BU Today

Health & Wellness

YouSpeak: Does Taking Adderall Give Students an Unfair Advantage?

Prescribed for ADHD, stimulant is crammer’s little helper


It’s hard to find an authoritative report on the number of college students who use Adderall. One 10-year-old study published in Addiction claimed that as many as 25 percent of college students take the stimulant, which is prescribed to improve the mental focus of people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). And a 2008 study by the Center for Substance Abuse Research found that Adderall was the most popular drug taken by students to increase mental performance—none of which is news to undergraduates. Most of them know that Adderall is the crammer’s drug of choice, and most believe that it does improve their ability to focus.

The drug’s health risks are less well known. Adderall can boost the risk of heart attack or stroke and can lead to addiction, anxiety, headaches, high blood pressure, and even sexual impotence. Potential legal ramifications are equally alarming: because Adderall is a Schedule II drug, using it without a prescription or selling it are state and federal crimes and can lead to expulsion from the University.

On a less drastic note, using Adderall to study for tests can cause resentment in fellow students who don’t take it and think that a chemically enhanced ability to focus gives users an unfair advantage.

This week’s “YouSpeak” asks: Does taking Adderall give students an unfair advantage?

YouSpeak” typically appears each Monday.

If you have a suggestion for a question you’d like us to ask, post it in the Comments section below.

Erik Duda, Multimedia Producer video film, BU Today, Bostonia, Boston University
Erik Duda

Erik Duda can be reached at erikduda@bu.edu.

41 Comments on YouSpeak: Does Taking Adderall Give Students an Unfair Advantage?

  • Tim baker on 04.29.2013 at 5:27 am

    No I don’t think that’s true at all ! It dose t make them smarter it just makes them study harder when they need too

  • Chris on 04.29.2013 at 8:14 am

    Yes, it does give an unfair advantage. I think my reasons are pretty self explanatory.

  • Tim on 04.29.2013 at 9:40 am

    How does it give anyone an ‘unfair’ advantage? By choosing to use adderall you are choosing to give yourself an advantage over others who do not. Anyone can choose to take adderall. It’s just a matter of whether your willing to put up with paying $5 to not eat all day and increase your productivity by 25%.

    • Whoa on 04.29.2013 at 10:47 am

      Anyone can choose to take adderall with a prescription from their doctor.


    • Zack on 05.01.2013 at 7:33 am

      That’s not true though. It’s illegal to do, and you’re suggesting to undergrads that committing a felony crime is acceptable. Definitely not okay.

  • Jim on 04.29.2013 at 10:30 am

    How is this different form using steroids in sports? Adderall is actually on the list of banned substances for most major professional sports.

    • Kit on 04.30.2013 at 12:14 pm

      In theory, the difference here is that school isn’t supposed to be a competetive activity where only the best student wins and because of that it isn’t unfair for the people (who have been instructed to take it by their doctor) to use it for exams.

      • Colleen on 05.01.2013 at 9:33 am

        I agree. I wish schools would foster an environment more conducive to learning by teaching the value of cooperation, compassion, and being supportive of one’s peers. I dislike the selfish, overly competitive attitudes curved grading can ssometimes induce. Yeah, it can be argued that it’s a dog eat dog world out there, but why can’t we all just get along and wish the best for everyone? Why can’t we be happy for others without being so focused on what we don’t have? That’s the million dollar question. Our narcissism hinders our self growth, but is also arguably a manifestation of our human nature to survive and thrive.

  • Anonymous on 04.29.2013 at 10:45 am

    Is caffeine an unfair advantage for people trying to stay awake? I don’t think so. That might be because it’s available to everybody, but still, adderall is pretty available too especially on a college campus. Adderall doesn’t make you smarter. It just keeps you focused and blocks distractions. It’s best used to write an essay,do exercises,homework etc. If you use it to learn new material to study for a test, then that means that you have to take it on the test day too to get the best out of your study session. Also, it messes with your cardiovascular system, so it’s a trade-off that you would want to think about before making the decision to take it. If we assume that braking the law is unethical, taking adderall xr to study is kind of unethical, but still a lot less than snorting adderall IR to get high. At least be grateful that people use it for something productive

    • Billy on 06.25.2013 at 12:46 pm

      It would be a fair advantage if everyone could access it legally without a doctors note. If coffee was prescribed and not over the counter, than that too would present unfair advantage.

