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College Students, Studying and Drug Abuse

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Nov 9th 2010

College Students, Studying and Drug AbuseDo you remember the time when you were a student? Remember being up all night, sometimes in the college library, derparately studying for exams the next day, or attempting to complete a term paper whose deadline is due tomorrow?

According to a local newspaper in Connecticut, The Hartford Courant, Wesleyan University is struggling with the issue of students using "study drugs" to help them better focus on exams and papers. To be more specific, these are stimulant medications such as, Ritalin and Adderall, normally prescribed for ADHD. Many students are using this category of medication without prescriptions and, therefore, illegally. Others, diagnosed with ADHD, increase their prescription dosage in order to further enhance their attention and focus when they are faced studying for tests and quizzes, as wall as writing papers.

There are probably a variety of reason why this type of drug abuse is happening on campuses across the country.

One obvious reason for this particular type of drug abuse is that students are competing for high grades. The probability of being accepted into some of the nation's top-notch graduate schools depends on very high grades. When there is limited space in medical, engineering, law and other professional graduate schools, the competition becomes very tense.

At the very same time, I believe the abuse of stimulant drugs has other causes. For one, it becomes difficult to study when college students are up all night. Unfortunately, there are some who are awake all night because they are socializing, drinking and "partying." When mid term and final exam times come around, some of these young people handle the pressure by cramming all night long prior to an exam the next morning. Stimulants become a way to overcome tiredness and study through the night. Besides the fact of the drug abuse, cramming for exams is a very inefficient way to prepare for a test because the information is quickly forgotten after the exam is done.

There are those undergraduates who are not up all night having parties but who use poor study habits, particularly procrastination. Knowing when their papers, exams, midterms and finals are due, there are those who "keep putting off until tomorrow what needs to be done today." When crunch time comes, exams and papers need to be faced, some of these young people fall back on the use of stimulants to keep them up all night in order to meet deadlines.

Then, there are those young men and women who abuse this category of drugs in order to get high. Perhaps they are depressed, or enjoy the enhanced effects these stimulants have on them, but, whatever the reason, these are sought after. Just like the rest of the nation, abuse of drugs and alcohol are very serious problems that parents and college officials must be aware of.

Finally, is the use of stimulants to enhance grade point averages a form of cheating, much like happens in amateur and pro sports?

What are your opinions and comments about this serious issue. As always, you are strongly encouraged to participate in a discussion, whether you are a student, parent or a person who is interested.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

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