Caffeine consumption is a topic of conversation in possibly every corner of U of T’s three campuses. Some students indulge in it the morning before they brave the cold, while others need it to complete the apparently endless list of assignments that magically seem to all be due at the same time.
Given the limited amount of time students have at their disposal, it’s only natural that caffeine fulfills its well-publicised, college-stereotyped role as a successful stimulant to academic success, though coffee is not alone in the realm of academic pick-me ups.
To combat expectations of flawless transcripts and co-curricular records, students across North American campuses often resort to using “study drugs.” A “study drug” is a colloquial term to describe certain kinds of medication, meant for other illnesses, which temporarily enhances a student’s academic ability.
Adderall, a drug intended to combat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), is seen as a quick fix, as are Ritalin and Dexedrine; all of which are powerful stimulants whether or not they were prescribed.
In this context, their functions are remarkably similar to those of coffee — just far more powerful — unsurprisingly, then, students do not find using these drugs unethical. It is ultimately just substituting one socially accepted alternative with another. In the past, students have argued that these drugs do not increase their individual intellectual capacity; rather, they simply help them focus.
Examined as such, taking a stimulant cannot be classified as cheating: if it is, then drinking a cup of coffee while writing a paper becomes a punishable offense too. Medical professionals seem to have recognized that student motives for using stimulants are not exaggerated. At the University of Sydney’s Department of Psychology, Vince Cakic wrote that, “The pressure to succeed academically is very real… it is likely that all avenues for performance enhancement will be exhausted.”
The question at the heart of the controversy remains whether or not the use of these substances represents an offense to academic fairness, given the range of resources available to students here, from academic writing centres and college registrars to student union events. This is not to mention the range of recreational facilities on campus that provide students with healthier alternatives to ensure they meet deadlines.
Academic stimulants do not have to be the only way of tackling problems like procrastination caused by an untreated Internet addiction. Secondly, developing research is indicating that regularly using ADHD drugs in such a manner can cause addictions among users. Users can also suffer from insomnia, sudden increases in blood pressure, seizures and irregular heartbeat, which seems like an extremely high price to pay for a good grade. Lastly, while the excuse of high academic achievements is justified, study drugs seem to afford students the illusion that they can have it all. As in life, in university, one is forced to balance work pressure alongside personal and social commitments while remaining healthy, which involves making certain trade-offs. Perhaps this is something we shouldn’t forget.
Sonali Gill is a first-year student at St. Michael’s College.