“Study Drugs” Used by Some Students to Cram for Exams

11/14/12 7:34AM By Charlotte Albright
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VPR/Charlotte Albright
Dartmouth students studying in a lounge outside Baker Library. Exam week starts November 16.

It's crunch time at many colleges and universities. Some students reach for stimulants to help them pull all-nighters studying  for tests-and to party afterwards. And we're not just talking about coffee.

Dartmouth College has changed its academic calendar this year, so students will end the first term at Thanksgiving.  Exam week, for some, means taking amphetamines known as "study drugs"-with trademarks like Adderall and Ritalin.

Taewon Chang is a junior from South Korea. Taking a break outside the library, he said he doesn't take study drugs. But he has at least ten friends who do.

"Because they can't concentrate," Chang explained. "Or they have a lot of work to do-they just want to stay up, I guess."

Some have prescriptions for these stimulants, which are used to treat attention deficit disorder. But others don't, they just get them from friends. Natalie Colanari graduated from Dartmouth last year. She did an independent study on this trend. She wasn't able to interview drug users, so she asked participants to estimate the  abuse of study drugs on campus. Varsity atheletes guessed about 70 percent of the campus used illegal stimulants, while minority and Christian students estimated much less usage.  

"So it seemed like it was specific communities where there was a lot of use," Colanari said.

Colaneri's study was not a scientific survey-it measured perception, not reality. But it concludes that this kind of socially acceptable drug use is  a big problem, especially at academically competitive schools like Dartmouth. Ben Nordstrom agrees. He's a psychiatrist specializing in addiction  at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

"You know the risk to any one person getting addicted is relatively low but when you have lots of people doing it, all of a sudden you are definitely going to get some people who are addicted so even if it's 10 percent of the population, 12 percent of the popuulation, enough people do it, all of a sudden you are talking about real numbers, you are talking about a number of people who are really going to get washed up on the rocks of this thing," Nordstrom said.

Nordstrom says addiction to amphetamines can cause psychosis and other serious mental problems.  Dartmouth spokesman Justin Anderson says the school is aware of the problem, and has added a second drug and alcohol counselor to its staff.

"We have staff in place that  are not going to spot everybody, that don't have a silver bullet soution to this particular issue but we have to put the people and resources in place that when this issue presents itself that Dartmouth is prepared to respond and to act," Anderson said.

So far, Anderson said, no one has been arrested or disciplined for using illicit study drugs. But he concedes that in addition to being a health threat on campus, such drug use  raises questions of academic honesty among students who depend on the medications as a way to help them focus on their studies.

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