Going to the doctor with enhancement in mind – An ethnographic study of university students’ use of prescription stimulants and their moral ambivalence

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Aims: With this article, we aim to use students’ moral ambivalence towards prescription stimulants and the doctor’s who prescribe them to problematize the distinction between enhancement and treatment. We do this by investigating a case in which students obtain legitimate prescriptions for (covert) enhancement purposes. Methods: The study is based on ethnographic fieldwork and in-depth interviews with 20 university students from multiple universities in New York City, from which the case is drawn. Findings: Three main themes were identified in the analysis. “The doctor prescribed them” illustrates how these students use doctors as easy access to study drugs, and legitimize their use of stimulants because they were prescribed. The second theme, “A good cause”, shows that the purpose is what counts as a measure for whether stimulant use is considered morally acceptable or not. The third theme, “Being responsible” refers to how they regard themselves as responsible stimulant users, particularly when not following the doctor’s directions. Conclusions: Through an ethnographic approach, we gain a more nuanced understanding of non-medical stimulant use that takes into account the context in which it occurs. We suggest that students’ moral ambivalence reflects the increasingly blurred boundaries between what is considered treatment and enhancement in contemporary society.
Original languageEnglish
JournalDrugs: Education, Prevention and Policy
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)201-207
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 2015

ID: 162900219