Adderall and the Academic Advantage

Rev. Michael P. Orsi
By Rev. Michael P. Orsi | January 23, 2013 | 3:32 PM EST

In recent weeks the media has given a good deal of attention to professional athletes who used illicit drugs to enhance their performance.  

The Professional Baseball Writers Association refused to admit Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa to the Hall of Fame. The writers believe that their achievements were not due solely to their natural athletic prowess and discipline but to the steroids they used.        

Lance Armstrong confessed to Oprah Winfrey, on her TV show, that he used many illicit drugs as well as “blood packing” to win the Tour de France, an unprecedented seven times. When asked by Oprah if this feat would have been possible without the edge given him by the doping, he emphatically said, “no.”         

Americans rightly feel betrayed and outraged by these cheaters in professional sports.        The steroid and doping scandals are indicative of the moral decay besetting our society. The importance of winning and getting a competitive edge at any cost has caused the loss of any sense of fair play. Just as the athletes cheated for an advantage, people in other fields cheat as well.       

Unfortunately, this is now especially true in academics. Adderall, for example, is now being taken by many students to help them to focus and get better grades. Doctors, schools, and parents are complicit in it.       

Having been in school work for many years, I can attest to the increased use of Adderall and similar types of psycho-stimulant medications, like Concerta and Ritalin. Practically any student not satisfied with his or her grades can go to a doctor, get themselves diagnosed as having ADHD (Attention Deficient-Hyperactivity Disorder) and get a prescription for one of these drugs.       

There is a serious problem with this:  

Firstly, grades are meant to be competitive. If some students are now being chemically enhanced to achieve higher scores than their drug-free classmates, it skews the ranks in class. This has an effect on future education opportunities and on job placement.       

Secondly, taking an enhancement drug always has some side effect. Adderall, for example, may cause dizziness, nervousness, headache, weight loss, inability to sleep, dry mouth, abdominal pain, an increase in blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, hallucinations, and chest pain, to name a few. And, even more frightening, is that the long-term effects of taking Adderall and similar drugs has not been established.       

Thirdly, what is to prevent good students from seeking drugs to score even higher on exams? Certainly, an “A” looks better than a “B,” and a “B” looks better than a “C.” Everybody thinks they are capable of doing better. After all, the athletes mentioned above were pretty darn good without the drugs they took.        

Fourthly, what happens when a person is no longer in school? Must the chemically induced “focus” continue to aid in their job performance, diagnostic abilities, and good judgment? Where does it stop?       

What is amazing is that many students are now being diagnosed with ADHD well after high school and college? This means that they got by well enough for a number of years without Adderall. One has to wonder why the condition was only diagnosed in college, graduate or professional school. 

Could it be because higher education is meant to be more competitive and that some students cannot naturally measure up to the demands?       

Drugs are dangerous! Certainly, for those who legitimately need them, they are a blessing. But, handing them out for performance enhancement is enabling people to illegitimately achieve what they do not deserve. The doctors who prescribe these drugs too freely should be charged with malpractice. The parents who encourage drug use for this purpose should be charged with child-abuse! 

School administrators should address this growing problem. They must provide instruction to pupils and their parents on the moral and medical consequences of promoting the use of drugs for better grades. Not to do so is to be complicit in undermining fairness which is vital for a just society. It also may have detrimental health effects on the drug takers, those they serve after leaving school and on future generations