No doubt it’s illegal for college students to take ADHD medications for which they don’t have prescriptions. It’s also unhealthy, considering that these stimulants are potent and addictive.
But is it cheating?
That question surfaced at Gustavus University after the St. Peter, Minn., school commissioned a national survey about the misuse of ADHD medications, which some students take to boost their attention when finishing a term paper or taking a test.
“Is this to students what doping was to Lance Armstrong?” asked Peg O’Connor, a Gustavus philosophy professor.
One in 10 college students who do not have ADHD have illicitly taken these drugs, such as Adderall or Ritalin, according to the survey, which Gustavus commissioned for its Nobel conference on addiction Oct. 6-7. Even students with ADHD, short for Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, acknowledged hoarding doses for the “real pressure-cooker times” at college, O’Connor said.
In addition, more than half of surveyed students said they believe it’s cheating to take a stimulant for academic gains. Duke University was among the first, in 2011, to declare stimulant drug misuse as academic dishonesty.
O’Connor discussed the question with colleagues and found uncertainty — for one because taking a stimulant is no guarantee of a good grade.
A Buffalo State College study in 2012 found that misuse for academic reasons was most common among students who viewed cheating permissively and were “floundering” without goals in college. Students in that study said drug use isn’t as serious as cheating on a test, and was more akin to copying homework.
O’Connor said the temptation is growing as students are under more pressure and working longer hours to afford tuition. Six in 10 students with ADHD in the new survey said they were approached by friends to sell or give them doses. But only 12 percent said they actually gave or sold their prescription meds.
Regardless, access hardly seems a barrier to ADHD drug misuse in college, O’Connor said. “There’s a vast reserve of ADHD medication out there.”