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Study Drugs And Academic Stress

Study Drugs And Academic Stress
Written by Seth Fletcher on February 4, 2020
Last update: February 26, 2024

What do you want to do with your life? This is a big question for most university and college students. Today, academic stress on students is greater than it has ever been before. Competition is fierce for those top lucrative jobs. People who got well-paying jobs five or ten years ago with average grades may not receive an offer of employment today. Employers are looking for the elite, the best of the best students to take their businesses to the next level.

As a result of this stress, students may decide to give themselves a little boost – something that will help with their academic performance, focus, and attention, and help them put in long hours with fewer breaks so they can get an edge over their classmates. Enter the study drug, often in the form of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications. These stimulants give students the boost they desire to study longer and harder.

Effect of ADHD Meds

Those with ADHD struggle to produce the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine (neurotransmitters) needed for normal daily function. This contributes to challenges like difficulty focusing or sitting still, and managing time and deadlines. Stimulants are used to increase dopamine and other neurotransmitter levels in the body. As a result, these stimulants end up having a calming effect on the ADHD sufferer as they now have the dopamine levels they need to cope.

However, if those with normal dopamine levels take a stimulant designed to flood the body with dopamine the result is the exact opposite. These individuals often report increased wakefulness and energy levels. This is why many students who are experiencing academic stress turn to stimulants to aid in their studies. It is akin to athletes using metabolites, amphetamines, and other anabolic steroids in sports. These drugs allow the athlete to push harder, and go further, and run faster.

Common Study Drugs

These stimulants can be referred to as study drugs, smart drugs, or cognitive enhancers. They often come in the form of medications such as Ritalin, Adderall, and Modafinil. There are a number of different drugs students turn to today. Examples include the following:


Adderall is one of the most common stimulants available on the market today and is well known to increase the dopamine levels in the body. Post-secondary students use Adderall to get through midterms, finals, and other major school assignments.


Known on the market as Provigil, this stimulant is often used to treat narcolepsy and sleep apnea. It promotes wakefulness, so students often use Modafinil to get more hours out of the day. However, the sleeplessness that Modafinil can cause has been known to cause withdrawal symptoms and keep students from getting necessary the rest they need to perform.


Ritalin was originally developed to treat low blood pressure and has been used to treat depression, narcolepsy, lethargy, and senility. Students today use Ritalin to help increase energy levels and aid with focus, which is why this drug is often used to aid in those all-nighter study sessions.

Healthy Alternatives to Study Drugs

There is no doubt that student life is demanding. Exams and assignments are often due concurrently, and failing a class could mean having to redo the course or not graduate. On top of that, students may wonder if their academics will lead to a professional vocation. It is not surprising that students are under increasing amounts of academic stress, and are seeking out anything they can to give themselves a boost. However, there are healthy alternatives to study drugs:

  • Carb up: The body converts complex carbs to glucose which gives it a spike in energy levels. If there is going to be a late-night study session it is better to reach for a bowl of pasta than a study drug.
  • Cold Showers: A studyby the US national library of medicine has found that a three-minute cold shower could help combat fatigue.
  • Water: When the eyes get heavy, hydrate.
  • Exercise: Experts suggest that a ten-minute walk could boost energy level that could last up to two hours.
  • Power nap: a 10-20 minute power nap can recharge the body, and a one-hour nap can help reverse information overload.

Final Thoughts

Student life is rigorous, there is no doubt. Academic stress cannot be avoided: these young people will be the leaders of tomorrow and they know it. Remember this though: study drugs themselves do not make people smarter, they simply boost cognitive function. Students still need to put the work in even if they reach for a substance. If an all-nighter study session is in order, create a routine rather than reaching for a study drug. Plan to take a half-hour break every few hours. During that half-hour, take a 10-minute power nap, go for a 10-minute walk, and grab a snack and a shot of caffeine, your body will thank you for it.

Certified Addiction Counsellor

Seth brings many years of professional experience working the front lines of addiction in both the government and privatized sectors.

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