it seems that the drugs with the strongest grip on Cornell’s undergraduate community are the ones that supplement our greater addiction: the self-involved satisfaction of feeling that we’re making a future for ourselves.

For those who use them, Adderall just makes the intake easier and marijuana takes the edge off.

To call pre-professionalism a drug is certainly a stretch, but it’s a stretch I’m willing to make for the sake of an edgy column. Merriam-Webster’s definition of a drug is a “substance that causes addiction, habituation, or a marked change in consciousness,” and if we’re liberal in our definition of “substance,” you’ve got pre-professionalism, case in point.

We need to be working toward a good career, and if that uneasy feeling you get when you see people in suits on their way to a networking event you aren’t attending is any indication, this pursuit is the stuff of a bona fide dependency.

Today, I took a scroll through WebMD’s signs of drug addiction. One early sign is “You spend a lot of your time thinking about the drug.” Check.

Another: “You’ve lost interest in things you once liked to do.” Check.

“You look different.” A nice haircut and a fancy looking suit? Check.

“You have a new set of friends with whom you do drugs and go to different places to use the drugs.” Does the term pre-professional fraternity mean anything to you? Check.

There’s no question about it: the addiction is real. And we can’t just excuse it like my dear Aunt Sally. The changes are visible and intrusive and they’re here to stay.

This pursuit didn’t engulf us overnight. If you’re at Cornell, you tried the gateway drug in high school. You had good grades and leadership positions and people in your life who told you you’d make it big someday. You’ve been spoon-fed this narrative that you’re bound to succeed. Told, likely in more opaque terms, that you’ll get a good job one day and probably make good money.

Now you want to prove them right, but if this were just a casual desire, you’d be comforted by all the stories of successful adults who didn’t start their careers at Fortune 500 companies. Instead, you probably disregard those stories like I do, because you don’t just want a good job one day; you’re addicted to this search for one.

You obviously don’t really need an impressive junior year internship, but addicts don’t think rationally about what they really need. Addiction, or at least the psychological aspect of it anyway, is fundamentally a disregard for rationality.

But despite all the stress and mental anguish we’ve been subjected to as we chase the next high, we don’t care that we’re addicted. It’s one of the few things that bring us together around here.

Other schools have sports or four-year housing or regional affinity. We have our obsessions with pre-professionalism and the junkie network that forms around this obsession.

And I’m OK with that — as long as it comes with a cushy job in the end.

 

Paul Russell is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at prussell@cornellsun.com. Russelling Feathers appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.