Performance-Enhancement For One – For All?

This week we learned a lot about the presence of nutritional aids, psychological aids, and pharmacological aids in athletic performance, but these influences exist in academic performance as well. Amphetamines, caffeine, etc., are commonly used in academic arenas and/or events to achieve a longer attention span, alertness, focus, and higher academic performance.


Most have heard of “study buddies” and the use and abuse of them, but our generation is the first generation that has grown up with prescribed amphetamines. When our parents were growing up, hyperactivity and inattentiveness were not medical conditions, but part of the reality of childhood.  For many of us the illicit use of drugs like Adderall and Ritalin is quite obvious, but these drugs are also facts of our lives. A good portion of our generation grew up taking these drugs every morning during grade school! Up until I was about 10 years-old complete strangers would approach my mom and say, “You know, they have pills that can help your daughter.” This was during the early to mid-nineties (I was born in 1990).

Whether or not they are personally prescribed, ADD and ADHD medications are readily available for studying for an exam, testing, and doing assignments. So, how does widespread use of these drugs shape and reshape the academic playing field? Cyclists Tyler Hamilton and George Hincapie gave statements that they used performance-enhancing drugs, just to stay in the race. The overall level of competition, the game itself, was changed because of the widespread doping by cyclists in the 1990s to early 2000s.


“The doping controls were not very good, and we came to believe that we needed to use banned substances to compete at the very highest levels,” said George Hincapie, US Postal team captain from 1999-2005, USA Today.

I do not mean to argue that students of higher-education are all ‘doping’ with study drugs. I am not at all arguing that everyone or even a majority use drugs to excel academically, but I am arguing that similarities can be drawn between academic and athletic use of performance-enhancing drugs. The greater cultural impacts of these drugs on academic and athletic landscapes is cause for further examination.

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3 Responses to Performance-Enhancement For One – For All?

  1. Sibs says:

    @runbikeswimskate That is interesting that your little brother had the weight-loss from the pills. My little sister actually stunted her growth because she was so thin. She had no appetite because she was taking Concerta every day. Like any kid she’d eat candy no matter what, so my mom and I were like, “Well, if it gets meat on her bones!” But seriously I believe there is scientific proof that the first ADHD drug on the market, Ritalin caused significant growth-delay among children that took it.

    @spondy12 I agree that these drugs have become part of academic cultures. I think it would be interesting to examine how significantly the “playing field” has changed with our generation.

  2. This was a really interesting article, I never thought about the two as related, but I the pressure to succeed and be at your best is definitely present in both. My younger brother was medicated for ADHD from about age 11-13 when my mom realized that he was losing weight (he didn’t really have any to lose, he had a six pack..), having mood swings and generally being in a depressed mood. When a couple years ago they told me I should be medicated for my attention problems my mom was adamantly against it, but I’ve learned to cope in ways that I thought were more “natural” than drugs. I drink more than a pot of coffee a day and sometimes resort to caffeine pills to keep me focused. I guess I’ve really just been switching a prescribed drug out for excessive reliance on caffeine.
    I’m not sure if this would be classified as performance enhancing to get ahead, or just to stay my best, or if there’s a difference. I think that’s one of the major issues with doping. The cyclists were doing it because they needed to just to be as good as everyone else, because everyone else was doing it. If they didn’t dope their chances of winning the tour were essentially nil. I think that carries over for academics as well. A lot of people treat certain drugs as ways to just make sure they’re at their best, to keep their mind sharp, not necessarily to enhance their performance, but to make sure they aren’t falling behind everyone else.

  3. spondy12 says:

    Like Lance described in his interview with Operah, it is part of culture here. I’m sure that the problem is prevalent at many colleges across the country, but even more so at Colby and other elite liberal arts schools where the pressure to perform is so great.

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