Study Drugs

By: Emily Davis

School is stressful, both at high school and collegiate levels. Applications, exams, internships, extra classes, projects, and GPAs all weigh heavily on the average, driven student. The pressure students face today is dramatically higher than that of their parent’s years, when AP courses were exclusive to college. Unfortunately, the stress placed on students to excel in academics and extracurriculars has led to a dramatic spike in the dangerous use of study drugs.

The University of Texas defines study drugs as “prescription drugs used to increase concentration and stamina for the purpose of studying or cramming.” These drugs are mainly prescribed for the treatment of attention disorders, such as ADD and ADHD, and are among the most prescribed drugs in America; these include Ritalin, Concerta, Adderall, and Focalin. They are known to improve alertness and energy, but they don’t increase any sort of thinking or learning ability. Prescription stimulants are similar in structure to neurotransmitters, which the brain’s nerve cells use to send and receive messages. The drug essentially boosts these neurotransmitters into overdrive, raising brain activity, alertness, and focus; however, the National Institute on Drug Abuse published a report finding that Adderall can cause hallucinations, impulsive behavior, paranoia, and irritability. In addition, those abusing these pills may experience significant energy crashes as well as withdrawal symptoms after long term use.

The purchase of study drugs, despite their negative side effects and illegality, is unfortunately prevalent in student life. According to an extensive study by the Partnership for Drug Free Kids, 1 in 5 college kids have used study drugs for a short term boost of brain power. They are commonly used to write essays, study, or take exams. The Pediatric Academic Societies recently published a survey that revealed 1 in 5 Ivy League college students have misused a prescription stimulant to study. Not surprisingly, a third of all students surveyed do not believe it’s cheating.  

The stigma that accompanies most drug abuse is seemingly absent in the use of study drugs. It appears that this is partially credited to how easy they are to get, through either quick prescriptions or borrowing pills from friends.

Ivy Leaguers aren’t the only ones abusing these prescriptions, though. Approximately 15% of 12th graders say they have misused prescription drugs, according to the “Monitoring the Future Survey” of 2012, and 6% have misused Ritalin or Adderall. In surveys, students that use study drugs had far higher levels of stress and psychosis than students that do not. The conclusion is that increased academic pressure results in increased study drug usage. In fact, a study conducted by the University of Rhode Island consisting of 390 students “revealed a relationship between stimulant use and degree of psychological stress”

The academic world is a competitive place, and for students who need a leg up, study drugs have become an easy, albeit, extremely risky options. Their use shows no signs of slowing, and their illegal sale on campuses and within high schools is extremely difficult to regulate. As academic standards and goals continue to rise, so too will the cycle of chronic prescription abuse.