Students Turn To Drugs To Study

David E. Stein

Adderall, a prescription drug meant to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), is used by some Harvard students to stay focused while studying.

Under the pressure of five classes and a heavy computer science workload, Joe said he resorted to taking Ritalin last fall—even though he has never been diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder.

“It’s helped me a lot,” said the junior, who asked that his last name not be used. “I can sit down for three hours and it feels like ten minutes.”

Before then, Joe said he hadn’t taken the drug because he was afraid he would become dependent on it to study late into the night.

Since taking it that first time, however, he said he has started using it once a week.

Some students said they believe it’s common for undergraduates to illicitly take prescription drugs like Ritalin and Adderall to help them study—either because they suspect they have an undiagnosed disorder or simply are searching for a boost to get them through tough stretches of the school year, especially exam period.

Joe said that many students view taking these drugs without a prescription as an acceptable way to enhance study performance.

“It seems like there are a lot of people who do [this],” he said. “The types of people who use study drugs are not the type of people you expect...A lot of them are really serious students. It’s not like kids who smoke pot also take study drugs.”

Joe said that two of his three roommates have tried these “study drugs” and continue to use them when they need to focus.

“It’s easily accessible and not expensive,” said a senior who has snorted Ritalin to help him study.

Ritalin and Adderall, an amphetamine, are commonly prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), a range of conditions characterized by inattention, hyperactivity or impulsivity which afflict approximately 4 percent of adolescents, according to the National Institutes of Health.

But students said Ritalin and Adderall are useful to students who need to study for long periods of time because they stimulate the nervous system.

“You don’t necessarily have to have ADD for it to do something to you,” the senior said. “Especially if you snort it.”

Students said many users take drugs like Ritalin and Adderall because they keep them awake without producing side effects like caffeine.

“The thing with coffee is your head is awake but your body isn’t—it doesn’t feel all that natural,” the senior said. “Ritalin is more like an all-over buzz.”

Joe said that coffee makes him feel “kind of sweaty and jittery” while the prescription drugs simply enhance his focus on work.

“If you take Ritalin and Adderall it’s much closer to a more natural feeling—the sense of focus is not something I haven’t felt before without drugs,” Joe said.