The Horror of Drug-Boosted Grades and SAT Scores


The New York Times reports that "abuse" of "study drugs" (stimulants prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is on the rise among high school students. A couple of problems with this story: There is no evidence that consumption of such drugs has increased among teenagers in recent years, and what the Times calls "abuse"—taking the stimulants to boost grades and SAT scores by making it easier to focus on studying and tests—would more accurately be described  as "use." The story's headline ("Risky Rise of the Good-Grade Pill") and opening paragraphs create the impression that students anxious to improve their academic performance are popping pills like never before:

At high schools across the United States, pressure over grades and competition for college admissions are encouraging students to abuse prescription stimulants, according to interviews with students, parents and doctors. Pills that have been a staple in some college and graduate school circles are going from rare to routine in many academically competitive high schools, where teenagers say they get them from friends, buy them from student dealers or fake symptoms to their parents and doctors to get prescriptions….

"It's throughout all the private schools here," said DeAnsin Parker, a New York psychologist who treats many adolescents from affluent neighborhoods like the Upper East Side. "It's not as if there is one school where this is the culture. This is the culture."

Not until the 15th paragraph do we learn that "there is no reliable research on how many high school students take stimulants as a study aid." Nine paragraphs later, the Times reveals that "a respected annual survey financed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 'Monitoring the Future,' reports that abuse of prescription amphetamines by 10th and 12th graders nationally has actually dipped from the 1990s and is remaining relatively steady at about 10 percent." Even here the Times is fudging. According to the Monitoring the Future Study, the share of 12th-graders reporting nonmedical use of amphetamines in the previous year peaked at 11.1 percent in 2002; last year it was 8.2 percent. Among 10th-graders, this number fell from 11.7 percent in 2001 to 6.6 percent last year. The patterns for Ritalin are similar. In short, the Times, through the magic of anecdotes and obfuscation, has transformed a decrease into an increase.

As for the consequences of the nonexistent trend decried by the Times, here is one example of what can happen when a student "abuses" stimulants such as Adderall or Ritalin:

Madeleine surveyed her schedule of five Advanced Placement classes, field hockey and several other extracurricular activities and knew she could not handle it all. The first physics test of the year — inclines, friction, drag — loomed ominously over her college prospects. A star senior at her Roman Catholic school in Bethesda, Md., Madeleine knew a friend whose grades had gone from B's to A's after being prescribed Ritalin, so she asked her for a pill.

She got a 95. Thereafter, Madeleine recalled, she got Adderall and Vyvanse capsules the rest of the year from various classmates — not in exchange for money, she said, but for tutoring them in calculus or proofreading their English papers.

"Can I get a drink of water?" Madeleine said she would ask the teacher in one class, before excusing herself and heading to the water fountain. Making sure no one was watching, she would remove a 40-milligram Vyvanse capsule from her purse and swallow it. After 30 minutes, the buzz began, she said: laser focus, instant recall and the fortitude to crush any test in her path.

"People would have never looked at me and thought I used drugs like that — I wasn't that kid," said Madeleine, who has just completed her freshman year at an Ivy League college and continues to use stimulants occasionally. "It wasn't that hard of a decision. Do I want only four hours of sleep and be a mess, and then underperform on the test and then in field hockey? Or make the teachers happy and the coach happy and get good grades, get into a good college and make my parents happy?"

The horror? The Times does describe a few less happy outcomes, including one boy who "later became addicted to the painkiller Percocet and eventually heroin" and another who escalated to 400 milligrams of Adderall a day, "was rushed to the emergency room" after he "began hallucinating and then convulsing," and "wound up spending seven months at a drug rehabilitation center." How common are the Madeleines compared to the convulsing, hallucinating addicts? The Times does not even raise the question.

Underlying the whole article is the dubious premise that using stimulants to do better in school is perfectly legitimate when you are properly diagnosed with ADHD but alarming, disturbing, and vaguely anti-social when you fib to your psychiatrist or find one who is less than diligent in applying the criteria laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: inattentiveness, hyperactivity, or lack of impulse control causing "clinically significant impairment" in at least two settings, signs of which were apparent by age 7. "It's one thing if you have a real deficiency," a family therapist tells the Times. "The medicine is really important to those people. But not if your deficiency is not getting into Brown." For the Times this is the sort of distinction that justifies arresting people; to me it seems like a moral judgment masquerading as medical advice. 

