Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Is Adderall Use Fair?

Last week's New Yorker has a great story on the use of Adderall, Ritalin and Provigil for non-prescription purposes. Though it's not specifically focused on colleges, the piece relies on reports of Adderall usage from students at an elite university (i.e. Harvard). The piece touches on both the medical and ethical issues behind these drugs.

The drugs do seem to work for most people, whether or not that's due to a placebo effect. But studies show that these drugs work better for people with average abilities at the tasks tested (recall, etc.) than those with high abilities to begin with. The article mentions dependency as a primary safety concern.

But there are greater cultural and ethical concerns. First, there's an economic inequality. Right now, the average non-prescription Adderall user is a white male at a Northeastern college who's in a frat. No surprise there. As they use these drugs, will others suffer a disadvantage? Second, there's the concern that using "mind-enhancing" drugs may set a higher standard for productivity in the same way that plastic surgery sets a higher standard for beauty. A lot of people will say this is good for society, but I'm not sure if a standard of more stress that forces us to take on more than we can handle is a good thing.


Anonymous said...

Adderall use (and caffeine/any other stimulant use for that matter) in order to boost your concentration is for the weak. Suck it up and learn some time management skills, adapt to sleep deprivation, and/or cut back on something so that you have a more sustainable lifestyle.

Anonymous said...

"Right now, the average non-prescription Adderall user is a white male at a Northeastern college who's in a frat. No surprise there."What exactly are you implying with this statement? I think it is unfair to automatically suspect a particular group of illegal drug use, especially if it is a group discriminated by race or sex.

Anonymous said...

Second "anonymous" poster: the implication is that, if Adderall use is more prevalent among a more privileged demographic (and white males in frats tend to fall into that group), then it is giving them an unfair advantage over their less privileged peers. This is not a "suspicion" of a certain demographic, but rather a gesture at the the correlation with Adderall usage and wealth.

Michael Collins '11 said...

Hey Cindy -
The inequality argument is kinda moot. Rich white people at Elite universities already have a massive advantage over poor, brown/black inner city kids. The way of resolving inequality isn't holding back the cutting edge, its by bringing up the disadvantaged.

I support the use of Adderall. There are disadvantages to be sure - ruined REM sleep cycles, Cost, addiction etc.- but as adults I think we can make reasonable decisions about our personal health and lifestyles with the consultation of trained professionals.

If there is a healthy way to be more productive longer, why not do it?

If you have some ethical concern about the use of medicine, you are well within your rights to abstain from medical care; however, suggesting that others should make a similar sacrifice is ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Professor Lee Silver covers Adderall and other "self-enhancement" drugs in his WWS/MOL 320 class. To paraphrase his opinion:

1. It works. No question, it raises concentration, memory, focus and this has been proven to convert into higher grades and test scores. While the effect is more pronounced for people with near average natural ability, 90%+ of people will see a measurable benefit.

2. It is safe. If you are a healthy, young person with no pre-existing heart condition or other health problem it is no more dangerous than coffee.

Draw your own conclusions about fairness, but I don't see many people running around without shoes because they think it's "unfair" to gain an advantage through technology.

P.S. This whole question of "fairness" would be moot if we moved away from a competitive educational system. If we got rid of grades, who would care?

Martha Vega said...

Well, there is a question of unfairness that using prescription drugs for non-prescription purposes is ostensibly illegal. Those who do not mind breaking the law have an advantage relative to those who do mind, much like those who don't mind cheating have an advantage relative to those who do.

Reuxben said...

The only sort of stimulant I use is Monster or Red Bull, but I wouldn't lump this (or coffee) with Adderall, as the first comment does. Monster doesn't make you focus more or anything, it just makes you more able to resist sleep. So it feels fair because it's basically canned coffee.

But Adderall, like the guy who paraphrases Professor Silver notes, clearly enhances your abilities (rather than just prolonging your capacity to use your inherent abilities, as caffeine does).

So yeah, it really does feel cheap that people can just use these enhancements when others either choose not to, or even if they want to, don't have access. I don't believe resisting Adderall is like resisting shoes, though: shoes help you walk around safely without slashing your feet up. Adderall use is a pure luxury; you don't need it to function healthily.