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Adderall - Cheating or Fair Mental Aid?

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Prescription-only Adderall and its chemical relatives (Vyvanse, Concerta, Dexadrine...) have been the source of widespread debate in colleges everywhere as more and more students are using such medications to treat ADD/ADHD on a daily basis. However, Attention Deficit [Hyperactivity] Disorder is not a communicable disease nor an epidemic, so although legal prescriptions are increasing exponentially every year, it can be reasonably inferred that these are not all legitimate cases of ADD/ADHD. After all, the only way to diagnose the condition is through an easily-faked behavior test with a psychologist.

Adderall has been called "steroids for students" and for a good reason, according to those who have tried it. The pill increases focus and is often taken while studying to better retain information. For those without legitimate cases of ADD/ADHD, do you consider this to be cheating?

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Personally:

I was prescribed Adderall when I was in elementary school. I honestly believe I live with ADD, and at the time when I was diagnosed, I had no idea it was a mental "performance enhancing" drug. I just was tired of walking into the kitchen and forgetting why I was there.

Since then, I stopped using it until 17 when I restarted my regimen and upped my dosage from 5mg to 15mg twice per day. They kick in within 15 minutes, and for those who have never tried it, my original experience involved me literally feeling like a different mind occupied my body. It was a hard adjustment period at first; before I was used to it, it made me very hyperactive and acute. My eyes would register everything at once going on around me. I could remember license plates from hours ago without trying. It changed me from hating half of my IB subjects to truly enjoying HL chemistry, my previously most despised subject. I wanted to work and work harder. It even made me stronger physically - My bench press went from 205lbs one day to 225lb the next day with probably another rep to spare. That does not happen.

However, I admit readily that it is indeed cheating. It is an artificial catalyst of the brain that hugely modifies how much I learn and retain. I almost have a hard time functioning without it. Last weekend, before the SAT II Math II subject test, I studied for 12 hours straight twice and didn't want to stop or complain.

I took practice tests in my SAT Math II subj. test book and got the following scores:

No pill: 640

Pill: 710

After two days studying with no pills: 640

After two days studying with pills: 770

I am not advocating for the illegal usage of Adderall; don't go buy it from your classmates and pop them yourselves. They are dangerous to the uninitiated. The pills literally are amphetamine produced legally. You will feel very different.

That being said, I firmly believe the pills are cheating because they give an unfair advantage to the student over other students who wish to work equally as hard but are not artificial memory-banks. I don't plan to stop taking it, though, because at much as it pains me to go against my moral code, I could not be getting all A's otherwise, and that is my only motivation.

Thoughts?

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I mean, that's such an arbitrary position to take. Somehow, these memory-enhancing pills are making you better than every other student without them? It's not like the entire student population is divided into pill-taking and non-pill-taking ceteris paribus. Thinking that would be silly.

The only reason these drugs are considered 'cheating' is because they feel unnatural and it feels unfair that some kids have a legitimate reason to take them and they gain these amazing benefits as a result that non-pill students have to work so hard to achieve. Please! That's just a romanticised propaganda at best.

Say there were no pills in the equation at all, nobody used them. Would you say that all students were equal?

If the premise is that "the pills are cheating because they give an unfair advantage to the student over other students who wish to work equally as hard," then any kind of advantage would be an unfair advantage. Taking smoking for instance. Tobacco, in the beginning, allows students to stay awake for longer periods of time and gives them an artificial kick that allows greater focus and therefore retention. Are smoking kids at an unfair advantage to non-smoking ones? Probably not since we argue that "smoking [eventually] kills" so the advantage is balanced out. Let's make it even simpler: caffeine. I can not STAND coffee, never have been able to tolerate the smell let alone chugging down cups of it. Am I at an unfair disadvantage to students benefitting from its insomniac effects?

To both these scenarios, yes, the person not smoking and not drinking coffee/caffeine is at a disadvantage, a slight one maybe, but still a disadvantage. And is it fair? Surely not wanting to ruin one's health with tobacco and caffeine is a good reason to refrain, so it is unfair that students who don't refrain, who are essentially being 'naughty,' gain an advantage. But do we penalise this unfair advantage? I would think not.

Now of course, naysayers would argue that this is hardly a good example. Smoking and coffee may have some academic performance enhancing effects, but these effects are neutralised very quickly, as soon as your body gets used to the tobacco and caffeine in fact. So the 'unfair advantage' erodes pretty quickly.

Let's take a more extreme example then:

I have a natural photographic memory. I can read something thoroughly three times and I won't forget it for at least three months, more if I did my memory exercises regularly. There are kids who work ten times harder than I do and I still get better marks, retain information better and just am a stronger academic student. Is that an unfair advantage? Should I even be allowed to compete with these students who don't have an equivalent memory as I do? They work equally hard, if not harder on their studies. But I have an unfair advantage here and nobody would question it, though everybody feels like its unfair, which it is.

