Adderall, which is legally prescribed to treat those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, has a new nickname: brain steroids. High school and college students have adopted the medication ever since learning it can help focus–which becomes useful during finals week. But the drug can be addictive, and often does more harm than good for those who don’t have a diagnosed need for it. A new report suggests that 30% of college students use the drug as a study aid, which is illegal. Students, however, are desperate for the side effects: it allows you to stay awake longer, and stay focused. It sounds amazing right? Like a better form of coffee? Unfortunately, the long term side effects include psychological addiction, depression, high blood pressure, and heart attacks. But the stress to succeed, for some, outweighs the costs.
The problem with illegal use of the drug is that it isn’t used for ‘recreational’ purposes, it’s used during a cram session! These students are desperate to gain an edge in their classes, and feel they need that extra boost. The need is legitimate–heck, during my last semester of college, I went a week without food, just drinking quad shot americanos with a lot of sugar. I get it. But what’s a more healthy (and legal!) solution?
1. Stay hydrated: drink lots of water! To keep up basic organ functions, you need to keep your body well watered. How much should you drink? Take your weight (120lbs), divide by 2 (60lbs), and that number is how many fluid ounces you should drink. One measuring cup is 8 fluid ounces. Grab a big, reusable water bottle (I love my Nalgene!) and drink 2 or 3 full ones a day. Set it on your desk–in the library, in class, at home–and keep sipping!
2. Go to bed: it’s hard to make time to sleep with a mile-long to do list. But for those last few days, you really have two options. (1), go to sleep and ace the things you have time to do, or (2), stay up and complete everything, but do really poorly. The choice is yours. Just make sure that next time you pace yourself more–for essays, work out annotated bibliographies in advance; for finals, keep flashcards or thorough notes. Rewrite the notes every few nights, read before bed, in line for coffee, and so on!; for homework, get a study buddy to keep you on track. If you keep up-to-date with your lessons, the last minute cram session won’t seem so desperate!
3. Eat well: it sounds corny, but your meals should have all the colors of the rainbow! Load up on fruits, veggies, and beans to stay fuller, longer. The fresh produce will overwhelm your body with all the delicious nutrients, helping to keep your brain in tip-top shape. Cutting fatty snack foods, processed foods, and meat from your diet will help to cut the sluggish, fatty/lethargic feeling. If you eat right, you’ll be bouncing with energy!
4. Ask for help: I was always amazed by how few students took advantage of professor and TA study hours. If you have a question, go ask for help! That’s what they’re paid to do! No one can fault you for admitting you need help–they’ll only blame you if you fail and don’t reach out! Most classes have online pages now. Reach out to classmates to form study groups. Check out the recommended reading on your syllabus. Look up simple concepts on Wikipedia when you need a starting point. There’s probably an app for that!
5. Take a minute to yourself: when you reach a plateau in studying, close the textbook. You’re just stressing yourself out–your brain needs time to process the information while you’re asleep, or focusing on something else. So turn on the Food Network, lay in the sun and read a romance novel, pretend to be the next Mariah Carey into a hairbrus–whatever. Just give your brain a break! You’ll come back in better spirits, and with fresh eyes.
6. Study while working out: studies show that studying while exercising helps you retain the information. So get on a bike, elliptical, or treadmill. Read your notes and texts at an easy pace. Doing this over time makes a huge difference!
7. Sit in the same seat in class: weird, I know! But another study showed that students who sit in the same desk every day have higher test scores. The repetition helps all those lessons stick, and during a test, you can more easily visualize a particular lesson if you’re in the same vantage point!
What are your best study habits? Do you think use of adderall by students to improve scores is cheating? Should it be illegal, or should law enforcement cut them some slack?