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The Ethics Of Adderall

Brace yourself—finals are coming. With only two days for studying and five exams to take, the pressure is mounting. Perspectives promises to offer three in-class essays and Orgo will basically slaughter you. Then, of course, there is the French exam on Saturday. An exam on a SATURDAY? There is so much to study and so little time!

But you’ve got the answer. A little pill you got from a friend of a friend who has a “friendly” family doctor. Adderall promises great things—extra energy, the ability to focus, and data retention are all within the little capsule you pop into your mouth. One swallow and you’re good to go for the next eight hours. Academic success, here you come.

But what exactly are you ingesting into your system? Adderall is a mix of four different amphetamine salts, and thus, in essence, is pure pharmaceutical amphetamine. Amphetamine causes a release of dopamine and norepinephrine, which are stress chemicals that create feelings of alertness and power. Adderall is composed of two amphetamine isomers, 25 percent is the l-isomer and 75 percent is the d-isomer. The l-isomer creates a euphoric rush, a quick and speedy high with a spurt of alertness. The d-isomer creates a smaller initial rush and increases alertness, memory, and focus for  longer periods of time. Mixed together, increased alertness, memory, and focus occur quicker and last longer than if each isomer was taken on its own.

Thus, it’s an academic enhancer, and while it may allow you to perform better, by using it as such, one is acting unethically.

Now, for the purpose of this argument, let’s ignore the illegality and the negative health effects the drug can have. While both interesting topics, they are irrelevant to demonstrating the unethical nature of using Adderall in an academic setting.

While maybe not intentionally, Boston College addresses the unethical use of Adderall in its prohibition of it under the cheating clause of the Academic Integrity Policy. Cheating, according to BC, is “the use or attempted use of unauthorized aids in examinations or other academic exercises submitted for evaluation.” Many would argue that using it is not cheating—it’s not the same as bringing the answers into a test or looking up formulas on your iPhone. Yet, if you look at the definition, the use of the academic enhancer is clearly covered. Adderall is meant to be an aid for those who need it, and if you do not have a prescription then you are using the aid without authorization.

The reason for banning unauthorized aids is to create a fair competition within Academia. We may like the philosophical idea that Academia is a pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge, but the reality is that there is grading involved, and that grading determines a lot about your future. For example, it was because you got better grades than your peers that got you into BC. Further, your admission into med school or a law firm will depend on your relative performance at the undergrad and graduate levels. We may not like this, but it is the way western society judges academics and, since we live in the confines of our society, we live within its ethical realm as well.

Still not convinced it’s cheating? Take a basic example. For your core history exam, you only need to know the notes from class. No extra knowledge, just the dates and facts given to you in lectures. You and your classmate have both gone to every lecture and exchanged notes, meaning you have the same body of knowledge from which to study. You study for 10 hours without any academic enhancer. Your classmate, however, studies the same 10 hours after taking Adderall. Due to the Adderall, he is able to retain more information, study with more focus, and quickly comprehend more material. But you are being tested according to the same standard—you are handed the same exam. In the end, you get a B, while your classmate gets an A. Can you honestly say that your classmate deserved that A and earned it fairly?

So why don’t we let everyone take Adderall? Well, if we did, we would still create an unfair setting for those who need it. Students with ADD and ADHD are taking the medication to be on an equal playing field with those who do not need it. By allowing everyone to take Adderall, those who need it are once again at a disadvantage.

The use of Adderall is on the rise. In 1990, Congress restricted production of amphetamine to 417 kg. By 2012, to meet demand, the restriction had risen to 25,300 kg.

According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of American College Health, 31 percent of college students use Adderall as a study aid. Yet on college campuses, the problem is ignored. Many say it’s because there is no way to “fix” the abuse short of asking for urine samples before every exam. This, of course, is something no university wants to implement, and frankly, it would be impossible. And what kind of sanctions would be put in place for those caught? Would they be arrested for the illegality of the drug use or kicked out for breaking academic integrity policies? Furthermore, administrators are fearful of the negative publicity that would arise if they admitted there was a drug issue on their campus. These complications have inhibited universities from stepping up and addressing the blatant cheating.

So, for now we must rely on our own integrity. Your honor is on the line.

Are you going to cheat this finals season?

Featured Image by Breck Wills / Heights Graphic

December 8, 2014

ONE COMMENT ON THIS POST To “The Ethics Of Adderall”

  1. Wow! How many people are taking Adderall illegally? How do you know the number? Urinalysis is not impossible. In fact, it’s quite easy.