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Assume a student in the United States who has access to Adderall despite not suffering from ADHD. Would it be ethical for them to take the drug during their studies?

Assume that the school is within the United States. When answering only the academic side of things should be taken into account – I am fully aware that taking a drug without a proper prescription is illegal.

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    What do you mean "academic side of things"? i.e. can you be expelled?
    – Michael
    Mar 31, 2017 at 13:54
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    Is it ethical to study? Is it ethical to read a different textbook? Is it ethical to just be smarter than somebody else? Is it ethical to drink coffee when others don't or won't? Is it ethical to drink a beer while doing a problem set? Many people ask about 'ethics' here without really thinking through if that is even the right thing to think about. What, really, are you concerned about?
    – Jon Custer
    Mar 31, 2017 at 17:44
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    @JonCuster ethics. The legal situation is crystal clear.
    – user14156
    Mar 31, 2017 at 18:14
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    And the ethical situation is as well - students do any number of things that may or may not give them an advantage or make them smarter. If coffee is OK ethically, Adderall is OK ethically.
    – Jon Custer
    Mar 31, 2017 at 18:19
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    Just throwing this out there-- if regularly consuming adderall helps you enough that you feel compelled to use it in the long term, how sure are you that you don't have ADHD? Jul 16, 2017 at 5:43

4 Answers 4

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Academia is not a competition, neither is school. It's about education and knowledge. Neither comes and goes with a few pills.

Applying the anti-doping rules from sports is therefore nonsense. What applies are the common workplace anti-drug rules.

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  • So it's okay if the student is not 'high' during classes?
    – user14156
    Mar 31, 2017 at 16:31
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    Of course it's not okay. It's probably reason enough to kick him out, but *not reason' to have him fail that class. Total misapplication.
    – Karl
    Mar 31, 2017 at 16:43
  • But if anti-doping rules don't apply and you're not 'high' on school property, what makes it 'not okay'?
    – user14156
    Mar 31, 2017 at 17:17
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    If you keep the drug off campus (also from your bloodsteam), nothing, except that you are possibly commiting a criminal offence by buying, possessing and handling it. My faculty refuses to graduate anyone with a recent criminal record. Saveguarding their reputation etc. Of course if you only take the stuff in your holidays, there is little point in your original question.
    – Karl
    Mar 31, 2017 at 17:31
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    Look, we're not lawyers here. You'll look like an idiot, you will probably get in trouble with your school (US universities have all kinds of regulations for students private live), but your prof has imo no legitimate reason to have you fail the class. P.S. You taking drugs is your private decision, imo, Forcing your prof to become involved is totally inappropriate.
    – Karl
    Mar 31, 2017 at 18:56
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It is illegal for anyone to take prescription medication not prescribed directly to them by an authorized medical professional. Universities in the US are not safe guarded from federal, state, and local laws. So if your school found out that you are abusing drugs, they can expel you. You will most likely go through a hearing process where you are offered due diligence.

If you are looking for the policy at a specific school, just visit the school's website and search for their Alcohol and Drug Policy.

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    Yes, but what about the Academic side? Question slightly updated.
    – user14156
    Mar 31, 2017 at 13:53
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    @JonathanReez I think your academic concern is a little misplaced. People wind up in jail for buying and selling prescription drugs illegally. A criminal record is going to affect your life more than violations of school policy, and that's the risk you take when you're engaging in illegal activity.
    – David
    Mar 31, 2017 at 14:48
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    @David I don't have access to Adderall, nor do I need any. I'm simply interested if taking the drug is 'allowed', 'frowned upon' or 'completely unacceptable'. E.g. can you proudly talk about your Adderall intake with your professor?
    – user14156
    Mar 31, 2017 at 14:50
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    @JonathanReez Your professors are going to have wildly different reactions. I have met people who would not care. I have met people who would probably consider it academic dishonesty and cheating. I don't know what I would say if a student told me this, I've never been in that situation.
    – David
    Mar 31, 2017 at 14:55
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    This doesn't answer the question. The question was about ethics, not law. So if your school found out that you are abusing drugs, they can expel you. This is absurd, unless we're talking about Bob Jones University or something. A school in the US is not going to expel a student for using adderall without a prescription.
    – user1482
    Mar 31, 2017 at 21:50
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Whether it's ethical or not depends on your own system of ethics. But, a few things that come to mind. Full disclosure: I've never used these kinds of drugs and I'm not a medical doctor.

1) Just like steroids are considered unfair sportsmanship, cognition drugs will be viewed as unfair in academics by people who are concerned about fairness.

2) Taking drugs to artificially enhance your performance doesn't help you in the long run. Do you really want to take drugs your entire life to maintain an artificial level of performance? Things like better study skills, time management, and prioritization will enhance your performance more effectively and will help you through your whole life.

3) Are you going to feel OK with yourself knowing that you didn't live your life on your own terms? Later in life you're never really going to know whether you could have met your challenges on your own.

4) The people who don't want you to use adderall will tell you that there are a range of serious health consequences for abusing prescription drugs, including long-term cardiovascular, neurological, and mental issues. Sacrificing your health for success is viewed as unethical by some systems of reason.

5) Finally, these drugs are referred to as "cognition-enhancers", but the science is still out on whether or not they really assist in anything beyond rote memorization in people without ADHD. Other researchers have suggested that drug use might lead to deficiencies like decreased creativity.

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    Regarding 2): Didn't Paul Erdős consume amphetamines throughout his whole career?
    – user14156
    Mar 31, 2017 at 14:43
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    @JonathanReez I don't know, but don't ask for ethical principles and then suggest that something should be OK just because someone else successful did it. The world is full of very successful but unethical people.
    – David
    Mar 31, 2017 at 14:45
  • Ok, but otherwise only 1) tries to answer the real question. Do any university guidelines mention stimulants? Can you get expelled for taking them?
    – user14156
    Mar 31, 2017 at 14:46
  • @JonathanReez If it is against your university policy then you absolutely can be expelled for it. Additionally, many university policies generally prohibit illegal actions while on campus without specifically mentioning prescription drug abuse.
    – David
    Mar 31, 2017 at 14:50
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    @JonathanReez, Erdős began using amphetamines in 1971, 37 years after receiving his PhD. Mar 31, 2017 at 14:51
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I would point out that a major concern in academics is the sustainability of the practice.

I assume you are talking about undergraduate, but most academics are PhDs. This means (in my experience) we have seen numerous students, classmates, peers, and colleagues drop out of school or the industry, hurt themselves physically or mentally, or (very rarely) hurt others. We are always concerned about such things, they make us sad.

Use of Dextroamphetamine or other ADHD medications is not problem free - use of drugs that have side effects such as heart problems, paranoia, mood swings, and a strong tendency towards chemical dependence are not seen as sustainable - particularly for those who do not even have the disorder. Nor are the benefits clear cut (as others have pointed out). Students report themselves as 'feeling' like have learned more, but in actuality, it is not clear they are actually learning more.

As such, these people are engaging in a dangerous practice with unclear benefits. I see that the comparison to performance enhancing drugs are good for reasons other than you anticipated. It is not that such actions are "unsportsmanlike" which is nebulous in a learning environment. Rather, the costs are too great and the benefits so unclear that individuals undertaking such a risk is undesirable. Students hoping such substances work for them (when they don't even have the disorder) are too likely to self-destruct and this is not a great learning environment for those students or their peers.

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    Self harm is usually viewed as unethical.
    – Buffy
    Feb 25, 2023 at 20:54

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