Welcome to our blog series charts, where we explore how to’s and the how not to’s through a discussion of topics coupled with practical wisdom and advice. In this week’s blog, we take a walk over to the dark side of pharmaceuticals, exploring the rising use of cognitive performance enhancing pharmaceuticals amongst university students in Australia.
University life can be an intense and challenging experience, especially for students studying within more demanding fields such as medicine. This has always been the case, but nowadays we are seeing a disturbing rise in the use of pharmaceuticals to enhance student performance.
Some of the drugs being taken by students include Ritalin, Adderall, and Dextroamphetamine. These drugs are all amphetamine based stimulants prescribed to treat patients with ADHD with the goal to stimulate and improve memory, concentration and motivation.
Some students have also been dabbling with Eugeroic drugs that are commonly prescribed to patients with sleep apnea and narcolepsy to promote wakefulness. These drugs are used to “normalise” brain chemical levels in patients where one or more deficiencies may be present.
When taken by people who do not suffer from ADHD or sleep disorders these drugs have nothing to balance out, so they act as an additional boost to the already ordinarily functioning brain chemicals such and dopamine.
This enables students to stay awake for hours beyond their natural capacity, to focus and concentrate for longer, and to have an additional boost of motivation to help get them through the seemingly endless slog of assignments and lectures.
In isolation, these benefits may seem to hold some appeal, but there is a dark side to all of this. Abusers of pharmaceuticals often suffer health detriments, ethical dilemmas, mental health stress, and potential expulsion.
1. Health Detriments
It is basic physics, as Newton's third law of motion states, what goes up must come down. Sure you might feel like you can stay awake for days and that you have a never-ending stream of motivation and focus at the time, but after the drugs wear off, you crash and burn.
This can become a vicious cycle with some students opting to take depressants such as Valium to come down from their high. Other students find themselves in the throes of addiction before they know it.
2. Ethical Dilemmas
First off, unless you have lied and convinced a doctor that you are suffering from narcolepsy or ADHD and have your own prescription, obtaining such medications usually requires a black market exchange.
Lunchtime drug deals are taking place with some peddlers charging $5 - $10 for a single pill. Taking cognitive performance enhancing drugs can be likened to taking physical performance-enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids.
Giving the user an unfair and unnatural advantage, it is a form of cheating. Cambridge university in the UK has had serious conversations about implementing drug testing in an effort to curb usage.
3. Mental Health Issues
The misuse and abuse of cognitive performance enhancing drugs has been linked to various mental health issues.
Many students lose faith in their ability to perform without the drugs and develop a strong need and dependency that carries on well into professional practice.
The accomplishment of graduating university or medical school is a great one, but can be dampened by guilt-ridden students who don't know whether they got through on their own merit or because they cheated with performance enhancing drugs.
The tempting allure of pharmacological overrides may be worth it to the individual who perceives himself to be in control. Nobody who loses control of himself in use ever started with the hopes that he would one day lose it.
In fact, that perception of "control" follows abusers through every stage of decline, which does not always mean death. Many are able to take risks without suffering long-term health risks, which only serves to undermine the inherent concern one should feel when considering the pharma life.
To those who believe they will make it through with the reigns of their lives firmly in their grip, the question begs to be asked, what price would you be willing to pay?
Perhaps death and illness are not the worst possible outcomes, in light of a life lived without opportunity. Would the loss of your education, the promise of your future be worth it?
Rest assured, many have come before you without the aid of drugs. Know that you can complete your schooling without chemicals. If you cheat on your exams, do you plan to cheat through life? How long would that last before everything caves in around you?
Again, what price would be too great?
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