Is academic doping wrong?


Coca-Cola, Gatorade and coffee are stimulants that students imbibe to study longer and harder. Then why are study drugs taboo?

Legal stimulants, the staple of the student diet. Image: Anna J. James

‘Academic doping’, the practise of misusing prescription drugs to achieve a stimulant effect conducive to studying, is a legal and moral grey area.

Some argue that to achieve academic success, shouldn’t students be afforded every opportunity available?

19-year-old *Sam, a psychology university student has used the study drug dexamphetamine, or ‘dexi’, for over 12 months.

For as little as $3 per 4mg pill, Sam* increases his concentration by boosting his dopamine levels.

“I took about four whenever I used them to study, and anywhere from ten to twenty when I wanted to use them recreationally—for partying to mix with alcohol, or just to have fun,” said Sam.

“They make you concentrate incredibly hard, and feel really good. They also make getting tasks done and being productive and feeling rewarded in this way I can’t explain,”

Physical side effects of dexamphetamine use include irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, mouth dryness, impotence and insomnia. Psychological effects range from paranoia and anxiety to restlessness and insomnia.

“I would push it too hard sometimes, and end up staying awake for over 48 hours. My brain would end up being so fried,” said Sam, who takes up to 16mg of dexi to study.

“There’s a bit of a comedown sometimes, where you feel shit for a day or so. But that’s when you abuse the drug, not take a few to help you finish an assignment,” said Sam.

Narcolepsy drug modafinil and ADD medication ritalin are also popular study drugs which can have a amphetamine effect when misused.

According to an article on The Conversation, the rise of study drug abuse has grown congruent to an increase in depression disorders and binge drinking among students.

Are study drugs an ethics, health or personal issue? Image: Anna J. James.

“I used it once at university and from what I remember it had a negative impact on my body,” said a 30-year-old school teacher *Ally.

The former Queensland University of Technology student describes use amongst her peers as “rampant”. “I once saw a pill sold for $40,” said Ally.

“The reason people don’t use them is firstly cost and access, then fear of addiction and lastly, academic penalty—you can get seriously busted,”

“In terms of ethics, I’d liken taking study drugs as fair as taking EPO [the performance-enhancing drug] before cycling,” said Ally*.

“I don’t really think it’s bad. If someone thinks they are falling behind and they need drugs to compete, then it’s their personal sense of ethics,” said 28-year-old *Tom, a government administration student.

Sam agrees, “If my dealer wasn’t selling them, someone else would be. It’s down to the user to be competent and responsible enough to manage and harm minimize his drug use. These are university students, they’re generally adults. Not children. The responsibility is their own, no one else,”

“Half the people I know at University of Sunshine Coast were addicted to adderall who were living on campus,” said Tom, who believes addiction starts out of desperation.

“When Red Bull or No-Doz pills aren’t working then someone gives them a dexi and they take one as a study aid, and it works.”

The first nation-wide study on academic doping found study drug use more prevalent among Australian students than in the U.S. or Germany.

“If there’s a pill I can take, you take this pill and I’ll know French, you’d be an idiot not to take the pill,” wrote Randy Cohen in a column for The New York Times, who views academic doping as a health not an ethics issue.

“I think it’s a golden dream that there is a drug that is going to make it incredibly easier to learn. I wish it were so,” wrote Mr Cohen.

*Names have been changed.

Anna J. James

Anna returned to Griffith after a five-year stint as a journalist. Through long-form Anna navigates the dark: homelessness, addiction, prison, crime and the Yankees.

Leave a Reply