Many Australian university students are relying on performance enhancing drugs to help them boost their averages.
The first Australian study into academic doping has found the use of “study drugs” appears to be even more widespread in Australian universities than it is in the United States and Germany.
Ritalin, a psycho-stimulant normally used by people with ADHD to increase alertness and attention, is the drug of choice.
Students can pick a tablet up for just a few dollars.
One medical student, who does not want to be named, says he takes a Ritalin pill on big study days and also before exams.
“It just allows you to work harder than you normally would,” he said.
“It’s not performance enhancing in the sense that it makes you smarter on the day and therefore you’re getting an advantage on your competitors, but definitely in the sense that you are able to put in more work than you normally would.”
He says drug use among students is widespread.
“I think it’s huge to be honest, especially for the people that do have the connections,” he said.
Dr Jason Mazanov from the University of New South Wales is the study’s lead author.
He says Australian students may be leading the charge when it comes to using drugs.
“What we’ve seen from the Australian data is a suggestion that Australians might actually be using these sorts of performance enhancing substances at a slightly higher rate than we have observed in the United States, which is indeed very worrying,” he said.
More than 1,700 students from four universities were surveyed.
Students taking cocktail of uppers and downers
Dr Mazanov says researchers were particularly concerned about students taking a cocktail of drugs, mixing both stimulants and depressants.
“They go on an upper to try and improve their performance, they use a stimulant, but then they have to use a depressant like valium to bring them back down again,” he said.
“So you end up in this really dangerous upper-downer cycle where people are then relying on drugs to actually bring them up to what they feel is a level of performance and then bring them down from that.”
“In fact they probably don’t need either of the drugs to do anything.”
Students in the high pressure fields of law and medicine were more likely to abuse drugs to improve academic performance.
Dr Jason Mazanov says more in-depth research is needed.
“What we found is a very interesting result and what we need to do now is go on and find out whether the result was a function of the sample or whether it is actually what’s going on out there,” he said.
The study has been published in the journal Performance Enhancement and Health.