'Smart drug' students and desperate measures

This week in the news a report has come out about university students using prescription drugs to try and improve their capacity to study. Nick-named “smart drugs” the kind of pills some students are popping are legitimately used to treat brain disorders.

As you can imagine, health officials are not impressed. The side effects are scary and you can induce mental health issues by taking medication you don’t need. The drugs being used are making students stay awake longer and heighten their concentration which I guess many students are feeling desperate for with dissertation deadlines and exams looming. 

So why are apparently hundreds, perhaps thousands, of students turning to unofficial medical “help” to make it through their degrees? What’s causing this turn to what feels like desperate measures? (Surely you have to be pretty desperate to take something that could permanently harm your health?)

Are students needing “smart drugs” because the pressure to succeed is rising to boiling point in our society? With graduate employment prospects feeling like the toughest of fights, are people doing whatever they can to get the edge on their applications by over-working for the highest degree results possible?

Perhaps it’s the students who never really put a shift in, who are now trying to make up for wasted time in the final term by scrabbling for anything that will help them cram what they never really learnt in the first place?

Are degrees getting harder? We’re told A-levels and GCSEs got easier, so they introduced A* grades and a new syllabus. Did our degrees get harder to match this? Or are the students of today unprepared for degree-level work because the schools didn’t prepare us well enough? Why are we turning to medication to handle the academic tasks we face?

Ethically, this is sparking debate too. Is it fair to be pitched against someone who might be on performance-enhancing drugs in a exam? Will universities start to do random drug-tests, will they ban the use of anything not prescribed by a GP? Or could we also say caffeine and energy drinks need to be banned too then, and even a decent exercise regime? All these things can have similar effect on concentration in the short term apparently, but we haven’t hit the headlines with our intake of coffee have we.

Where do you stand on smart drugs and artificial ‘help’ for those stressful seasons? How real to us who follow Jesus, is God’s call to strive for rest, not work? Do you believe you have everything you need in the Holy Spirit, to live this life and see your uni days through well? How easy is it to trust God and find peace when this time of year is swamped in a different message on campus?

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.2 Corinthians 13 v 11

Over to you: have you ever used medication to get you through exam season and if so why? What is your opinion on the ethics of students using ‘smart drugs’?

Miriam Swanson

Global Student Mission Leader

Miriam helps equip the church for student mission internationally. She's based in the USA and hungry to see young adults follow Jesus with all of who they are. 

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