NAPLETON: Focus on authenticity

Yesterday, the New York Times reported that Dr. Michael Anderson of Canton, Ga. advocates prescribing the focus-enhancing drug Adderall to children who he admits have not been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He writes a prescription because these children are victims of underfunded schools.

He says he seeks to “even the scales” for children who struggle to learn in inadequate schools. Many physicians accuse him of putting children at physical and psychological risk with the prescription of this psychotropic drug, while disregarding the protocol of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Every day at Yale — perhaps especially at this time of year when midterms are in full force — students abuse Adderall and Ritalin to enhance study abilities. For me, “abuse” refers to the consumption of these drugs without an honestly obtained prescription. Their prevalence on campus ranges from a single dose the night before an exam to addiction. Humanities majors and engineers alike know the advantages these drugs offer. It’s certainly not exclusive to Yale — high-achieving college and high school students nationwide take advantage of the study drugs to boost their grades.

The abuse of Adderall gives students an unfair edge over others, undermining the level playing field that we should expect from our community. When someone can focus that much more on his paper or study for that much longer for her exam, it disrespects the efforts of their suitemates and teammates. In the same way that Adderall allegedly “evens the scales” for students in inadequate middle schools, it gives an unfair testing advantage to college students who choose to abuse it. Even on individual assignments, study drugs undermine the authenticity and academic integrity for which we should strive.

It scares me to think that my friends and classmates are putting their bodies at risk for better grades. Though long-term health effects of Adderall and Ritalin are unknown, the risks include high blood pressure and addiction.

But Yalies know how to evaluate health risks. We embrace our own vices every time we skip out on a good night’s sleep or down that third (or fourth or fifth) beer. Though I care immensely about the health of my peers, I know that we each have to learn to make our own decisions — it’s the only way we can define who we are.

For many people at Yale, it’s hard to imagine how we earned a place amongst such bright, passionate learners. For some of us this can breed a feeling of inadequacy: Why couldn’t I figure out that reaction mechanism? Why don’t I ever add worthwhile insight in section?

Too often, these insecurities and perfectionist tendencies create a maelstrom of stress that seems inescapable. For some, achieving more with Adderall creates an escape.

No one has to turn to this inauthentic solution. But for whatever reason — perhaps the shortcomings of mental health services or unrealistic expectations for ourselves — Yalies are abusing these study drugs in the same way that professional athletes wrongly use performance-enhancing steroids.

The value of a Yale diploma relies on the academic integrity we must uphold. However, the reasons we do not plagiarize or peek at another’s test conflict with our drive to achieve our academic goals. Those goals mean nothing without integrity.

It pains me to see the ambitious pre-med, who will one day hold the power to prescribe Adderall, abusing it to get to medical school. I hate knowing that the brilliant essay my English class is workshopping might come at the expense of its writer’s health. Yalies are some of the most intelligent, hard-working students in the country. Each of us must create our own authentic legacy here, sans amphetamines.

Amy Napleton is a junior in Trumbull College. Contact her at amy.napleton@yale.edu .

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