Shifting Expectations and Adding Prescriptions

It is completely undeniable that the life of a student in the past twenty years has changed drastically. Students are expected from a young age to be receiving perfect scores, excelling creatively and athletically while holding leadership positions. Majority of children are expected to attend a four-year university and graduate with a “stable” respectable job. The only way to obtain this job, as socially preached, is to get above average grades while balancing a social and extracurricular life. Quite simply stated, the expectations for a student of any age have changed.

Dr. Diller, author of Running on Ritalin, claims that the rise to the use of Ritalin can be attributed to a variety of non-medical factors. During an interview with PBS, Diller explains how the shifting culture surrounding young people has changed the understanding of managing behavior. He attributes the increasing pressure to be above average as a young person, matched by parents working full-time and a decrease in parental discipline with the rise of Ritalin prescriptions.  Next he discusses the flaw in diagnoses, as there is no concrete test for ADHD but rather a series of rather subjective tests usually administered by a general physician. He additionally attributes the rise in Ritalin usage to general awareness. ADHD is an easily identifiable disorder. As diagnosis increase and education law changed to include services for those with ADHD simply checking for ADHD has become more popular.

Throughout the interview Diller touches on the moral aspect of Ritalin usage. He talks about how naturally any parent would want the best for their child. At times there may be a child who is excelling outside of school but simply cannot focus. Other times children can be seen as hyper or unable to pay attention. However, parents want to do all they can to help their children excel and many times this includes the addition of Ritalin. He ends the discussion by stating the ethical dilemma he faces as a doctor. For certain patients he understands that possibly changing classroom size, disciplining methods or family habits could address some of the concerns that parents have however, the solution quickly shifts to medication. Family life, parenting, temperament and learning environment are not typically taken into account before prescribing Ritalin to improve concentration.

The stigma surrounding Ritalin, I feel (especially in college) is quite small. Partially because many who take Ritalin take it for purely medical reasons but also because it is so frequently used. Many college students take Ritalin when they simply cannot concentrate, or seek a specific diagnosis to gain regular access to this type of drug.

I question this on a deeply ethical level, for isn’t this use (and possibly abuse) shockingly similar to the use of steroids? Why are athletes so widely criticized for using performance enhancement drugs when it is acceptable for college students to use similar aids? Is there a difference between the two? Should one usage be more criticized than the other? Do we deem the use of Ritalin (or Adderall)  as cheating or taking the easy route?

I personally see difficultly in drawing the line between the two. While I don’t feel as strongly about the usage of Ritalin or Adderall in relation to a performance enhancement drug, I also can’t articulate and argue the difference.


“Interview with Dr. Diller.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2014.

Parker, Harvey. “The Ritalin Explosion.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2014.

Trudeau, Michelle. “More Students Turning Illegally To ‘Smart’ Drugs.” NPR. NPR, 5 Feb. 2009. Web. 06 Feb. 2014.

9 thoughts on “Shifting Expectations and Adding Prescriptions

  1. I really appreciated the attention you give to the idea of steroids having extremely negative connotations associated with the athletes that use them, while the same stigma is not necessarily adopted when students use Ritalin and other focusing aids in college. You posed the question of whether or not the use of Ritalin or Adderall should be considered cheating, which I felt was something I wanted to delve into. One of the definitions of cheating, as defined by, reads “to take an examination or test in a dishonest way, as by improper advantage”. The question then becomes “Does the use of attention enhancing drugs provide an advantage?” Like steroids, I believe the answer is yes, an advantage is provided. Because of this, it makes logical sense for steroids and attention enhancers to face the criticism.

  2. Niyeti, you have a valid point that amphetamines have taken the same role in the academic arena as steroids in sports. However, I really think that the true reason for the abuse of drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall is the gap that exists in the diagnosis of ADHD. This gap has made ADHD difficult to identify, yet easier to treat with readily available drugs that have generated millions of dollars in profit for pharmaceutical companies. To answer your question, “isn’t this use (and possibly abuse) shockingly similar to the use of steroids?” I would say no because ADHD is medicalized hence need to be treated with drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall. Even though I don’t believe in amphetamines, I still think that they are considered legal because they help patients with their symptoms versus steroids for performance enhancement is considered illegal because it is not medically necessary. An athlete can get in trouble for using steroids, but the same athlete may get away with amphetamines only because its use is medicalized.

