STUDYING at a top university comes with obvious benefits but if you take a look past the student satisfaction surveys and smiling faces of open day tour guides, you will find a study culture that thrives on stimulants.

While they have been around since the 1970s there has been a recent rise in the abuse of prescription medications that are commonly referred to as “study drugs”.

My relationship with study drugs dates back to my early studies in the US at my local elementary school. I was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) when I was 12.

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My parents took me to a child behavioural psychiatrist when they noticed that it took me hours to complete quick homework assignments that took other students mere minutes.

While my answers were correct, I couldn’t sit still without getting distracted. I recall an instance when I had to be asked to stop tapping my pencil and dotting all of my ‘I’s with hearts. Although very present, my inability to focus didn’t become a real problem until I was 15 and just beginning high school. The increase in work load and impending university applications posed a new struggle. At this point I decided to try taking medical supplements to combat my ADHD. The year that I began taking the medication my grades rose from B’s and C’s to straight A’s. I felt like I was finally on the same level as my peers. I was able to complete assignments more quickly and felt like I was finally absorbing the information being taught.

Although, my new found ability to focus didn’t come without its side effects. It took a lot of time and multiple sessions with my doctor to find the right prescription and dosage that worked for me. This is problematic for students that take prescription study enhancement drugs of which the dosage is not tailored to them.

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Most students take this medication without the appropriate advice of a doctor. Thus they may be under the impression that these stimulants work in different forms of severity respective of the users’ body weight. This preconceived notion is utterly false and the appropriate dose for someone with ADHD depends on the severity of their symptoms instead of the size of their body. Subsequently, most students that take study drugs without a prescription often take far too much and experience side effects because of it. Insomnia, anxiety and heart palpitations are common if taking high doses of these stimulants and can be quite dangerous as well. When these drugs are prescribed, most doctors advise that the patient has an electrocardiogram performed before beginning the prescription to ensure that there are no pre-existing heart conditions that could be effected by the rise in heart rate that the drugs often cause.

In recent years, these types of substances have become more heavily regulated due to their addictive qualities. I have experienced first hand the difference that it makes to treat a condition with the help of a professional rather than through self medication. Unfortunately, the pressure that we experience as students on a daily basis has driven many of my peers to turn to these types of supplements for academic aid, often negatively perpetuating the situation and also making the conversation more difficult for those of us who benefit from prescription medication. My friends often experience anxiety and insomnia when taking these drugs but still feel the need to continue using them in order to cope with the heavy work load that is given to us regularly.

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Even though the use of these drugs has become fairly common among university students, I have found that the conversation continues to be relatively taboo. My decision to remain anonymous in this article is due to this very problem. My ADHD is something that I have learned to work with through the utilization of study skills and counselling over the course of my academic life and just because my medication works for me does not mean that it is the best option for everyone. Instead, the conversation should be focused on the intense pressure that we continue to face at university and the forces that push so many students to turn to improper use of study enhancement drugs.

* We have kept the identity of the student who wrote this article anonymous due to the private health matters discussed.