  • Anonymous on 04.29.2013 at 1:05 pm

    I am prescribed Adderall for ADHD, so it has helped me a lot with academic performance. Although I don’t know if it is beneficial in the long run for those without ADHD. Adderall basically treats a chemical imbalance in the brain, so it interacts differently with those that have ADHD than those that do not.

    With students who don’t have ADHD I think it may help as a short-term solution when they are really desperate. The problem is that this could lead to a cycle of waiting until the last minute and relying on Adderall to perform. They are probably also a lot more likely to suffer negative side effects. Using more mild stimulants, such as moderate amounts of caffeine would probably be a better option.

  • Anonymous on 04.29.2013 at 1:47 pm

    Meds like Adderol, Ritalin, and Focalin treat a specific, diagnosable medical imbalance. As someone who has struggled with ADD since adolescence, I find the question to be a bit offensive. Having a medical condition that keeps you from focusing on anything is a terrible disadvantage. With the meds, you will be kept up at night, and will be hungry because of your lack of appetite. you will be irritable to your friends and girlfriend/boyfriend, your palms will sweat, you wil grind your teeth, and go to the bathroom every half an hour. If you can shut all of this out, then maybe you will get your work done. Saying ADD students are at an advantage because of medication is comprable to complaining that chemotherapy patients are allowed to use cannabis. We are at a steep disadvantage to normally functioning students and mediction only serves (although not
    alwaus sucessfully) to level the playing field for us.

    • Anon on 04.29.2013 at 4:23 pm

      I think it goes without saying that if you are prescribed adderall that you actually need it to treat a chemical imbalance in your brain. I think this question focuses more on the people who do not have a prescription but simply use the drug to cram for a test or write a paper in a very short amount of time. Obviously if you need the drug to focus and you have a prescription from a doctor then you do not have an unfair advantage, but the people who instead use it as kind of a mental steroid are essentially using it to cheat

  • tomandsarah on 04.29.2013 at 1:56 pm

    If you need drugs to perform at a certain level then the result is not representative of who and what you truly are. No more so than the scores of a baseball player who uses steroids reflect who that person truly is as an athlete. I think the vision as college as about obtaining grades rather than knowledge pushes people to do this. Are you adderall abusers going to keep going to your dealer every time you have something hard to do at work once you graduate? How about taking some ownership of who you are and who you want to be. If being a person who needs to take a pill to study for a test and get a decent grade is what you aspire to be then by all means. But if you want to succeed or fail on your own merits, and be respected for who you are, not the pills you take then there are other ways to study.

    • AW650 on 04.29.2013 at 3:04 pm

      “If you need drugs to perform at a certain level then the result is not representative of who and what you truly are”.. What a ridiculous things to say. Adderal doesn’t get you good grades it can only help you achieve that goal through hard work and studying. Its a personal choice if a student take’s it or not and any success/high grades by the student is still worthy of full recognition! Next thing you would have ppl complaining that being part of study group or getting any sort of help is ‘unfair’ too. Anyone who complains needs to get a life.

      • tomandsarah on 04.29.2013 at 3:31 pm

        The same way doping just helped Lance Armstrong achieve success through hard work …..

        If you are using psychiatric drugs that were not prescribed to you to help improve your grades you are no better than an athlete using steroids. Your performance is no more a function of your effort than Lance Armstrongs. Did Lance train hard, of course he did, but did he achieve his wins on the merits of his genuine capability, no of course he did not.

      • salmonPINK on 04.30.2013 at 11:02 am

        Being successful in school is a combination of being intelligent AND having the ability/drive to focus and study. Therefore since success in school is based on BOTH of those skills taking a pill (illegally) to increase your ability to focus would ethically really not be any different than taking a pill (if there was one) to increase your intelligence for 6 hours while you prepped for a test. If you lack the ability/drive to focus and study (but are intelligent), you deserve to get a lower grade on an exam than someone who is intelligent AND has the natural ability to focus/study (or better yet someone who prepared all semester long). When people/employers see an A on your transcript the assumption is that you worked hard and are intelligent (not that you popped precription pills for 2 nights in row and then forget everything you learned the next day). If you get an A and use pills to do it, you’re really a fraud (and if you don’t think you are why don’t you admit it to employers and see if they hire you….)

