Study drug usage is symptomatic of a much bigger problem

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As many students head into assessment period, Tom Taylor questions why students feel a need to take study drugs such as Modafinil and argues it is a symptom of a hyper-competitive University environment.

Before you enter your card details on a dodgy website, stop to consider why you are taking Study Drugs.

'Smart Drugs' such as Adderall and Ritalin have become a familiar fixture of university life. If you don't take them, chances are you know someone who does. This article will focus on Modafinil, the most commonly used smart drug in the UK.

Modafinil is a prescription drug used to treat narcolepsy - it wakes the user up and allows them to concentrate for a prolonged period of time. Whilst side effects such as insomnia, headaches and rashes have been reported, it has been deemed low-risk by researchers at Harvard and Oxford.

If Modafinil is a low-risk, effective, cognitive enhancing drug then why not take it? After all, it can hardly be considered cheating, given that it doesn't discriminate based on wealth and that drinking coffee or taking vitamin supplements produces a similar effect. Modafinil does not make you smarter. It makes you feel more awake and allows you to concentrate for a prolonged period of time without getting distracted. It won't make you more creative or improve your writing.

Is it not worrying that students feel like they have to take drugs to do well at university? We are being taught in such a way that being able to concentrate for hours on end, without stopping to eat or even use the bathroom, is rewarded more highly than creativity or exploration.

"Medicine student who takes Modafinil to get a 1st becomes a doctor who takes Modafinil to stay awake on the night shift"

University ceases to be a centre for learning. Sitting in a library cubicle memorising information for eight straight hours is not learning in any meaningful sense. Exams should not be so intense that students feel like their brain needs enhancing in order to excel.

Modafinil is a symptom of an unhealthy, hyper-competitive university environment. The pressure that students face is immense: we want to impress our parents, peers, teachers and future-employers whilst student debt looms large over our heads. Young people used to take drugs to escape the bustle of life, now they take them to join it.

The competition never ends. A medicine student who takes Modafinil to get a 1st becomes a doctor who takes Modafinil to stay awake on the night shift. Taking Modafinil normalises a learning environment which, to be perfectly honest, is not normal at all.

So when work is mounting and panic starts to set in, before you reach for the pill bottle, consider your options. You can take Modafinil and maybe produce a half-decent essay or lab report. For your next assignment you can do the same. You can enter into an unhealthy cycle of intense studying fuelled by drugs - and when the edge wares off you can up the dosage.

"I don't want to attend a university in which Modafinil is needed"

Or you ask yourself why you feel the need to take it. Speak out against the hyper-competitive nature of university instead of feeding it with smart drugs. Talk to your personal tutor, talk to your friends, talk to your lecturers.

I don't want to attend a university in which Modafinil is needed. Hyper-competitive university education needs reforming and instead of feeding a symptom we should be fighting the cause.

By Tom Taylor

Featured image: Epigram / Cameron Scheijde


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