NEXT: Shikha Dalmia on Michael Bloomberg, Soda Jerk

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  1. The world needs manic and petulant ditch diggers, too.

    1. And ditch fillers, don’t forget about them!

      1. Fucking commie Diggers and Levelers:

        You noble Diggers all, stand up now, stand up now,
        You noble Diggers all, stand up now,
        The wast land to maintain, seeing Cavaliers by name
        Your digging does maintain, and persons all defame
        Stand up now, stand up now.

  2. Here we go again with the Adderall crap. I have a prescription for Adderall for my ADD. I like taking it. Contrary to the NYT story, it doesn’t calm me down, it simply makes me able to focus, and to get things done. Because I guess I’m a terrible parent, if my 20 year old daughter asks me for some, I give it to her. She has two jobs, a full time day job and a 3-night-a-week overnight job, and speed doesn’t fuck up her stomach like caffeine does. She actually had her own prescription for a long time, but at the moment she doesn’t have health insurance.

    Back in the seventies, when I was in my teens, it was a lot easier to get speed from doctors, since it was still legal and common to prescribe it for weight loss. In my late teens I used to get it from a few different doctors who specialized in it, mostly so I could waitress in bars a shitload of hours a week. No harm done, except that I made fuckloads of untaxed cash, which I know the NYT is also against.

    Contrary to the NYT, it’s not particularly addictive, at least physically. Addiction is something that seems to reside in the person, not the substance, but some substances do cause physical dependence leading to uncomfortable and dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Amphetamines do not.

    So fuck the NYT. There’s nothing wrong with using a chemical to help you study when, in fact, it seems to legitimately increase performance.

    1. They can use your story for their next article showing how Adderall use leads to bad parenting and law breaking/tax evasion.

      1. I have dreams of being chosen as a national bad example.

        1. Get in line.

        2. “Underlying the whole article is the dubious premise that using stimulants to do better in school is perfectly legitimate when you are properly diagnosed with ADHD but alarming, disturbing, and vaguely anti-social when you fib to your psychiatrist”

          “Dubious” is an understatment. Make it legal for everyone; use at one’s own risk. But no subsidy: users pay out of pocket. Why should I pay for your kid’s drug habit? Furthermore, I have no problem with a social stigma against drug use – just no legal prohibition.

          1. Make it legal for everyone; use at one’s own risk. But no subsidy: users pay out of pocket.

            I would make that trade in a fucking heartbeat, but, well, I am a libertarian…

    2. But people using drugs for an advantage seems un- fair and makes me feel all ooky!

      Plus your story would have been really hot if you’d have just said ‘back in the 00s when I was a teen’ instead of that monstrosity you posted.

      Double-plus, as we learned yesterday, most of these drugs are probably Third Man knock-offs, placebos or outright poison.

      So I don’t know what I’m saying. Fire is probably the answer, as usual.

      1. Plus your story would have been really hot if you’d have just said ‘back in the 00s when I was a teen’ instead of that monstrosity you posted.
        Come on now, I mentioned my 20 year old daughter. Isn’t that hawt enough?

        1. Come on now, I mentioned my 20 year old daughter. Isn’t that hawt enough

          Pics or it didn’t happen.

          1. I’m not that bad a parent, sorry.

        2. Oh snap, I thought that was a hypothetical 20 year old daughter! Yes, you are forgiven and my apologies!

  3. There is no evidence that consumption of such drugs has increased among teenagers in recent years, and what the Times calls “abuse”?taking the stimulants to boost grades and SAT scores by making it easier to focus on studying and tests?would more accurately be described as “use.”

    Doncha know? Use is abuse!

    1. That does seem to be the definition. If you have the permission of a magical gatekeeper, it is legitimate use. If not, it’s abuse.

      1. And sometimes even the magical gatekeeper isn’t enough, as evidenced by the DEA fucking with doctors for “overprescribing”.

  4. Well, shit. I wish someone at my high school had offered me this. I could’ve used some last year, taking two languages, too.