How about students that go to a fancy private school versus a terrible public school. In Britain, a lot of students that go to elitist boarding schools get an untold number of unfair advantages. Past alumni give them work opportunities, they get the best teachers and best preparation. Ordinary students don't get that, but they're still competing with private school children. It's not fair, but it is an accepted practice.

Hell, even if you get down to something as simply as having good work ethic. Some students just have it in them to be able to sit for hours on end and work on an assignment with full concentration. Other students are disorganised and never get things done until the eleventh hour and procrastinate forever. Students with better work ethic have an unfair advantage in this case over students with not so good work ethic?

My argument is really a technical one, having an 'unfair advantage' does not automatically mean you're 'cheating.' The two are not synonymous. 'Cheating' implies a level of dishonesty and malpractice. I believe one is only 'cheating' when they do something that is on a set list somewhere and classified as prohibited and unacceptable behaviour. When you're subjected to a code of conduct that says you cannot plagiarise as an IB student, then you very well cannot plagiarise. Having a legitimate, though clearly 'unfair advantage,' does not necessitate that you're 'cheating.'

Some people say that 'pills' and other paraphernalia for academic performance enhancing may fall into a pseudo-grey area. Not clearly banned but greatly frowned on and simply 'wrong.' I say f*ck that sh!t! If they don't explicitly tell you that you cannot do something, then you can until told otherwise. Having an 'unfair advantage' is perfectly natural and even more acceptable.

At least, that's my opinion.

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So how does one distinguish performance enhancing steroids for athletes and Adderall for academics?

Such use of drugs in the Tour de France destroyed the actual competition between those racing and it became a competition for the pharmaceutical

companies to see who could create the most effective cocktail of chemicals for their riders.

If it is unethical in sports why would it be even remotely ethical in academics? The stakes are even higher considering where an education can get you (Like for a canadian student, local university versus an Ivy League).

And in regards to the people who take Adderall for ADD/ ADHD that is a legitimate reason as it is a medical concern and without they would likely perform below the standard.

That being said ADD/ ADHD are over diagnosed these days and kids are getting medicated when shouldn't be, its quite the mess.

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I believe one is only 'cheating' when they do something that is on a set list somewhere and classified as prohibited and unacceptable behaviour.

Such a textbook law thing to say XD

Anyway! I guess that I'd personally widen the definition of cheating to include things both on and off the official lists. Sort-of like how you have 'new' drugs which are essentially unlisted and therefore become 'legal' highs even though the only real reason that they are is a system too sluggish to stay ahead and make them illegal. Or even just being unaware of them as a problem. To me, cheating is just anything which allows you to give a false impression of your own abilities. After all, that's the whole purpose of these qualifications we're gaining, to act as a sort-of marker of what you're capable of to anybody hoping to employ you.

Amphetamine drugs like Adderall can potentially distort this - the outcomes you'd get wouldn't actually reflect your natural ability to concentrate. Kind-of like how a person's likeableness shouldn't be measured by how they act after a few glasses of wine... I mean whilst you drink the wine you might be nice, but in the majority of your life, perhaps not. Personally, I think it's a little different from things like having an amazing memory. You have that memory all the time without having to resort to drugs in order to achieve it, so really anything you achieve with that amazing memory is a true reflection of your abilities - including this super ability you have which others do not :P It's not unfair, any more than a short guy being worse than a tall guy at rowing is unfair. If you have a natural ability that somebody doesn't, then fair play to you. It's exactly this level of natural ability and learning that the qualifications are designed to pick up and reward you for. Things like caffeine are somewhat moot (if you don't like coffee, how about tea? XD Or fizzy drinks!). Caffeine just alleviates tiredness by improving blood flow to the brain a bit - it doesn't physically interfere with goings on in your brain. Besides, the easy way to replace the effects of caffeine is to just sleep properly, to be perfectly honest.

Anyway. I suppose part of this may stem from the fact I am pretty pharmacologically averse in terms of 'improvement'. I'd also make the link between academics/neuroactive drugs and sports/performance-enhancing drugs. At the end of the day, the fact that some of the illegal things sportsmen and women do isn't on a list somewhere doesn't make their goal wrong. They're trying to undercut the competition not through their own skill and merit (although presumably they will also train) but through secret drug use. In my opinion it should be frowned upon in academia as much as in sport. Nobody wanted a situation in sport where 'equality' could only be gained by necking the same drug cocktail as everybody else, it's considered infinitely superior to avoid all pharmacological physical improvements and just go on raw ability. I really feel that academics should be the same way.

Also, in your case, if you really do have ADHD, you have to consider that you may be correcting a 'disability' as it were. Your ability to concentrate may seem extreme for you in terms of improvements, but actually it may be approaching more of a normal score for your average person. It's hard to say without some kind of existential body swap XD I mean, when I feel really alert and interested in something, I guess I would also be as you describe feeling when you are using the Adderall. I wouldn't feel like you are cheating. Also, any improvement in your bench press is probably psychological determination... or training or something!

