Adderall: The Intellectual’s Steroids

Kate Currer Columns, law school, Lawyer 10 Comments

Quite a few law students abuse Adderall and other “study drugs.” There is an epidemic of high school students using non-prescription drugs in order to focus during exams and study for long stretches of time. It is sad and alarming to think that young people feel the need to abuse their bodies and minds to gain a slight edge over the competition in order to get into elite colleges. The fact that law students abuse the same drugs is bothersome, mostly because they should know better.

A law student using Adderall is a lot like an athlete using steroids. The athlete can make the argument that he is still working out himself, that all the drugs allow him to do is exceed his own body’s limitations, and that everyone around him is doing the same thing and so he must do the same in order to keep up. The counter-argument from society at large is: Yeah, but you’re cheating. In his 2004 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush declared that the use of steroids by professional athletes sends a message to our children “that there are shortcuts to accomplishment and that performance is more important than character.” Giving yourself an extra edge with drugs feels un-American.

Lawyers are supposed to hold themselves to a higher code of ethics than the average citizen. Baseball players don’t have to take an oath in order to play the game, but lawyers do.

So, how could it be that a group of individuals of “good moral character” could engage in an activity that we disapprove of in our baseball players? The pressure to perform in law school is astronomical. A given law school class is filled with intelligent, hard-working people, who enter a law school where students have been equally matched after the admissions process has done its shuffling. Then, these people are supposed to compete against each other, and that ranking can affect the trajectory of their careers. Of course there is pressure, and of course the pressure makes people decide to do something drastic to affect their chances.

The practice of law is supposed to be a life-long career; taking drugs in law school to excel is shortsighted. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell identified the amount of time it takes to become an expert on something: 10,000 hours. He said nothing about how quickly you need to rack up those hours. From what I saw, the people using Adderall were not the ones competing for summa cum laude; those people are already super human. People who half-study all semester (but still wanted to hit the curve) use Adderall to get through finals.

So what makes law students think such an action isn’t cheating? Law students can argue well enough to justify almost anything, no matter how incorrect. And that’s why everyone hates lawyers — they act like high school students but justify their actions like adults.


For other articles on the intellectual’s abuse of Adderall, see this New Yorker piece and this New York Times piece.

Original images from Shutterstock

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  • Catherine

    While I absolutely agree that abuse of medications like Adderall is a serious problem, there are legitimate uses for it by people who need it to function, not just function at an abnormal or super-human level. I’m not talking about people who “have ADD” and go to a doctor to get a prescription they don’t really need, I’m talking about people who have a diagnosed condition for which there are objective tests to show a person has that condition . Take, for example, someone with narcolepsy. There are a number of drugs that are approved for the treatment of narcolepsy, and most of them are stimulants. In the hands of a normal person, these stimulants allow someone to function in a manner no human body was intended to function. In the hands of someone with narcolepsy, these stimulants allow a person to not fall asleep while driving on their way to work and to sleep a “normal” amount of hours instead of sleeping for ten hours at night and taking a few naps during the day. Abuse of any drug by any person is a problem, but to say someone is simply rationalizing the use of a medication because that person has a legitimate medical need for that medication is just wrong.

    • Charles

      There are several people, including myself, who are afflicted with ADHD and benefit from Adderall in a way that isn’t abusive. However, it is unfortunate that it is over-diagnosed and prescribed to some people who don’t actually need it but want it to make their lives easier.

  • Charles

    Is this in reference, also, to those who take it because they actually have ADHD and are prescribed Adderall?

  • Bitter in Pittsburgh

    What about law students who have been prescribed Adderall to manage a legitimately obtained ADHD diagnosis?

    Using Adderall when you don’t have ADHD is, as you’ve aptly phrased, “cheating.” Lying to get a prescription is unethical. Selling Adderall is illegal. But to use the drug, as prescribed, without having misled licensed medical professional that made the diagnosis, is perfectly acceptable.

  • Chipfaced

    WHAT! There were prescription drugs to help with studying? Why didn’t I know about these years ago? I always wondered about the frat boys who drank all day and all night and suddenly became superstars at the end. DRAT! Instead, I signed a stupid “honor code” that barred me from even glancing at a commercial outline until 2 weeks prior to the exam. I, like a shmuck, thought everyone was playing by the same rules…

  • Joe

    If you are using a substance to surpass your own limitations on your body or brain, then you are doing something that, by definition, you could not have done without them. That’s not a shortcut. And if people who could not have been lawyers of athletes without drugs are allowed to use them, Adderrol and TRT for example, then why should perfectly capable people be able to use them as well to be better? Why shouldn’t we just tell people with ADHD or testicular atrophy “Sorry. Pick another line of work.”

  • Alice

    This post is ridiculous and doesn’t take into account people who actually have ADD or ADHD at all. Even for people that do not, why deny people a drug that safely allows them to focus better? Yes Adderall has negative effects if you abuse it but if taken responsibly it only enhances your ability to succeed. I take 60 mg per day and am not sorry about it one bit! Don’t hate on a legitimate drug that helps people just because some users abuse it.

  • Milwaukee

    Lawyers are supposed to hold themselves to a higher code of ethics than the average citizen.

    OMG that’s hilarious.

    Let’s run with this logic, then compare it to the world of irrational humans.
    A lawyer won’t make partner without getting high paying clients.
    High paying clients are focuses on winning at any cost; rules/schmules.
    High paying clients will hire you if you can win their case or their petition.
    High paying clients know they are paying you to look for loopholes, find minor errors, and make them into major errors so they case is ‘won’ on technicalities.
    There are so many examples of this being the real-world situation, and not the world of human behavior depicted in law school.

    Here’s a great recent example: Google Joseph Collins Refco
    Joe the lawyer used his accounting skills & legal certification to authorize years of fraud at Refco. When Refco went bankrupt, the DA indicted him along with the other major players in this crime. The DA won, and Joe got 8 years in prison. But Joe the lawyer hired a different lawyer, to find any problem he could to have the case thrown out.
    And he did, and Joe’s conviction was overturned.
    This is one example among many.

    Nobody believes lawyers are more ethical, regardless of the “vow” they took.
    Priests are supposed to be more spiritual, yet the church in the US, Ireland and Britain is awash in hundreds of molestation cases.

    (This detailed argument brought to you by the brain-enhancing benefits of Adderall. “Adderall: It’s not just for breakfast anymore.”)

  • Jerry

    Nobody wants to pipe a lawyer with a Stanky crotch!

  • Jerry

    Nobody wants to pipe a lawyer with a Stanky crotch!