        • AW650 on 05.03.2013 at 4:51 pm

          “When people/employers see an A on your transcript the assumption is that you worked hard and are intelligent (not that you popped prescription pills for 2 nights in row and then forget everything you learned the next day)” You just contradicted your earlier sentence and which that has been told again and again that it doesn’t affect your intelligence. If you get an A without cheating (which I think is a bigger issue than popping pills) you are still intelligent and hard working. And why this shouldn’t be compared steroids cause the pill doesn’t make you “smarter”. It gives you energy and focus much like caffeine and gatorade.

          • Ricky on 05.04.2013 at 5:25 am

            I am going to be honest and talk about the truth you are all forgetting. You guys are forgetting that moral compasses and all this rhetoric means ABSOLUTELY NOTHING when it comes to school and the competition that students face. This society is based on numbers and scores, that’s it. Be honest with yourself, go to your professor with a garbage essay and tell him you tried your best and didn’t take Adderall because you are a righteous man with morals. Get the f*ck outta here guys, you know and I know that grades talk, and excuses don’t cut it. In all honesty, if I can take a pill that helps me focus (as I do my work because Adderall doesn’t do the work for you) and finish my work at a higher level than me normally, I’m going to do it. If you don’t want to do it and complain about me doing it, then, you’re just a coward. Honestly.

          • salmonPINK on 05.07.2013 at 10:09 am

            Worked Hard means you did the work on your own (not by taking some illegal shortcut pill) that gives you the attention span you otherwise couldn’t possibly have because you didn’t study all semester long and want to cram. That’s not a contradiction.

          • salmonPINK on 05.07.2013 at 10:25 am

            Ricky–I feel bad for you. You sound incredibly jaded and angry for someone who is only in college. Yes grades matter but if you need to pop pills illegally just to perform at a certain level then maybe you need to reconsider your life trajectory (unless you plan to pop pills your entire working career just to stay in the pack, despite the potential long term mental health consequences) In any event life is not just a rat race that you need to claw to the top of no matter the costs to your dignity or health, it’s also about being true to yourself and finding a place of peace and enjoyment. People who don’t take pills illegally aren’t cowards, they’re brave enough to go through life letting the pieces fall where they may.

          • peter on 05.28.2013 at 2:18 pm

            I honestly don’t see whats so wrong with it, if people really think it gives others such an unfair advantage, maybe they should start taking it themselves, honestly if you cant beat-em join-em. Ricky is right, all the teachers care about is their paycheck and putting food on their families table, whether or not you finished the assignment on time. If it helps to get that paper in on time than use the pills, but don’t bitch about the inherent side effects. This is a global competition of consumption, exploitation and evolution- the human “R A C E.” You do what you gotta do to get ahead, but be careful cause it can consume you and the ones that you love too. Sure there are people out there who care and are fair to others, but generally don’t have much influence because this world is half about paper money and numbers. Lets think about all the doctors, lawyers, businessmen, salesmen, judges, psychologists, news reporters, police, parents, lobbyists, and criminals who pursue these lifestyles because of how their parents, colleges, and media told them what to be, not for the true benefit of improving the world. We are a very selfish, superficial species, and the idea that the world is fair is a fantasy at best. You really think your paying for the “education” and not your degree?

  • Colleen on 04.29.2013 at 2:10 pm

    Some brilliant students cannot focus because of depression, sleep deficit, and various other health issues. Adderall doesn’t give an unfair advantage. It doesn’t make you smarter, it just helps you focus. It’s only a temporary fix. In the long run, users who don’t really have ADHD don’t really get any advantage. They need to resolve their other issues ranging from sleep apnea, poor time management skills, family problems, or other mental health issues.

    Check out this relevant article from the NYT:
    Diagnosing the Wrong Deficit

  • Jeff on 04.29.2013 at 4:18 pm

    Maybe taking it illegally gives an unfair advantage, but taking it with a prescription is usually a medical necessity for many who otherwise could not be normally as productive and industrious as their fellow classmates. By such logic, taking anti-depressants gives people an unfair advantage over suicide.

