UNC Chapel Hill is full of exciting opportunities, classes, clubs, organizations, and events. The sheer number of activities is one of the reasons this school is so great. You’ll find offerings for a range of interests: clubs focusing on academics and future professions, music and theater, Greek life, politics, sports, and so much more.
But before you sign up for all 15 activities that have interest you, make sure you have enough time to devote to everything. Getting good grades, trying to stay involved on campus, and maintaining a social life can put students at risk for becoming overwhelmed. And being overwhelmed puts students at risk for using stimulants, or “study drugs” to help them keep up with it all.
Why do people use study drugs?
Drugs including Adderall, Vyvanse, and Ritalin are prescribed to treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). Off label use for these drugs has grown on college campuses in recent years, including at UNC. Some students turn to study drugs under the mistaken belief that they will magically fix their problems – helping them stay focused, improve efficiency, and improve grades during periods of high stress.
Photo by Joshua Brown, Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
Why does it seem like everyone is doing it?
While it may feel like you constantly hear stories about friends and classmates using study drugs, the rates of misuse are not as high as they may seem. According to a study conducted by The Coalition to Prevent ADHD Medication Misuse, 75% of students believe that some of their peers have illegally used ADHD prescription stimulant medication. However, a recent survey conducted at the University of Texas found that 87% of students do not use study drugs.
Clearly most students aren’t misusing these drugs, but a problem does exist. In 2011, the National Institute for Drug Abuse found the 9.8% of college students had illegally used Adderall and the rates have continued to increase, especially at universities with competitive academics and admissions processes.
I need to focus! Why not use study drugs?
Stimulant medications such as amphetamines (e.g., Adderall and Vyvanse) and methylphenidate (e.g., Ritalin) are prescribed to treat ADD and ADHD. People with ADHD have difficulty paying attention and staying focused and are more hyperactive or impulsive than their peers. These stimulants increase dopamine in the brain, which creates calming and focusing effects on individuals with ADHD.
People who take these drugs when they do not have ADD or ADHD can suffer from dangerous medical side effects, such as restlessness, hallucinations, and irregular heartbeat, among others. Long term misuse of study drugs can even cause addiction and withdrawal symptoms like fatigue, depression, and disturbed sleep.
Beyond dangerous physical side effects, there may be academic and legal consequences of the misuse of study drugs as well. Misusing study drugs violates UNC’s drug and alcoho policy, as well as the law. Those who are caught misusing study drugs can be subjected to suspension, fines, or even jail time.
While study drugs can improve focus and motivation to study, a study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that students who abuse prescription stimulants actually have lower GPAs in high school and college than those who don’t abuse stimulants.
What can I do to increase concentration and focus without using study drugs?
- Get enough sleep – your brain cannot retain the information you are studying if you are tired. Try to get at least 6-7 hours a night during high stress times and 8 hours on other nights. Power naps are another great way to revitalize your brain. A 20 minute nap boosts alertness and motor learning skills like typing. Naps of 30-60 minutes are good for decision-making skills, memorization, and recall. 60-90 minute naps help to make new connections in your brain and to solve creative problems.
- Create a To-Do list and a schedule – this helps you to remember what/how much work you have to do and is a good reminder when you want to take a break or get on Facebook to manage your time efficiently
- Take breaks when you need it! While a break may seem counterintuitive when you have an insane amount of work, you will be more productive and more efficient if you let your mind rest every once in awhile. Use these breaks to practice other healthy and self-care behaviors such as going to the gym, eating a well-balanced meal/snack, practicing mindfulness or meditation, or another activity that distracts you from the information you are studying. Breaks, of an hour or even just 5 minutes, will promote good studying and information retention.
- The Learning Center offers peer tutoring, academic coaching, reading skills help, study groups, test prep resources, skill-building workshops, and other services for students. They also offer support for students with ADHD and other learning disabilities.
- If the stress is becoming too much, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), is located within Campus Health, and offers counseling services where you can discuss your stress and develop strategies and plans to healthily combat it.
This blog originally posted in 2016. It was updated in April 2018 for clarity and content by Sara Stahlman, Marketing and Communication Coordinator at Campus Health Services.