Is ADHD Medication Considered Academic Misconduct?

If you go to a college or university, chances are you know someone who has taken Adderall or Ritalin to study. The use of ADHD medication has been increasingly prevalent in schools to increase concentration and attention when studying for exams or writing papers. Stimulant drugs that are used as medicinal intervention for ADHD are easily accessible for most students and some students seem to have taken advantage of that accessibility. Even without proper prescriptions from a medical professional, students can obtain these drugs although it is illegal to do so.

A recent article published on discussed a study conducted by the Pediatric Academic Societies on whether students believed the use of ADHD medication for academic purposes (despite not having been diagnosed) was considered cheating. Survey results showed that 18% of the sample had used at least one type of stimulant drugs to study. When asked whether these students constituted their drug-use as cheating, users were more than twice as likely to answer no while non-users were two and a half times more likely to answer yes.

While it is important to consider students’ thoughts on the ethics of their usage, it is also important to make note of potential biases. Users are likely to justify their own illegal use, while non-users could feel disadvantaged and therefore deem users as cheaters. Student’s opinions can open up the discussion on the use of ADHD medications in the school setting but should be used with caution when applied to institutional-level decisions. To eliminate biases in these studies, researchers could be further extend their sample to the opinions of non-students or even individuals outside of the university setting who can give a fairer evaluation of the issue. For example, sports officials could be surveyed given that illegal ADHD drug-use draws parallels with athletes who use drugs to enhance their performance in a sport.

Although this issue is a question of ethics, it also requires greater medical research to compare the effects of ADHD medication with other drugs and alcohol. The latter two categories of substances are largely addressed by most universities and colleges due to their ability to alter mental capacities. Researchers should test to see whether or not ADHD drugs have comparable effects to other drugs and alcohol. These tests would enable university policy makers to make establish potential correlations between ADHD drugs and academic performance. Conclusions to this question should enable educational institutions to make decisions as to whether the use of ADHD stimulant drugs should be considered cheating.


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