Pro/Con: the SDSU Adderall debate

by Staff

Is Adderall a harmless study drug, a useful tool for students with learning disabilities or something much worse? Senior staff columnist Madison Hopkins and staff columnist Kelly Gardner debated the issue in this week’s Pro/Con.

Kelly Gardner: Every morning I wake and do the normal tasks that any other person would do. I wash my face, brush my teeth and maybe grab some breakfast. To complete my routine, I take my medicine, Adderall.

I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder my senior year of high school and I’ve been taking Adderall every day since. Adderall helps me function at a normal level, both in the classroom and in the everyday world. However, this is not the case for a large number of students. For these students, Adderall has become the go-to study drug. It’s a performance enhancer for the classroom. As the illegal use of this substance has increased, the issue of cheating has also become more prominent.

For me, Adderall is a tool to help me complete everyday tasks without the added difficulty of a learning disorder. Those with healthy minds use it to go above and beyond normal capabilities. In a classroom setting, this gives students without disabilities an unfair advantage. Just as using a phone or sneaking a note card during a test would be considered cheating, so should the unprescribed use of Adderall.


Madison Hopkins: Yes, Adderall helps people study harder and it’s unfair that it doesn’t work the same on everyone who uses it. I understand the need for students with legitimate learning disorders to receive additional aid so they can keep up with their peers. But when that specific diagnosis warrants access to the holy grail of study buddies, it’s no surprise that others see opportunities for improvement in their own study habits, be it prescribed or not.

According to The New York Times, ADHD diagnoses have exploded during the past decade and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention now estimates that 11 percent of U.S. children are diagnosed with the disorder. This increase is likely because many more individuals are finally getting the help they need. However, it’s also likely that many more of these individuals with the supposed “need” for medical intervention are not the ideal recipients of the drug.

The criteria for diagnosis are so vague that the decision is often left open to the subjective perspectives of parents and teachers reporting to doctors unruly, hyperactive students. This leaves the door open for countless pharmaceutical opportunists to take what they know will help them—disorder or not.

These blurred criteria are the defining lines between what can be classified as cheating. It’s a nice idea to say that anyone who has a prescription is not cheating and all other student users are, but how can we make that distinction when we don’t know the true situation of all those prescribed?


KG: I take my Adderall to fulfill a medical need under the guidance of a doctor. Those who purchase Adderall through the black market are consuming what the federal government has designated a schedule II controlled substance without the guidance of a professional. Other drugs that fall into this category are cocaine, morphine and opiates. We are failing to address a growing issue by not labeling the student use of this drug as cheating. Under-the-table use of Adderall is gaining popularity.

From witnessing this phenomenon firsthand, I would even go so far as to say it has become a social norm for college students. The use of it has become so common that it’s falsely perceived to be safer than it is. There are many severe side effects that most users are unaware of. A few include seizures, tics, hallucinations, paranoia and numbness of limbs. These are considered rare for patients being prescribed the drug, but are considered more likely to be experienced by users who are self-medicating.

When an improper dosage of Adderall is consumed, it can impair attentiveness and heighten the risk of addiction. Labeling inappropriate drug use as cheating legitimizes the reputation for danger. Failure to do so is adding to the perception that the use of Adderall is not that big of a deal, when it actually is.


MH: Monitoring students for potential cheating is not the same thing as monitoring them for health purposes. The dangers of inappropriate use of a prescription drug are obviously severe, but that doesn’t mean a university is condoning or condemning its use by its stance on academic fairness.

If that were the case, how would these universities stand on the issue of the overuse of caffeine? College students are known for late nights, unhealthy diets and consuming lots of caffeine. It could come in the form of a coffee drink from one of the three Starbucks on San Diego State’s campus or just a 5-Hour Energy paired with a diet pill that puts them on edge. Common side effects of the overuse of caffeine include headaches, confusion, poor memory, dehydration, elevated heart rate and increased blood pressure. Constant use leads to an increased tolerance and therefore the need to drink more, which is exactly what college students are doing.

I realize the difference in severity between caffeine and a prescription drug, but if universities are now going to regulate the safety of students’ study habits, then all other potential dangers need to be included in the debate of leveling the academic playing field. A university is not encouraging students to abuse drugs by ignoring the dangers, but rather is keeping with its current standard of leaving the judgment call to the students.


KG: Unhealthy habits related to studying are nothing new, but in this case the dangers of possible side effects cause a legal debacle. There are plenty of unhealthy habits that students use to get ahead. But when something warrants legal action, it definitely warrants university action. SDSU defines academic dishonesty in part as “cheating that is intended to gain unfair academic advantage.” The illegal use of Adderall by students is just that.

Athletes are not allowed to use performance enhancers in sports because authorities have declared the dangers to their bodies more important than the potential for athletic success. It’s the duty of our university to value the safety of our students despite any possibilities for academic success, and to allow those with learning disabilities to get on an even playing field with their peers.


MH: The legal status of a performance enhancer is irrelevant if it’s not equal. A discussion of fairness is a discussion of equality. Until it can be adequately proven that patients who are prescribed Adderall are only on a level playing field and not in any way exceeding the average, we can’t justify creating a clear-cut rule concerning cheating.

The health and legal hazards of a drug are not up for debate concerning the fairness of accelerated mental alertness. Cheating refers to unfair advantages, not other potential repercussions. Obviously, students shouldn’t be encouraged to place their health at a lower priority than what grade they got on their last midterm or big paper, but that decision is up to them. How one chooses to decipher the costs and benefits of his or her actions does not need to reflect the validity of the outcome.


Photo by Monica Linzmeier, photo editor