Is Taking Adderall to Boost College Brain Performance Cheating?A new study that will be presented tomorrow finds that 33 percent of students surveyed for a study at an Ivy League college said they did not think taking an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drug, like Adderall or Ritalin, is a form of cheating. Another 25 percent weren’t sure if it was cheating or not, and 41 percent thought it was.

It’s almost as if these college kids need to crack open a dictionary once in a while. Cheating is “to act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage, especially in a game or examination.”

If you’re not taking an ADHD drug for ADHD but rather for its brain-boosting effects, guess what? — that’s cheating.

The unbelievable thing for me is to read that this research was conducted at a university like Harvard, MIT or Yale. Apparently “honor” is not something in vogue right now at these kinds of institutions. Anything to get ahead or stay ahead of your peers.

A psychiatric medication is prescribed to a person with a psychiatric diagnosis to treat the condition. It is prescribed to make up for a deficit in the person’s brain functioning. In people with ADHD, it helps them gain the focus and concentration they lack because of the disorder. For a person with ADHD, taking a medication like Adderall doesn’t make them into super-intelligent nerds. It simply brings their brain functioning closer to “normal.”

When a person without ADHD takes an ADHD medication, it gives them super-sharp attention and concentration. It enhances their existing cognitive abilities for many who take it. And in that way, it’s no different than an athlete who’s pumped up on steroids.

If you’re using such a drug recreationally, you are indeed acting in an unfair manner in order to gain an advantage. Most students don’t have access to such a drug and, even if they did, most students wouldn’t abuse the drug for cognitive advantage. In the most recent study, only 18 percent of students — still nearly 1 in 5 students — took an ADHD drug for academic purpose.

If you need Adderall, Ritalin or some other stimulant — and you don’t have ADHD — to get you through college, guess what? You’re going to stink it up in the real world. Your lack of discipline and relying on a drug to capture the same kinds of academic benefits most of your peers do without drugs is going to come back and bite you someday.

By taking these drugs, all rationalizations aside, you’re cheating. Full stop.

But not so much that the rest of the world cares, because you’re primarily cheating yourself. Your developing brain is still building those neural pathways it needs to be successful throughout the rest of your life. By short-circuiting that natural building process with a drug, you could actually be stunting your brain’s last legs of growth and development. All so you could write a coherent essay, or take an exam.

It’s no wonder many students who take ADHD drugs for academic enhancement don’t see anything wrong with it — they think everyone around them is doing it too (more than 30 percent of their fellow students, when the real number is about half that).


Read the full study: Use of ADHD Meds as Study Aid — Cheating?



Colaneri, N. (2014). Prevalence and Student Perceptions of Prescription Stimulant Misuse at an Ivy League College. Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting.



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    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 2 May 2014
    Published on All rights reserved.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2014). Is Taking Adderall to Boost College Brain Performance Cheating?. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 25, 2015, from


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