Saturday, November 24, 2012

High marks: Uni students turn to ADHD drugs

High marks
University students are taking ADHD medication to help them cope with their studies. Picture: Thinkstock

UNIVERSITY students (Australia) are taking ADHD medication to help them cope with their studies, a first-of-its-kind research paper has found.

The students are using prescription amphetamines like Ritalin to help stay awake and alert, particularly when "cramming" for exams and assessments, the report from Victoria's Deakin University says. The paper's author and senior lecturer in public health, Dr Matthew Dunn, said students were using the medication as well as caffeinated drinks and even illicit drugs to cope with increasing time pressures. "People are taking things which keep them awake so they can balance either a full-time uni or job workload with a social life," Dr Dunn said. "If you're paying thousands of dollars to study, you want to do well. For some people there may be the allure of using something a little bit stronger to get the best result."

Professor Barbara Pocock, director of the Centre of Work and Life at the University of South Australia, said over the past 20 years there had been a significant shift in the number of students supporting themselves financially while studying. Undergraduate students often had to balance their studies with up to 25 hours a week of paid work with studies showing this could place them under more pressure than many full-time workers, Prof Pocock said. "Their pressures are quite often significant and worse than a lot of workers," she said, noting that many students ran their own households. 

Despite this, clinical professor and adolescent psychiatrist Jon Jureindi said there was not a lot of evidence Ritalin-type drugs help students absorb information. "Students probably feel these drugs increase attention – and they decrease purposeless activity – but there's no evidence they increase learning," he said. The drugs can also have physiological and psychological side effects, even triggering anxiety and psychosis in some people. Heather*, 22, has taken an ADHD drug, dexamphetamine, to help her study since Year 10. She works fulltime and is studying a postgraduate degree in business. "What it does is let you concentrate harder and longer," she said. "I tend to get three times the work done after I take a dex." She said that it would be difficult to manage studying, working and being social without help. "I don't see it as too different from cracking open a couple of Red Bulls or drinking several coffees to pull of an all-nighter," she said. She does admit she sometimes feels quite tired after consuming the pills. 

The Deakin University study of 655 students at Victoria's Deakin University reported 7.3 per cent used prescription amphetamines - a lower rate of prescription amphetamine consumption by Australian students than American students but more research was needed. Dr Dunn will present his report's findings at the Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and Other Drugs (APSAD) conference in Melbourne on Wednesday (Nov. 21). 


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