  5. All I’m going to say is that Piracetam is a hell of a drug (in a good way).

  6. This story is so full of shit. I’ve taken Adderall in the past to help me study for my finals and nothing came of it. The reason the kid had hallucinations is the fact that the dumbass took 400 mg, and taking any drug in large quantities will cause bad things to happen.

    1. But if we let children decide what goes into their body just think of the bad decisions they will make!

      Why do you hate the children so much Chloe?

      1. I want kids to make bad decisions. Not so they would learn a valuable lesson, because I am planning on going into a emergency medicine residency when I’m finish with med school. Stupid decisions would be my bread and butter, along with old people, and hypochondriacs.

        1. You know what else was a stupid decision? Taking the word “but” out of the second sentance:(

          1. What is a “sentance”?


          2. when I’m finish [sic] with med school

            And not using the past participle form in that phrase. Looks like someone needs to take their nootropics. ^_^

  7. My nootropic cocktail currently consists of suppliments of choline, DMAE, Vitamin E, gingko biloba, lipoic acid, creatine, l-phenylalanine, and l-tyrosine. I also use piracetam.

      1. That’s not the worst of it

  8. Om ok, if these drugs are so damned effective and the only side effect is getting arrested for taking them without the governments seal of approval they why the hell is the government not mandating everybody take them? I mean that seems like a pretty surefire way to “win the future” and make America “more productive”

    1. Maybe this was part of the deal that PHRMA was making with Obama. Pass Obamacare and stimulant use is made mandatory.

      Sleep is for the weak

  9. Well this story is about 10 years late…

  10. This has become such a “problem” that the DEA has stepped in to create an artificial shortage in product, which does 2 things: 1) makes selling the drug illicitly all the more appealing because the street value has increased while demand is still the same; 2) it makes difficult to fill a monthly prescription for those of us who spent hundreds of dollars going through the proper legal channels to procure a prescription because they’re married with a family and can’t afford to go to jail just because they’re trying to finish school at a brisker pace.

    I hate the government and its immoral, soul sucking drug war.

    And it’s not like dextroamphetemine is hard to make. Basic chemistry. If it were legal to get without prescription, it would be cheaper, kids would be less involved with drug dealing, and the likelihood of abuse would lower.

    Fucking slavers.

  11. Thank God for the noble folks at the PAPER OF RECORD, and warning of this danger to TEH CHILDRUN!!111!

    I am so grateful that none of the grunts that ever protected me all across NE Afghanistan or central Iraq ever used the eeeevul stimulants to stay awake, focused and aware. No siree!

    So imagine the horror if a student juggling a tough schedule used them to succeed. IT MUST BE STOPPED!

  12. The best way to combat this problem is to shoot all the kids making straight A’s. Obviously they are nothing but the drug addicted scourge of the earth and must be euthanized for our utopia to flourish.

    1. Their straight A’s are obviously also making the B, C and D students feel bad. That cannot be allowed to happen! Everyone is equal!

  13. Well such is the result when we base all achievement short of world domination on the results of bubble sheet tests

  14. This is even dumber that the freak out about performance enhancing drugs in sports. At least with sports, the cheating angle is somewhat legitimate. But school (or work) is not a game or a competition. You want to do as well as you can and learn as much as you can. If there is a drug that can help with that without unacceptable side effects, I can’t see how that is not a good thing.
    I could really use some ritalin right now. Amphetamines make me too jittery.

  15. I was diagnosed with ADD as a young child in the 80s. My dad decided that his children would not be on any MH drugs, which is odd as he has no problem with recreational drugs. I sometimes wonder what trouble I could have unleashed on the world if I could focus on a task and finish my work in a timely manner.

  16. Shoot their dogs.

  17. Dude is making a lot of sense man, imean like wow.

  18. In college I started drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and drinking just the right amount of alcohol in the evenings everyday for the exact same reasons. I don’t think there is much wrong with using drugs to enhance your performance.

  19. And all of this just ignores the fact that the vast majority of people in this country consume a powerful stimulant?caffeine?on a daily basis for exactly the reasons given by these students: to improve performance in all manner of mental tasks.

  20. I have a friend that takes Adderall in order to focus for 50 minutes of lecture after playing Skyrim for 12 hours straight.

    An aversion to paying attention to boring shit is normal. You should deal with it via normal means, like you know, sucking it up.

    1. Eat a bag of dicks.

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