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Academic performance-enhancing drugs: The Stanford steroid
date: 05-November-2004
keyword: RITALIN
editorial comment editorial comment
paraphernalia would have stayed in school much longer if that stuff had been around....maybe it's not too late to apply to med school after all!

It’s 2:30 in the morning. Your econ problem set is due at 10 a.m., and your CS midterm is at 1:15 p.m. Your evening caffeine boost is wearing off, and Late Nite is closed. You suddenly remember that your I-Hum paper was due yesterday. You’re alone in your dorm’s study lounge and the motion-detector lights shut off every 15 minutes, forcing you to wave your arms frantically to remind it that someone is still awake in the dorm.
We’ve all been there.

When faced with midterm madness and problem-set procrastination, some students turn to study drugs. Medications such as Ritalin, Adderall and Dexedrine � usually prescribed to treat behavioral disorders such attention deficit hyperactivity disorder � are often used by students without these disorders for an extra energy boost.

With these drugs, students say they find that they can more easily cram in one last all-nighter during finals week or write a 15-page PWR research paper in one sitting.

“For about four hours, they make everything interesting,� said a senior who was prescribed Dexedrine by her doctor to treat attention deficit disorder.

She said that her friends who are not diagnosed with attention deficit disorder have found Dexedrine to be effective during crunch-time.

“Almost everyone has a hard time working for hours,� she said. “And almost everyone can work longer on these drugs.�

This senior and her friends are not alone. Many students � with and without prescriptions � have taken them, and some on a regular basis.

These drugs are not without their share of harmful side effects.

According to WebMD, an online medical information resource, Ritalin can cause rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, nervousness and insomnia, as well as greater complications such as heart attacks, strokes and hallucinations.

All of the drugs are classified as amphetamines � like speed and cocaine � and have a similar impact on the body. Ritalin and cocaine both affect the brain’s dopamine system, which regulates the release of pleasure-causing neurotransmitters.

One senior recalled how when he used Adderall in an attempt to write a 25-page paper freshman year, he felt so energized and frantic that eight hours later he was sitting in front of a still-blank laptop screen because he was “a little too wired to concentrate.�

Like all amphetamines, study drugs are habit-forming and can create physical and psychological dependencies.

Drug and Alcohol Educator Ralph Castro warned that study aids, like all stimulants, have a high potential for abuse and addiction.

He said that they also can mask the effects of depressants like alcohol, making someone believe they’re less drunk than they really are. But since stimulants wear off much faster than alcohol, a person is hit with a heavy depressant effect that could make them sick or incapable of caring for him or herself.

Despite these dangers, Castro said that he does not devote substantial time or resources to the prevention of study drug use.

“Since alcohol is the most widely used and abused drug on campus, we tend to focus the majority of our education in that area,� he said.

One junior attested to the potentially addictive qualities of study drugs.

“Half the users I know do it weekly. There’s always an excuse, a ‘tonight I have to study for a midterm� or a ‘tonight I have to do a whole problem set,� he said. “They become completely dependent on it to get any work done at all.�

Often the students who need to use drugs to help them study suffer from other substance-dependency problems.

The junior said, “They’re chemically dependent on alcohol the night before, then they’re dependent on Adderall the next day to go to class, then they’re dependent on sleeping pills so they can fall asleep at night.�

“People go on binges of destroying their bodies for a few days,� he said. “Then they’ll go for four days just on Adderall to make up for it studying for a midterm.�

Even though some students claim that study drugs significantly help their ability to concentrate for hours on end, others describe the drugs as far from prevalent on campus. Most students interviewed had never heard of anyone using drugs to help them study, and when informed that some do, they were incredulous.

Junior Jimmy Caputo was skeptical that drugs could actually aid performance.

“It’s not like it’ll enhance your ability to think critically, and it wouldn’t help someone perform well on tests,� he said.

Even if some students can work better on the drugs, Junior Kristiján Pétursson said that the crash afterwards makes using them not worthwhile.

Some students use these drugs as party aids as well. Especially when snorted, students say the drugs can have a similar effect to speed or cocaine.

“Snorting is really good to start a night,� one senior said. “There’s an energy all at once and you get pretty excited, pretty ramped up.�

Using study drugs recreationally can often coincide with serious drug use. A junior remarked that every person he knew who snorted Adderall also snorted cocaine as well. He saw the abuse of prescription drugs like Ritalin and Adderall as no different than the abuse of drugs like cocaine and speed.

“Seems to me that study drugs are just like any other [illicit] drug,� he said. “But somehow they’re legal.�

By Noah Weiss

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