Stressed students turn to study aid alternatives under midterm pressure

Daina Amorosano

Faced with deadlines, especially during high stress times like midterms and finals weeks, many students turn to study aid stimulants such as coffee, Red Bull, or 5-Hour Energy shots, while others resort to more drastic measures, such as Adderall or Ritalin.

Though specific statistics regarding Villanova student usage do not yet exist, college students across the country are taking prescription drugs used principally to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder without a prescription to keep them awake and focused during those all night study sessions.

With an increased rate of Adderall prescriptions over the past 10 years, experts worry about the potential for abuse due to increased availability, and rightfully so.

As of 2005, as many as one in four college students have admitted to using Adderall or one of its chemical relatives without a prescription, according to a survey of over 10,000 randomly selected college students across the nation published in the scientific journal Addiction.

Without a scientific study, the exact rate of illegal ADHD medicine use at Villanova is unknown, but there are mixed opinions about it on campus and a general openness among students to discuss it.

“I was so mad the other night when I was trying to get work done in the lounge of my residence hall,” sophomore Molly McNary said. “This other kid finished way before me, and I know he was on Adderall.”

However, the percentage of Villanova students diagnosed with ADHD and registered with Learning Support Services has decreased in recent years.

“In 2002 the percentage of students registered with this office and diagnosed with ADHD was 30 percent of our total, but today it is 18 percent,” Learning Support Services Director Nancy Mott wrote in an e-mail. “Each year the number has dropped.”

Students involved in the illegal use or distribution of pills are subject to disciplinary action from the University if found or reported.

“Reports involving prescription drug stimulants do not frequently make it to my desk, though,” Dean of Judicial Affairs Ryan Rost said.

These practices do not often lead to a judicial issue given that they are legal drugs and of a more inconspicuous nature.

“If a student is smoking marijuana, people can smell it, whereas prescription drug stimulants are a different story,” Rost said. “Usually, the only way a report might arise would be an admission or a report from a friend.”

ADHD drugs increase blood pressure and heart rate and produce speed-like effects such as loss of appetite, increased concentration, wakefulness and in some cases euphoria, according to the Higher Education Center.

Due to these effects, students may abuse ADHD meds to stay awake and alert beyond their natural ability in order to continue studying, according to the Higher Education Center.

College students abuse these drugs at higher rates than their non-college peers, according to a study conducted by Monitoring the Future. Such a finding makes sense when considering the lifestyle of the average college student and the pressure that accumulates around midterms and finals.

“The unstructured environment of a college campus can make it challenging for almost anyone to work consistently and be fully focused,” Mott wrote in an e-mail. “As a result of our environment, an overwhelming number of college students will exhibit a few ADHD type symptoms during their career on campus. As the workload increases and there are more demands on time, students may think that they have ADHD.  Stress, lack of sleep, test anxiety, distractions and last minute panic are only a few of the issues that become more prevalent during midterm and final exam periods and may lead a student to self-diagnose.”

One sophomore student living on campus, who agreed to speak under the condition of anonymity, said that his doctor instructs him not to take his ADHD medicine on the weekends or during the summer, which stockpiles his supply.

“Come midterms and finals, people I don’t even know come up to me,” the student said. “One freshman in my class was willing to pay $16 for one pill.”

As both a four-year institution and a competitive academic atmosphere, Villanova falls into two particularly at-risk demographics for non-medical prescription drug use identified by the Society for the Study of Addiction.

Although no formal data yet exists, an unscientific survey conducted in dining halls and at other campus locations by The Villanovan reported that 60 percent of the 186 sophomores surveyed knew a fellow student who had bought or sold ADHD medicine or used it without a prescription. Of 154 freshmen surveyed, 50 percent said the same thing.

“Bottom line is that use of stimulants for studying is not a great strategy,” Margo Matt, the Dean of Drug and Alcohol Intervention wrote in an e-mail. “Developing a study routine, seeking help when one needs it, and time maintenance are better because in the long run of life, these are the skills one wants to develop and college is the time to learn them.”

The University offers a series of resources to help students deal with the stress of college and academic life throughout the year, and especially during midterm and final crunch times.

The Office of Advising and Professional Development in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers workshops on time management, study skills and other academic essentials several times throughout the semester. The Office of Health Promotion Web page also offers a series of links to resources on stress, procrastination, keys to college success and more. And for those who prefer individual help, they can contact the Counseling Center at any time.

Director of Health Promotion Stacy Andes is currently conducting a statistical survey on non-medical prescription drug use at Villanova.

“One isn’t going to last too long if every time there is a project due for the employer, one has to pop a Ritalin or Adderall or down a quart of Red Bull,” Matt wrote.