Americans are accepting of employees using Adderall, but not students or athletes

In online surveys taken by 3,700 people, it was found those surveyed were more accepting when they were framed as “fuel” rather than “steroids.”

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Americans are more accepting of an employee taking the controlled substance Adderall to focus on their workday than they are a student popping the same or similar type of cognitive enhancer to cram for a test or athletes looking for an edge using it, a new study from Penn Medicine neurologists found.

Cognitive enhancers are drugs that boost alertness, awakeness, tighten focus, and usually are stimulants, including Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse. They are usually prescribed to people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD).


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In the study, acceptance was based on how the use of these cognitive-enhancing drugs was framed. In online surveys taken by 3,700 people, it was found those surveyed were more accepting when the use of cognitive enhancers was framed as “fuel” rather than “steroids.”

Clearly, this response was colored by misuse: the many athletes banned for using the drug, and students taking a shortcut to get ahead in their studies.

“While some see [these drugs] as a way to maximize potential, others view it as a misuse, akin to cheating. Our study sheds light on the attitudes of the public which may help us better understand, discuss, and address the misuse of these medications among adolescents and adults,” said senior author Anjan Chatterjee, MD, a professor of Neurology and director of the Penn Center for Neuroaesthetics, in a release.

The context was also important to acceptance. Was the user a student, a professional athlete, or an employee?

Another part of the acceptance of employees using them is the idea that a focused and productive worker benefits society as a whole, while individuals using cognitive enhancers for their own reasons are more inherently selfish.

“Use of cognitive enhancers by athletes or students may be less acceptable than use by employees in the workplace because of the perceived higher gain to society in the latter,” said Erin C. Conrad, MD, a resident in the Neurology department. “Unlike a student improving a test score or an athlete winning a race, when the workforce in enhanced, everyone stands to benefit.”

The study was published in AJOB Neuroscience.


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Sheila McClear|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at smcclear@theladders.com.