Students misuse ‘study drugs’ to stay alert for exams

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Reported by Bonnie Lee La Madeleine

Finals are coming up, where stressed and unfocused students are looking for ways to help them clear the final hurdle, including using ‘study drugs’ such as Adderall.

The Centre for ADHD Awareness in Canada (CADDAC) estimates around 10 per cent of students can misuse Adderall for academic gain during exams, even though the drug is meant to treat people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Students who could take the drugs with claims of improving concentration do not have the disorder.

Quick fixes such as ‘study drugs’ do not help with focus in the long run

“Lack of focus can happen for many different reasons,” said Heidi Bernhardt, president of CADDAC. She often has conversations with students on campus about ADHD, problems with attention and memory.

She has spoken to many students who talk openly about using ADHD drugs as study aids.

“The quick fix might work in the short run,” she said.

Long-term use, she added, may impede proper diagnosis of other underlying mental health issues that may be affecting study success.

Misuse of substances creates stigma around the disorder 

Given the addictive and destructive properties of some of these stimulants on individuals who do not have ADHD, Pete Quily, a coach for people with attention deficit disorders, wonders why students take these risks.

“The people really getting hurt by the misuse are people with ADHD,” Quily said.

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Sanjoy Ghosh said, a UBC biologist in Okanagan. Submitted photo.

Some experts say people with the disorder will self medicate with alcohol or illegal substances, rather than seek treatment because of public perception of the disorder.

Omega-3 is an over-the-counter option that students also may use to help with concentration but one expert disagrees.

“It’s a marketing gimmick,” Sanjoy Ghosh said, a UBC Okanagan biologist.

Ghosh’s work shows using supplements for cognitive benefit have little impact and cautions students against making a habit of using them.

“They are a drug, not candy,” he said.

Bernhardt thinks the media and those informing public audiences are asking the wrong questions about study drugs.

“Rather than looking at the use of these meds by students, why aren’t faculty and administrators trying to understand why students are so stressed that they feel they need to use these drugs?”

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