The inevitable and intense pressure to succeed academically, coupled with the distractions of partying and social media, make finals week the most stressful time for any college student.
Because of these challenges, several surveys, like one done by the University of Wisconsin, has found students have found a somewhat simple, but illegal solution. “Smart Drugs.”
“Smart Drugs” are prescription medicines like Adderall or Ritalin that people receive for ADD or ADHD. These drugs are known to increase focus and alertness, thus appealing to any student looking to stay awake and study for a long period of time.
Students, like Daniel, whose name has been changed due to the sensitivity of the subject, obtain them illegally without a prescription.
“I have a friend that gets his medicine prescribed, and he doesn’t take all of them, so he’ll sell me some,” Daniel said.
Obtaining Adderall the way Daniel does is common among college students, but illegal because it’s a CII drug, meaning it’s highly monitored and controlled in the pharmacy, according to Bremick.
“Obtaining an uncontrolled substance that wasn’t prescribed to you is illegal,” said Mark Bremick, registered pharmacist and instructor at Texas A&M Health Science Center. “Obtaining a controlled substance that wasn’t prescribed to you though, is even more illegal. This is rampant right now.”
Anyone possessing a CII drug without a prescription, they can be charged with a high-end misdemeanor or even a felony.
Charges like those can affect the future careers of students, making employment more difficult for them.
The illegal aspect of it doesn’t bother Daniel very much, however.
“I’m not buying this from a big-time drug dealer. I’m not putting money into the hands of someone whose looking to harbor any other drugs,” he said. “I don’t really see it as a bad thing.”
A survey taken in 2011 that was published by the medical journal titled “Addiction” revealed that 25 percent of students at competitive universities have admitted to using “Smart Drugs” to help them study. In 2008, the number was as low as 6.4 percent.
The trend is growing so rapidly because “Smart Drugs” produce the results students look for.
“I hate to admit it, but they work,” Bremick said.
“My grades were suffering last semester, and I really needed to pick them up,” said Daniel. “I felt like they would help. And I saw dramatic results, so I kept buying it.”
Adderall, just like any other drug, has its consequences. The short-term side effects, Bremick says, include nervousness, palpitation, agitation, insomnia and loss of appetite. These are all side effects Daniel has admitted to experiencing after using Adderall. The shortcomings of Adderall lead to long-term problems as well, Bremick says, like weight loss.
“People literally lose way too much weight,” Bremick said. “I’m seeing it right now with somebody in my class.”
Another problem with “Smart Drugs” is when students take a higher dosage, which happens often.
“What happens is people think they’re only going to take what they need, but how do they know how much they need,” Bremick said. “You’re taking this to focus and stay awake, but instead of studying, you’re cleaning your house at three in the morning because you’ve got to do something to get rid of this energy. Are you really being smart there?”
Daniel has also admitted to feeling restlessness even after long study sessions. According to him, it’s a weary feeling.
“I hate taking it. I quite literally feel like a zombie when I do,” he said. “It’s just extremely useful though. I can get through a four hour study session, and it’ll just work wonders. It helps me retain everything.”There are alternatives to taking “Smart Drugs,” though. After all, it’s not like this is the first generation of students to deal with the stress of finals.
“I think that the stress has always been there,” said assistant professor Andrea Luce, Ph.D. “Everyone has had it. It’s just a change in how people choose to respond to it.”
One alternative Bremick offered was better time management.
“Students are famous for saying ‘Well, I’m just going to pull an all-nighter,’ and then they’ll start studying at eleven,” Bremick said. “The truth is if you had studied at 5:30 right after dinner, you would have been ready for bed by 11:30 and you would have gotten at least 4 hours of solid studying in.”