Study Drugs and Why College Students Should Avoid Them

College students popping Adderall or Ritalin isn’t a new thing. But those without ADD or ADHD should beware of the risks that come with it.

Before looking at the health risks involved with popping study drugs, it is important to understand why some college students may turn to Adderall, Modafinil or Ritalin as ways to increase productivity in the first place.

Perfectionism in today’s society has made America’s universities not only a place for learning but also competitive proving grounds. A typical college student’s profile might be comparable to the following: full-time student, part-time employee, president of the debate team, volunteer at the local food bank, research assistant at the bio-medical lab, contributing writer for the school newspaper and a party animal on the weekends.

This list of roles may be similar to what your profile or your friends’ looks like while in college, but the reality is that college students have stacked schedules with little to no breaks from work.

College students are expected to be high achievers, which means that being a college student today is comparable to having two or more full-time jobs. A stacked list of roles has the benefits of creating a stacked resume after graduating, but it’s obvious that with a list of roles like this over exhaustion from overworking is sure to follow.

When deadlines, midterms and finals are looming, some college students may be drawn to high-risk solutions that seem to offer a boost to get a good grade. So, what is the easiest way to overcome over exhaustion and continue the same level of competitiveness? Take a study drug.

Study Drugs
Adderall and Ritalin are often used by students seeking an easy way to get higher grades (Image via Brainscape)

Adderall and Ritalin are called study drugs because they are inappropriately used to increase the user’s attentiveness and work output. However, study drugs are actually intended to treat Narcolepsy, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Both ADD and ADHD require comprehensive testing to ensure that a patient actually has these disorders, so taking drugs meant to treat them should not be treated casually. These drugs affect the central nervous system stimulants and are intended to change chemicals in the brain that determine energy and activity.

Some individuals might even think that taking study drugs will make them smarter and unlock their minds because they do give a euphoric sensation that includes increased concentration and focus. Something like how Bradley Cooper felt in the film “Limitless.” But using these drugs without the needed prescription has great risks and could lead to people feeling limited rather than limitless.

Since study drugs are stimulants, they have a tendency to increase heart rate, heart palpitations and anxiety. Any underlying heart issue that the user may or may not know about will be affected by taking study drugs and can even lead to a heart attack. For men, studies have shown that drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin have also led to creating erectile dysfunction or a loss of sex drive.

Of course, using study drugs once won’t lead to any long-term side effects, but that’s the point. Justifying the use of study drugs once, twice or even three times could lead to the normalization of usage.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of the United States classifies Adderall and Ritalin as Schedule II drugs, which means that they have “high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.”

In fact, once someone becomes reliant on the drug it is considered an addiction and it can further develop into Stimulant Use Disorder. (This is true whether you have a prescription or not.)

For students who are looking to have that awesome resume for post-graduation or simply have a goal of getting good grades, the risk of taking study drugs is not worth the benefit. Yes, taking study drugs does give that “boost” that everyone talks about; however, the simple act of buying or selling study drugs is a risk that isn’t worth taking.

A study published in the Journal of American College Health shows that college students can easily obtain study drugs from peers that have the prescription from a medical professional. This can easily be considered dealing drugs since it is illegal to give or sell to anyone other than the prescribed patient.

Penalties vary from state to state, but include fines that rack up to thousands of dollars and imprisonment. Being a student, drug laws that are violated affect financial aid and enrollment, so violators may be suspended, expelled or have their financial aid revoked.

Using study drugs isn’t worth it, that’s the bottom line. So what are some alternatives? It may be easier said than done, but maintaining a balanced schedule or becoming disciplined enough to follow a rigorous one, is the best bet. If there isn’t a way to fall behind in the first place, then students shouldn’t have to resort to study drugs or caffeine, for that matter.

Additionally, college students may find that adopting a better lifestyle can contribute to having better focus. Exercising has been proven to give people energy boosts, so a quick workout before a study session can increase focus. There are a plethora of “brain foods” like dark chocolate, berries, nuts, fruit and fish that can help achieve better concentration and memory.

Knowing what foods are the best for the brain may require some research, but really anything to do with food can be fun. To top that off, an adequate amount of sleep in addition to exercise and healthy eating can ensure that the brain has had enough time to rest for a college student’s intellectually-intensive workload.

The fact of the matter is that study drugs should not even be an option that college students feel the need to take. College administrators should make an effort to not only enhance college students’ academic capabilities, but find ways to help them develop better health and wellness skills.

Abraham Ramirez, University of California, Los Angeles

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Abraham Ramirez

University of California, Los Angeles


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