University warns of ‘study drug’ use

His books are laid out in front of him, next to a hand-written schedule of looming papers and finals.

But this sophomore isn’t worried. He knows he can study for hours without losing focus – all thanks to a pill.

The international business major, who spoke on condition of anonymity, called it “steroids for academics.”

About 16 percent of GW students said they had taken Adderall or Ritalin – the most commonly referenced study drugs on the market – without a prescription at least once during the previous year, according to a survey administered last year. Additionally, 61 percent of students surveyed said study drugs are the most common type of drugs on campus, after alcohol or marijuana.

Study drugs are stimulants used to treat common symptoms of patients diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. For those who have ADHD, the medications bring concentration to normal levels. They can have the opposite effect on people without ADHD, making those who take them hyper-focused and allowing them to stay alert for longer periods of time.

Dr. Isabel Goldenberg, director of the Student Health Service, said there is no scientific data that proves taking the drugs improves academic performance, adding that the risks of the drugs outweigh the benefits. Goldenberg said some possible side effects include increased blood pressure and heart rate, panic attacks and hallucination.

“When students obtain medications from friends or buy them illegally, they don’t know what they are actually taking, what the dosage is, or what the actual or potential side effects may be,” Goldenberg said.

Goldenberg said when combined with caffeinated drinks or alcohol, the drugs could have dangerous effects.

“Because these drugs are usually taken during finals, they are frequently mixed with beverages that contain caffeine. There are some very serious potential side effects. Additionally, after exams, students may consume alcohol and the combination of these drugs may be fatal,” Goldenberg said.

A sophomore, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she uses the study drug during high-stress times.

“I’ve taken Adderall a couple times this year, mostly just for when I have big assignments due or during midterms or finals,” she said.

The aforementioned male student noted that taking study drugs is different from simply drinking more caffeinated drinks.

“From my experience, Adderall does work. I wouldn’t say that I take it to stay up late – coffee or 5-Hour Energy work for that – but instead so that I can concentrate for extended periods of time,” he said.

With finals starting next week, other students claim the drugs give an unfair advantage to those who take it for academic purposes.

“People that need to take it for ADHD take it to be on the same level as other students. When other students take it without needing it, they are gaining a step up,” freshman Catherine Rich said.

Students who said they plan to use the drugs add that they don’t feel guilty for doing so.

“I don’t personally feel bad or guilty for using Adderall,” said the same female sophomore. “However, at the same time, I would respect someone who puts in hard work and is successful academically without using it.”

Madeleine Morgenstern contributed to this report.

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