Malcolm Gladwell Thinks Half of Harvard Law Is on Drugs

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on December 15, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Malcolm Gladwell, the journalist famous for books like 'The Tipping Point' and 'Blink,' is known for his unexpected theories. Those include the assertion that policing small crimes can reduce crime rates overall (the so-called 'Broken Windows' theory), that 10,000 hours of practice can make anyone a master, and most recently that half of law students at the most competitive colleges are taking drugs.

Now, these aren't your trashy bath salts and bong hits, of course. They're fancy-people drugs. Study drugs. And Gladwell predicts that they're way more prevalent than you might expect.

If You're Reading This, You're Probably on Adderall?

Gladwell made his comments regarding law student drug use way back in October, when he was a guest on Lance Armstrong's podcast 'The Forward' -- but they weren't reported until Bloomberg's Josh Block spotted them earlier this week. Since this was Lance Armstrong, the conversation naturally turned to performance-enhancing drugs.

Performance-enhancing drugs in sports, such as the use of steroids or human growth hormone, aren't too different from performance-enhancing drugs in other areas, Gladwell posited. Take, for example, high-performing law students at the nation's top schools:

Gladwell: If you go to Harvard Law School, I would, I don't know, I would...
Armstrong: I want to hear this number.
Gladwell: I would venture that more than 50 percent of the students are taking something. Whether it's Provigil to help them study, or Adderall the day before some major test.

Law School Is Full of Drug Users, But Not That Full

Now, it's no secret that law students abuse study drugs in large numbers, taking prescription medication intended for those with conditions like ADHD and using it to power through long study sessions. Those numbers are probably at their highest now, too, since we're in the middle of final exam season.

But 50 percent? That's a bit much, we think.

First, it doesn't match the little research that exists. As Block notes, a recent survey published in the "Journal of Legal Education" found high levels of prescription drug abuse by law school students. Thirteen percent of law students surveyed reported using prescription stimulants, according to the study, nine percent relied on those same drugs without a prescription, for a total of 22 percent. Adderall was by far the drug of choice. That's a lot of drug use, but Harvard Law students would have to be using study drugs more than twice as often as their surveyed colleagues to match Gladwell's prediction.

Of course, if you're a law student at Harvard, Yale, or anywhere else, using drugs like Adderall to study is a stupid idea. Not only can Adderall dependency follow you well after you graduate (things don't get easier once you start studying for the bar or practicing law), study drug use can also backfire, leaving you unsure of what you're studying or obsessed with material that doesn't matter.

So, whatever the actual number of study drug abusers is in law school, it's probably not 50 percent -- but it's definitely too high.

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