  3. Like Salman, I really liked how you compared the use of Ritalin and Adderall to use of steroids. I agree that the two are very similar. Athletes take steroids to enhance their performance just like how students take these drugs to concentrate better in school. There’s really not much difference. I believe there is much more stigma surrounding the use of steroids because people idolize athletes and view them as people who either work hard or have this natural talent for what they do. I suppose the same argument can be made for college students but there are so many more college students than professional athletes. I think people see a difference between how hard it is to become a college student and how hard it is to become a professional athlete. Plus, professional athletes are more likely to be in the media making the issue heavily publicized.

  4. Like everyone else, I like the parallelism that you have drawn upon. Athletes and steroids have received attention and criticism over the years. With steroids it is very clear cut in the sense that it is agreed to be cheating since no one is suppose to use them and we can determine who is using them. However, this is not the case with attention enhancers. The first issue being that some people truly need this medication but some people fake or exaggerated symptoms in order to obtain this “study aid.”

    It has not been until recently that people have address the moral issues of students using attention enhancers. I believe that this is a bigger concern than we make it since attention enhancers are so widely available and the pool of people who seek these drugs is significantly larger than that of athletes. Additionally, there are no extremely serious side effects of using attention enhancers, which only adds to the acceptance of taking such medication. I think that attention enhancers should have more stringent regulations since it provides an unfair advantage to those who are taking such medication without medical need.

    I think the movie Limitless with Bradley Cooper is a great commentary on the use of such drugs. Here is the trailer:

  5. I definitely see where you can find similarities between the use of drugs such as Ritalin or Adderall and steroids, but I don’t agree that the line in indistinguishable. I think it’s interesting that you find the use of the two types of drugs theoretically the same, yet express a stronger opinion against steroid use than Ritalin.
    I agree with Zain that there is definitely a difference between the two. Ritalin certainly has a medical foundation behind it’s use (whether ADHD is actually a medical issue is a whole other issue) where as steroids do not. Ritalin is used with the intent of assisting a “disability”. It is given to children (and others) to aid them with their inability to calm down/focus/pay attention, etc. I think it’s important to point out that Ritalin is not just used on children, like you said, there are many students even at the college level that still use Ritalin. Steroids, however, are not at all used to treat a “disability”. In fact, in sports they are used by people who are incredibly able. These people are just not happy with their already above average abilities and simply want more. Conceptually this is very different than the reason behind Ritalin use. I think this difference of intention is a big factor in determining the morality behind the two.

  6. The way I view prescription medications, is that they are used for medical purposes and should be prescribed. This means that not just anyone should not take prescription drugs that are not prescribed to them because their side effects can sometimes outway the benefits. Ritalin is no exception because it can actually cause restlessness, heart arrhythmias, and sleep disorders. Similarly, anabolic steroids have side effects that actually counteract their benefits as well, and are usually prescribed in rare conditions of delayed puberty or extreme hormonal imbalances in males. In my opinion, if we saw both of these drugs as medications that should only be taken when prescribed, they would both fall under the same category of utilizing prescription drugs for recreational use, and now they can be viewed on a similar ethical level

  7. We really shouldn’t forget that taking Ritalin and Adderall in college as a “study aid” is considered drug abuse. Most of the time, college kids sell these study aids to other college kids and this is also very illegal. Giving somebody your Adderall is illegal as well. In fact, this is drug dealing. This is an entirely different ethical issue. The medicalization of ADHD has been a huge issue of our time. Of course, parents play a large role in the issues described in Running on Ritalin. This is natural. Athletes wanting to perform better is natural. In class, we discussed the prospect of everyone taking steroids and, therefore, widely raising the standards for athleticism. The same thing has happened with all of these central nervous system stimulants. There is, once again, the matter of class and wealth. So do the less wealthy college kids fall behind because they can’t afford to buy these “study aids”?

    Manyapu, M. (8 Oct 2012). Students Abuse Adderall For Grades. The Emory Wheel. Retrieved from

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