I’m writing this with five tabs up in my internet browser. I just finished my Dean’s Date paper, written over days punctuated by compulsive e-mail and Facebook checking. I regularly sit in classes and meetings where people (myself included) are slyly texting, e-mailing, reading the news or shopping online.
Our generation of motivated college students has a painfully short attention span, and we don’t seem disturbed. We’re not fighting this tendency, but instead encouraging it by using anything from benign gadgets that facilitate multitasking to the ADHD drug Adderall, which is anything but harmless. I don’t understand why there has not been more of an outcry against Adderall use on campus. I understand that ADHD is a medical condition, and I am only addressing usage without a legitimate diagnosis and prescription. The only public attention this issue has garnered in the past two years has been a handful of articles in The Daily Princetonian and a post on its blog, The Prox. Why don’t we care?
In private, when speaking with friends, it seems that we do care. Most of those I have spoken with have a strong opinion, and even some who use Adderall admit to having misgivings. When I brought up the issue with friends and family at home, everyone knew people who used it illegally, and I even heard two stories of a failed rehab stint and jail. Those are extremes, but it highlights the potentially serious consequences of what we tend to consider a harmless drug.
In a 2005 article in Slate, Joshua Foer quoted a famous user of similar psychostimulants, Jean-Paul Sartre: “Amphetamines gave me a quickness of thought and writing that was at least three times my normal rhythm.”
Foer himself commented that, while using Adderall, “I became almost mechanical in my ability to pump out sentences. The part of my brain that makes me curious about whether I have new e-mails in my inbox apparently shut down.” This is tempting. As Princeton students, we’re all academically “intelligent,” but we all have trouble focusing on a boring paper. If this drug allows users to write quickly without distraction, it also gives them a significant advantage over other students.
Using Adderall without a prescription is, obviously, illegal. But so is drinking before you turn 21, so why should that matter? The difference is a moral one. As others have pointed out, Adderall serves as an academic steroid, and it gives users an “unfair advantage” in their schoolwork — something explicitly prohibited by the Honor Code. Studies have proven that it can improve performance, even in athletics, a reason that the NCAA banned the substance in collegiate sports. Using Adderall without a prescription for a medical condition is like using steroids illegally. If major league baseball players are punished for steroid use, and we are the equivalent of “major league” students, why do we get away with it?
Aside from legality, what distinguishes Adderall from lots of coffee or Red Bull? They have the same effect, to some degree. Adderall, however, is more potent and easier. It makes you focus, not just stay awake. Over-the-counter caffeine is accessible to everyone, and often even free — every dining hall offers coffee. Unless a person has a prescription for Adderall, one has to break the law, participate in a drug deal and pay for this academic advantage. It is lying, implicitly or explicitly, to use a drug without having the symptoms it is meant to treat.
A 2004 study by researchers from Harvard, the University of Michigan and Northeastern University found that “non-medical use” of stimulants like Adderall was higher at elite universities in the Northeast. Though I don’t have data to support my hunch, my guess is that Adderall users at Princeton are largely from an upper-class background, a group that is already very advantaged. While people can’t control where they’re from, whether their parents went to college or how much money they make — all advantages when it comes to education — Adderall is a choice. It is cheating to have that unfair edge over other students.
Perhaps the scariest element is addiction. Most, if not all, Adderall users on campus would claim that they are not addicted. I cannot attest to physical effects, but I do know that psychological addiction is very real. When we repeatedly use a drug to help us deal with high-pressure situations, we are training ourselves to not be able to deal with those situations sober. We think that college is a different world and that our habits will not continue after we leave the Orange Bubble. There will always be stressful situations, however, and we develop habits for how to deal with them. These habits will not disappear effortlessly in the real world. We think we’re above addiction — we’re too young, too intelligent — but that is naive.
This issue significantly affects campus culture. We are not only condoning and encouraging a competitive atmosphere in which it is acceptable to take drugs to help us succeed, but also an atmosphere in which subtle cheating is okay. It is nearly impossible to enforce inappropriate Adderall use as an abuse of the Honor Code, and this is not a matter of getting caught. It is a moral issue that, as a campus, we need to recognize and reject.
Mary Reid Munford is a English major from Jackson, Miss. She is also a senior writer for sports. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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