Study drugs distort students' abilities

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Finals week is a period during which students are desperate to keep their bodies awake and their minds alert to be the most productive students they can be. Our university is not unique in its experience of a widespread all-night epidemic that rages in December and May.

To fuel consecutive all-nighters, some students depend on substances, ranging from excessive caffeine consumption through coffee and energy drinks to the more extreme prescription drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin. A popular habit among stress-induced students is relying on Adderall, a medication prescribed to people that suffer from ADD and ADHD and which increases concentration and information absorption. The health risks involved with this study habit are striking, and the threat the drug holds to the educational experience is equally as devastating.

Any absorption of knowledge is short-lived, and using Adderall undermines the concept of education as knowledge, redefining the college experience into one of temporarily memorizing enough information to succeed on the final exam. While Adderall may substantially improve student’s exam scores, these visible results are not representative of the student’s own abilities and cumulative knowledge in the course.

Joshua Foer, a freelance journalist who specifically focuses on science in his writing, concluded the following after experimenting with Adderall for one week: “I didn’t feel like I was becoming smarter or even like I was thinking more clearly. I just felt more directed, less distracted by rogue thoughts, less day-dreamy.”

In the current technological world we live in today, surrounded by our phones, social networking sites and television, in combination with the increased pressure on students to handle an overwhelming amount of coursework and perform well on exams, Adderall may seem necessary. The drug does not attract one particular demographic of students; both students with good study habits and procrastinators may feel that they cannot perform as well without an extra stimulant.

But while most students are familiar with the often unspoken, or at least ignored, reliance on study drugs during finals, university officials generally feel helpless in combating their usage. In a recent article in The Washington Post Daniel Swinton, president of the Association for Student Conduct Administration and assistant dean at Vanderbilt University, stated that study drugs are “kind of a silent issue; everyone’s aware of it, but I think we’re all focused on the more prevalent one: alcohol.” The official effort that does go into reducing this dependence, such as campaigns for healthy study habits introduced at the beginning of the school year, are often disregarded by the pressing anxiety students feel in the last remaining weeks of the school year.

Students must be reminded that they possess the natural capability to perform well, if they only recognized the far-reaching benefits that a gradual approach to studying and a healthier lifestyle around the finals week — such as swapping caffeinated beverages for water, frequent exercise or some sort of enjoyable physical activity and taking study breaks to have calming personal time — have. Rather than being bombarded with the potential health risks, students should be asked the question of how study drug use is contributing to their long-term education. Not only does Adderall reinforce the stereotype that our nation is filled with a strained, overworked and prescription medication-dependent population more concerned with productivity than its physical or mental health, its use is essentially corrupting the process of gaining knowledge from university classes.

Manescu is a journalism and international relations and global studies freshman.