Prohibitionists Regret Inconvenient (but True) Beliefs About Stimulants


The Partnership at Drugfree.org (formerly the Partnership for a Drug-Free America) joins The New York Times in noting with alarm that kids today use stimulants to improve their academic performance—and not always with permission from an M.D. Citing results from the latest Partnership Attitude Tracking Survey, the organization reports that "one in eight teens (13 percent) now reports that they have taken the stimulants Ritalin or Adderall when it was not prescribed for them, at least once in their lifetime." And no wonder:

Contributing to this sustained trend in teen medicine abuse are the lax attitudes and beliefs of parents and caregivers. In fact, nearly one-third of parents say they believe Rx stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall, normally prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), can improve a teen's academic performance even if the teen does not have ADHD.

This is another example of a belief about drugs that is supposed to worry us even though it is true, much like the annually decried belief that occasionally smoking marijuana does not pose a "great risk." The problem with these beliefs is not that they are false but that they are, from a drug warrior's perspective, unhelpful. If teenagers believe (correctly) that occasionally smoking pot is not very dangerous, perhaps they will be more inclined to occasionally smoke pot. (Then again, the conclusion about risk may be a result of such direct experience rather than a cause of it.) If parents believe (correctly) that Ritalin and Adderall can help a teenager do better in school even if his drug use is not blessed by an ADHD diagnosis, more teenagers might end up using prescription stimulants for that purpose—which would be troubling for unspecified reasons having less to do with physical risks than with the sort of moralism that permeates debates about doping in sports. Prohibitionists, who strive to suppress such inconvenient truths, celebrate when they manage to persuade more of us to believe their noble lies.