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With never-ending deadlines and piles upon piles of readings, it feels like there’s never enough time in the day. That’s why many students have been turning to academic performance enhancers- aptly called ‘study drugs’- to help them stay focused on their schoolwork. Whether it’s to cram for tomorrow’s big test or just to help you stay focused, these study drugs are becoming more and more common on University campuses. However, although these drugs may provide a quick solution, they also pose numerous risks that it’s important to educate yourself about before attempting to use them.

What are ‘study drugs’?

Study drugs are prescription medications that are used to increase concentration and impulse control. These types of drugs include Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, and Focalin. They are typically prescribed to individuals to help treat disorders such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). However, many students without prescriptions turn to these drugs to help with their studies.

What are the side effects?

While these drugs do help with concentration and stamina, there are a number of uncomfortable side effects you can experience upon using them. Especially when using them without a proper prescription, the likely hood of experiencing one or more of these symptoms increases. According to the university of Texas at Austin’s University Health Services, side effects can include:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Anxiety/ Nervousness
  • Agitation
  • Nervousness/ Paranoia
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea or Constipation
  • Change in Sex Drive
  • Headaches or Migraines
  • Dry Mouth
  • Lack of Appetite

Study drugs have been linked to long term health risks, especially when used in combination with other medications such as antidepressants. In addition, they have been known to cause dependency issues in students who abuse them regularly. Students have reported not being able to study properly without them once they started using them often enough.

How do Students Obtain These Drugs?

Especially with their growing popularity, it’s supposedly not very difficult to obtain study drugs. Often students are given or buy the drugs from individuals who have a valid prescription. Other times, it’s been reported that students get a prescription themselves by reporting symptoms such as lack of concentration and focus to their doctor. According to a Her Campus article on study drugs, students can often get them through their on-campus service provider, saying sometimes it’s as simple as filling out a short questionnaire and walking away with a prescription- all in 10 minutes.

Are study drugs illegal?

It is illegal to use medication without a prescription. The severity of laws regarding medication misuse- and thus the punishments- vary from country to country, as well as can vary from state to state. In the United States, prescription drugs are considered control substances, stating “no controlled substance in schedule II, which is a prescription drug determined under the Federal Good, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 301 et seq.), may be dispensed without the written prescription of a practitioner.”

More Universities have begun to explicitly prohibit the use of study drugs and enforce punishment if students are caught abusing them. Often schools will enforce punishments such as suspension or even expulsion. Though more schools are taking action against study drugs, the demand for them seems to only be increasing.

What are alternative options to study drugs?

Maintaining a (relatively) healthy lifestyle is the most important and beneficial thing you can do as a University student. When your body if feeling its best it can perform at its best. Getting enough sleep, limiting caffeine intake, and eating balanced meals are cited as crucial to functioning to the best of your ability. In addition, taking care of your mental health is just as important. If you feel stressed or overwhelmed by school, make sure to take advantage of your campus’ Mental Health Services. You can also check out our articles on mental health, healthy living, and dealing with stress.

Is the reward worth the risk?

Another Her Campus article quoted eleven different women from various campuses about whether they thought study drugs were worth it and their answers were all different. Some of the students believed that study drugs are absolutely not worth the risk, with one quoted as saying “I refuse to use any drugs other than coffee/caffeine to stay awake or focus in order to perform better in school. I feel like if someone is not prescribed those drugs and they use them to get ahead academically, it’s like an indirect form of cheating.”

Other respondents didn’t hesitate to emphasize the benefits of study drugs. One girl said “I’ve turned to study drugs to help me stay awake, focused and efficient throughout the day. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with giving myself that extra boost; it’s not like they make me miraculously smarter […] I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them!” Although multiple students did warn about the possible side effects, they responded that it’s worth it because of the benefits of the study drugs. One student said, “the only reason I have a 3.5 GPA in this demanding major is because of these drugs […] Are there negative effects? Yes, like not being able to eat, sleep, or act like a human basically, but it’s all worth it to me after I get that high grade.”

In the midst of midterms or finals, it seems like anything is worth it in order to save your GPA. But balancing both the pros and cons is essential to making an educated, informed decision about study drugs. While they may help you study better for a night or two, abusing study drugs are still illegal and can threaten your physical health. So, what do you think? Start a discussion in the comments about why you think study drugs are harmful or help and your thoughts on them!

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the author

Alexandra is a third year student at McGill University studying Joint Honors Political Science and Philosophy with a minor in Sexual Diversity Studies. She is an aspiring writer with publications appearing on The Huffington Post, Her Campus McGill, Elite Daily, The Main, College Fashionista, Unwritten, and, of course, The Prospect. She is a self admitted coffee addict and Netflix Junkie with an unhealthy obsession for plaid shirts. Alexandra is passionate about maintaining perfect hair, solving the problems of consequentialism, and perfecting her sarcasm. In her spare time she enjoys binge-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, shopping as a sport, and composing blatantly angsty music. When she’s not studying at her infamous corner of the library, you can find Alexandra at whatever concert is happening that night or working on her Pinterest boards. Follow her on Twitter @AlmostAlexandra or instagram @alexandrasakellariou.

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