Study Analyzes Neuroenhancer Use in Students
Prescription drug abuse has dramatically increased over the past several decades. While some of the drugs are being used in an effort to get high, much of the misuse is due to students attempting to balance a demanding workload. Medications meant to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) sold under the names Ritalin and Adderall allow people to forego sleep and focus on academic demands. Obtaining the drugs is simple because the diagnosis and associated prescriptions have become widespread and easy to obtain.
A study from the Universities of Zurich and Basel examined substance use in Swiss students, finding that one in seven has used prescription medications like Ritalin, and sedatives, alcohol and marijuana to boost cognitive processes.
For the most part the students reported using the drugs only to get through end-of-semester exams. In addition, only a small majority of the students said that they had experienced the effects they had intended to achieve with the drugs.
The researchers surveyed a total of 6,275 students at two universities to determine whether Swiss students were using the drugs as a way to get better grades. The researchers also wanted to see if the students were using neuroenhancement, such as consuming caffeine, to manage stress levels.
Approximately 94 percent of the students surveyed reported a familiarity with neuroenhancement. Only 13.8 percent had used a prescription medication or another type of drug at least one time to enhance their academic performance. Alcohol was the most common substance (5.6 percent), followed by Ritalin (4.1 percent), marijuana (2.5 percent) and amphetamines (0.4 percent).
The respondents using the substances said that their intent was to heighten their ability to prepare for exams and that regular use for stress relief was not practiced.
Among Swiss students, the use of daily neuroenhancement was rare, occurring in only 1.8 percent of the students. The majority of the responding students reported using what the researchers called “soft enhancers,” such as caffeine or vitamins. About one-third of the students reported using the soft enhancers on a daily basis.
The findings also revealed that students in later years of their university career, and particularly those that had a job while attending classes, were more likely to report increased stress. These students were more likely to use performance-enhancing substances on a frequent basis.
The researchers went on to analyze the use of performance-enhancing substances by major. Students studying subjects like architecture, chemistry, economics and medicine had higher rates of substance use than those studying mathematics or sports.
About half of the students said they would not be likely to use the substances again. This is not surprising, given that only a small number of students achieved the intended results.
Lead author of the study, Michael Schaub, Ph.D., head of the Swiss Research Institute for Public Health and Addiction, says that the findings should lead to an increased monitoring among students considered high-risk for using neuroenhancement.