  • I pity the fool on 04.29.2013 at 7:16 pm

    It definitely gives an unfair advantage, and I pity those who need to take prescription drugs in order to succeed in school. This is coming from someone who is diagnosed with ADHD and was prescribed psychostimulants for years in middle school/early high school.

    • CAS student on 04.29.2013 at 11:59 pm

      It is not fair to judge somebody without knowing one’s circumstances. Yes, it is ultimately up to the person to decide whether s/he medicates or not, but what if there are so many other things going on in his/her life that medication really helps make things more manageable? People have choices. Don’t judge. Try to understand where people are coming from instead of jumping to conclusions. Not all drugs are not bad, especially when used correctly.

      • I pity the fool on 05.01.2013 at 6:06 pm

        Piss off I’ll judge as much as I want. I’m a human being with my own perspective and I’m sorry that you don’t happen to agree with it, but I stand by what I said.

        Telling me to understand where these people are coming from? I know where these people are coming from because at one point I was where they were.
        I never said drugs in general were bad, but I know from personal experience that psychostimulants are bad. I can tell you after being on them for a number of years that they are definitely not good for your mental health. You just don’t feel like you on them after prolonged use, and it’s quite sad.

        And if a person’s life is THAT hectic that he or she feels the need to take drugs just to cope with that, then he or she really needs to evaluate his or her own life. Counseling would go a lot further than simply ignoring problems and taking drugs to deal with them.

        • Pity is not empathy on 05.04.2013 at 1:57 pm

          Evaluate his or her own life? Not everything that happens in one’s life can be controlled. One can’t control one’s circumstances, but one can control one’s reactions to them… extenuating circumstances are always exceptions. (i.e. physically harmful environment, verbal abuse, toxic relationships with family members or people who one cannot avoid).

          Life isn’t ‘easy’ for everybody and by ‘easy’ I don’t mean to invalidate the multitude of problems which exist on a large spectrum. While a financially well-to-do person who is struggling with suicidal concerns and a person in a third world country who is struggling with starvation may both be suffering the same amount, the magnitude and seriousness of the matter is much greater in the latter. ‘Suffering and pain’ are subjective. Life and death are not.

  • Dave on 04.29.2013 at 9:04 pm

    For those who struggle with ADD/ADHD these medicines can be a real lifesaver. Those that don’t actually have attentional disorders won’t see as much of a benefit from using these drugs in terms of focus, but instead will have an easier time staying awake and cramming.

    Most kids use provigil/modafinil which works even better to stay awake anyway.

  • John on 04.30.2013 at 12:07 am

    I study one of, if not the most difficult time consuming subject here (Physics/Computer Science) and as I enter my senior year I have to say that if I can do that without adderoll, all you SMG punks should man up and do the same. Lets be clear; if you think it’s somehow easier for me to focus than you, you’re dead wrong.

    • Anonymous on 04.30.2013 at 8:42 pm

      That sounds exactly like the perspecive and ignorance of a computer science major. Maybe if you were completing you medical degree then you would be in a position to make that assertion, but probably not, because what that degree will teach you is that certain people actually do have medical conditions that inhibit their ability to focus. Oh, and ADD is recognized under the Americans With Disabilities Act and while I wasn’t in the room when that decision was made, I assume more time and thought went into it than your last comment.

      • Whoa on 05.01.2013 at 10:26 am

        It’s so unlikely that he meant to include people with diagnosable conditions treatable with Adderall in his broad description of “SMG punks.”

  • Kit on 04.30.2013 at 12:24 pm

    I don’t think “unfair advantage” is exactly accurate. Exams shouldn’t be like sports where students compete for good grades (don’t even get me started on grade deflation). They should be testing your knowledge and ability to problem solve. If that is what the exam actually does, then there is no one the student is in competition with but him/herself. If these drugs are actually helping students achieve higher testing, then we should probably address the underdiagnosing of ADHD.

    • salmonPINK on 04.30.2013 at 5:14 pm

      I think the last problem at BU (or any other college/university) is people being underdiagnosed with ADHD. The reality is that focusing, being organized and studying are very difficult and unpleasant tasks that require hard work and struggle (often the struggle and process of learning is more valuable than the actual material you are learning). Although some people have a legitimate need for these drugs, the majority of people, in my experience, use them as a shortcut for not doing the work they should have been doing all semester long (i.e. instead of partying, drinking or just being generally lazy). The problem is that it’s not just a personal choice, grades etc. are often scaled and you are competing for jobs and graduate school with fellow classmates who are getting a leg up (illegally by the way). Just ask yourself a question–would you want to go to a doctor who made his/her way through Medical school cramming on pills or someone who actually worked hard and has the natural apptitude??