The main grey area is how to work out where the balance lies for ADHD people. I really think though that for 'normal' people, we should view it just the same as steroids in sport. The thought of feeling under pressure from other people to take drugs in order to enhance my academic/physical/any performance or be left behind is pretty sickening to me. I wouldn't ever want that, and I don't feel that many others would either, and so I think we need to keep it a protected space.

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To me, cheating is just anything which allows you to give a false impression of your own abilities. (emphasis added)

Say X person studied 2/12 chapters for an exam and his best friend Y studied 10/12. The exam focused on 2 particular chapters, Y had skipped those two and X had happened to have concentrated on those two by some miracle. X gets a high 6 in the exam and Y barely scrapes a 5.

Both X and Y gave "a false impression of their abilities:" X by scoring unnaturally high and Y low. By your definition, is this cheating?

(I know it's an arbitrary point, but you ragged on my definition, so I'm poking fun at yours :P )

Amphetamine drugs like Adderall can potentially distort this - the outcomes you'd get wouldn't actually reflect your natural ability to concentrate. Kind-of like how a person's likeableness shouldn't be measured by how they act after a few glasses of wine... I mean whilst you drink the wine you might be nice, but in the majority of your life, perhaps not. Personally, I think it's a little different from things like having an amazing memory. You have that memory all the time without having to resort to drugs in order to achieve it, so really anything you achieve with that amazing memory is a true reflection of your abilities - including this super ability you have which others do not :P It's not unfair, any more than a short guy being worse than a tall guy at rowing is unfair. If you have a natural ability that somebody doesn't, then fair play to you. It's exactly this level of natural ability and learning that the qualifications are designed to pick up and reward you for. Things like caffeine are somewhat moot (if you don't like coffee, how about tea?

Well, I see what you mean here. It's more like an innate versus induced understanding. If you're born with it and it is something that is as much a part of you as the colour of your skin (Michael Jackson notwithstanding), it's perfectly okay and not unfair; but if it is induced in some way externally (such as pills, etc.) then it is unfair.

I think this illustrates maybe a difference in perspective. I believe in a positivist outlook that the written rules determine whether an advantage is 'cheating' or not. But I can see yours in somewhat more moral-driven?

As far as an advantage being fair or unfair is concerned. Well that's a different thing. I don't believe that in terms of academia, there is any such thing as a 'fair advantage.' The artificial environment we try to create for academia is built on the premise that we're all equal. Perfectly, absolutely equal. This is, of course, practically impossible. We will all never be equal. Some people go to better schools with better facilities and teachers and resources, others are just naturally brighter, others use pills and what-not, some have terrible family situations polarising their concentration from schoolwork, some are brilliant but are terrible at giving written exams; there are a myraid of considerations that benefit or hinder our academic performance and most importantly, distinguish it from each other. Therefore, there is no such thing as a fair academic system. Unfairness permeates every aspect of it.

(Yes, rereading this, it is the ultimate cynical perspective...my law professors would be so proud! happy%20crying.gif )

Edited by Arrowhead

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Linking academia and sports is not correct. Sports thrives on competition for competitions sake, to be the best is what it is all about. Academia, I would say, is about bringin something new in terms of knowledge and understanding. How this is done is quite frankly irrelevant, and the only reason there is a competition aspect is that unis have to pick the ones that have the highest chances of succeeding and be able to dot he courses. To make a point, a lot of physicist, and probably people from other areas have dabbles in different drugs, which according to them have contributed to further undrstanding, mostly thinking about Feynman and Erdõs here.

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Quite simply, if you have a medical reason to use it, you have every right to use it. Otherwise, there is a quite a debate surrounding the issue...

If you're born with it and it is something that is as much a part of you as the colour of your skin (Michael Jackson notwithstanding), it's perfectly okay and not unfair; but if it is induced in some way externally (such as pills, etc.) then it is unfair.

Let's be realistic though. Regardless of what one theoretically thinks is fair and unfair, it doesn't matter practically. As such, you could make the argument that it's unfair not to use it since there are others that actively use it without medical reasoning and with the sole intention of better academic performance. It's just like the Tour de France; you can't say that it gives a cyclist an unfair advantage to perform if he uses performance enhancing drugs when really, all the top competitors are using PED and the only way to realistically compete is to use PEDs.

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Let's be realistic though. Regardless of what one theoretically thinks is fair and unfair, it doesn't matter practically. As such, you could make the argument that it's unfair not to use it since there are others that actively use it without medical reasoning and with the sole intention of better academic performance. It's just like the Tour de France; you can't say that it gives a cyclist an unfair advantage to perform if he uses performance enhancing drugs when really, all the top competitors are using PED and the only way to realistically compete is to use PEDs.

Oh a lot of theoretical considerations don't matter practically but that doesn't mean we dismiss them (after all, without theoretical considerations the study of philosophy would be non-existent). We aren't here debating whether other people use it for X reason or not regardless of it being fair or unfair, that would be a factual compilations rather than an exchange of views, we are here discussing whether it is fair or not, divorced of practical realities to better fumigate the inner core of the issue.

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