Print Edition: November 30, 2011
Students are known for spending long evenings in libraries, coffee shops and at their dining room tables studying and finishing projects throughout the semester. Many students consume large doses of caffeine to help them stay focused, but an increasing number are turning to study drugs – prescribed stimulants such as Adderall, Concerta and Ritalin usually used to treat narcolepsy, ADD or ADHD – to enhance their abilities. Trends in study aids have even been well-documented in popular culture: Jessie Spano from Saved by the Bell became addicted to caffeine pills while studying to get into Stanford, Dixon from 90210 started using Ritalin when he became stressed about trying to be successful in the music industry and Matthew Good Band’s song “Hello Time Bomb” includes the lyrics, “did it on Ritalin, I got me some good grades.”
The increase of study drug use has been reported all over the country, and UFV is no exception. A third-year male English major admitted to using prescription medication that is normally prescribed to people who have Attention Deficit Disorder. “I’ve used Dexedrine, a dextroamphetamine, to help me study, work and do an exam… [it] heightened my ability of concentration for about 10 hours… and made me feel attentively awake for about 25 hours.” Dexedrine is supposed to increase wakefulness as well as aid in concentration. Some students find drugs like Dexedrine, Adderall, Concerta and Ritalin helpful for these reasons.
The student praised Dexedrine’s effects on concentration: “I took it before writing a paper and it helped me keep on task very well.” A second-year General Studies student who uses Concerta, a similar drug to Dexedrine, reiterated, “They make you have more energy and stay focused.” Both students praised the drugs’ abilities to help them during stressful experiences, allowing them to get tasks done in time.
Dr. Shale Blane, a family doctor in Abbotsford, explained that these medications come with certain risks. “Ritalin products have many side effects including rapid heart beat, headaches, dizziness, spaced-out sensations and seizures, to name a few.” Students who used the drugs confirmed their experiences of some of these side effects – the English major noted that “[Dexedrine] made me a little jittery and twitchy,” adding that “[it] reduced my appetite to nothing [and] dried out my mouth.” The General Studies student said that Concerta gave her “headaches, stomach aches,” and made her “really jittery.”
Blane also noted that “prolonged use [of Ritalin products] can lead to dependency and addiction.”
Doctors are not unaware of the rise of this study drug fad; Blane mentioned that a memorandum had circulated around family practices reminding doctors that students are looking for these kinds of prescriptions even when they are not realistically dealing with ADD. But there is also a black market for these products. “I got the drugs from a friend who had gotten them from a relative, who got them from a doctor as a prescription,” said the English student.
Given the sometimes overwhelming pressure to be successful and get good grades, using this medication makes sense to many students. “I am in five classes a semester, and I need a good GPA to get into graduate school,” admitted a fourth-year student studying History. “If I don’t achieve a 4.0, with the competition that is out there now, I’ll never get in. I am willing to sacrifice my sleep and appetite to get the grades I need.”
At this point, students aren’t being tested for the use of these drugs—which some refer to as “academic steroids”—and there are no studies that prove students excel while using them. The drugs may allow students to stay focused longer, but nothing shows it seriously affects their ability to actually comprehend material. If the question of academic integrity surfaces, Blane suggested, “rather than saying that these students are cheating, I prefer to think of them as foolish and naïve; drinking coffee, cola or other caffeine drinks is just as effective and definitely safer.”