  • Student in SMG on 05.03.2013 at 1:21 pm

    This is an argument that I see happening all the time and even discussed amongst professors here. I hate when this debate is brought up because I suffer from severe ADHD and anxiety so I am perscribed adderall by doctor. I use it appropriately, as perscribed by my doctor, and I never sell it or offer it to anyone. Most of my friends here do not even know I take it.

    I do not really like this article or do not think this discussion is appropriate, especially for the classroom. If the administration at BU know students are abusing perscription drugs, why are they not trying to find these kids, especially the ones who are selling it to people? In my opinion, if the school or the teachers do not want to do anything about it, why even bring it up? All this article and the discussions in class are doing are placing a stigma on take adderall legally as cheaters and just trying to “get ahead”. Whenever this is brought up, I feel extremely uncomforable because I feel like people are judging me or think I am “academic doping” to try to get better grades.

    Instead of BU highlighting students using perscription drugs to get ahead, maybe they should write an article or look into the culture at BU. Today our school is so competitive that we are so quick to point fingers at those and say if you take a medication your doctor perscribed you, you are cheating, just trying to get ahead, and do not deserve the grades you get.

  • Davros on 05.04.2013 at 11:54 am

    As a physician and father of a BU student, I was quite skeptical when I saw this article. I even went back and read the Addiction paper that is cited by the author. Most college students reported zero to minimal usage of stimulants and the 25% figure was an extreme outlier. Also, given the increased attention to prescription drug abuse in this country, e.g. the whole oxycontin business, I figured my medical colleagues would be too fearful to cavalierly give out prescriptions for schedule II controlled substances.

    Then I continued my research and became more and more dismayed with what I found. Whereas Adderall undoubtedly helps a number of individuals, when used for its primary medical indication, it can destroy the lives of others. If you are using this in school, or even thinking about it, please read these NY Times articles. The life you save may be your own.



  • KO on 05.05.2013 at 2:07 pm

    Not everyone has access to adderall and adderall does give an advantage. Therefore the advantage is unfair

    • Rodrigo on 01.09.2016 at 4:07 am

      First of all not anybody can get it because they dont really need it the people that do get the pills are diagnosed with ADHD and need it to keep up with others because there brain works in a different way it is unfair for people that dont have adhd because they are good and dont need help but people with adhd struggle and need help

  • Cas 9 on 03.11.2016 at 9:38 pm

    we live in a time where survival is measured by performance, grades might decide your future. add to that the overpopulation in many programmes and pressure of being rejected even though you might be deserving is a scary feat that happens to many of us…… with this mix you are in for one hell of a rat race if you are not doing all you can to survive then it’s your own fault.

    i say this because i have a friend that has been rejected in a program so many times he lives in depression don’t get me wrong he has a 3.7 unfortunately there is too many 4.0s. its a wicked system and we are too many. i can’t blame people for trying everything, weather it is fair or unfair is subjective and depends on your privilege. personally I left the ethecs for those who can afford them.

  • William on 04.07.2016 at 12:00 pm

    I am prescribed to Adderall XR because I have the disease ADHD, and this disease puts me at a disadvantage in school. So how when I take adderall do I have an advantage over other people? I have no advantage over anyone else as I am still not on the same level as a lot of people. Also taking adderall gives you many risks that could be life threatening and that is just to focus a little more. Then there are people who do not have ADHD and do not have to take medicine causing them no health risk. So whoever says that Adderall gives you an advantage, you are very uneducated on the disease and you have no place in talking about it being fair or unfair. The only way it would be close to being unfair is if someone who does not have ADHD takes this drug. If anyone still thinks Adderall gives people an unfair advantage, please let me know because I would like to educate you further on the topic.

  • Unknown on 05.24.2016 at 3:52 pm

    Yes, adderall makes tests and homework a lot easier, and I am glad that I have it prescribed to me because it helps me do my work so much, it would take hours to do homework and a lot more difficult to pass tests with out it.

Post Your Comment

(never shown)