A Harmful Habit
Adderall abuse at Harvard should be a serious cause for concern
Harvard students are no strangers to a demanding schedule. As the stress level on campus reaches a fever pitch during finals period, many turn to caffeine to stay awake and productive. Some, however, seek out more dangerous substances. Last week, The Crimson published an article documenting the manner in which some students abuse Adderall—a prescription drug used to treat attention deficit disorder—as a study drug. Adderall helps the mind focus and be more productive, so that taking it, students are reportedly able to pull off impressive intellectual feats, such completing a course’s entire reading in a matter of hours.
Illicit Adderall use should be regarded a serious problem on campus, one that carries the potential for serious widespread abuse. Students should consider turning to drugs of this kind to be unethical, if not a deplorable last resort to be shunned. The use of Adderall compromises one’s academic integrity. More menacingly, if this habit becomes normalized on a campus, it would put pressure on all students to abuse Adderall or other similar but less fashionable substances, just to keep up with their peers. This is a frightening prospect, especially considering the noxious health effects of Adderall.
The physiological and psychological consequences of abusing study drugs are harmful and well documented. Adderall is an addictive amphetamine, classified by the Drug Enforcement Agency on a par with cocaine and opium as a Schedule II controlled substance. Abuse of Adderall has been linked to rapid weight loss, long-term cardiac problems, and even an increased risk of developing psychosis and schizophrenia. Some might say that Adderall is simply a study aid, no worse than caffeine. There is, however, a difference that ought to be clear to all between a simple cup of coffee and a controlled substance that can lead to hospitalization.
Thankfully, the wrongful use of Adderall does not yet appear to be widespread. According to a survey of graduating seniors published by The Crimson last year, slightly less than 7 percent of students on campus have ever used a study drug. Yet the Harvard administration should recognize the severity of the problem, however small, and its potential by mounting a strong effort to publicize its strict policies on controlled substance abuse in general and the harmful side effects of Adderall in particular. Recently, the student body witnessed the administration’s vigorous promotion of its new alcohol policy. In the case of Adderall, while the stakes appear to be higher, the University’s position has been far more muted.
While we would be amiss to overemphasize the problem, it is not implausible that if Adderall abuse proliferates and goes unchecked, it could fast become a problem that spirals out of control. If students feel pressured to use a performance-enhancing substance just to stay level with their peers, particularly in competitive and curved classes, a campus could rapidly find itself ridden with an unseen and destructive type of pharmaceutical arms-race among its undergraduates. Certainly, our studies should be taken seriously. But surely the last thing we would want is to end up like the Chinese high school where teenagers were put on IV drips of amino acids so that they could continue to study without collapsing from exhaustion.
Students who misuse Adderall, and in doing so cause grave harm to their own bodies, seem to miss the fundamental point of what a college education means. Grades matter, in many cases a lot, but once our four years at Harvard conclude, we should all hope to emerge better, more wholesome people. Putting one’s health and academic integrity at risk for the sake of academic performance is myopic and unethical at best, and lethal at worst. By abusing Adderall, students not only put themselves at risk, but also degrade the value of the education they receive.