Do study drugs allow you to get better grades?

When midterm and final exams approach, college students will look for anything to try to help them prepare for these very important tests to the best of their abilities. Some turn to coffee and late nights spent at the library. Others start studying weeks in advance. However, while those methods are natural, another increasingly popular method some students turn to is prescription medicines to try to enhance their studying habits. 111434-pills-walbridge-01Although it is illegal to sell these pills, just as it would be illegal to sell crack or cocaine, students turn to their friends who are “lucky enough” to obtain a prescription for Adderall, Vyvanse, or Ritalin. These pills are prescribed to people who suffer from ADHD to try to help them focus better and maintain their focus for hours on end. While some people will take these pills to get high, many college students who have no need for these pills are taking them to study for hours on end. asset-11
In a poll performed in 2008, over 81% of the 1800 students involved thought that the use of these medications was only “slightly dangerous” to “not dangerous at all.” This self-reporting study shows that the number of students who are saying yes to these drugs is already large, and will only continue to grow. The way students are using these pills to enhance brain functions raises a few questions in my head:

Is the use of ADHD medication directly correlated to better grades?

Are better grades and ADHD medication use reversely correlated where receiving good grades is causing more medication use?

Or, is a third variable involved that could affect both ADHD medication use and better grades. An example of this could be anything from a longer attention span to more energy available for school work, which would affect both the grades received and the use of ADHD medication. Maybe the ADHD medication is allowing you to focus more easily on your studies which then leads to higher marks on exams.

Because of the time, reverse causation, in this case, would be ruled out because you would have already received your grades before you tried an ADHD medication, so it would be physically impossible for good grades to be reversely correlated to the use of these medicines.

There is a possibility that using ADHD medication could, in turn, lead to higher grades on tests but experiments need to be conducted in order to prove or disprove this hypothesis.


In a study conducted here, researchers have found evidence that should make students think twice before taking these drugs. Contrary to popular belief amongst students, scientists discovered that these drugs will not improve your grades regardless of whether you have ADHD or not. Studies show that the GPA’s of users are typically lower than nonusers. This proves that the academically superior don’t even need to turn to these so-called “study drugs” to obtain their high marks in their classes. study-drugs-like-adderall-do-they-work-300x177Another fact is that the users of these drugs also tend to be users of other drugs or alcohol. This can lead to poor study habits because of desire to do other things rather than study.

Another observational study conducted found that out of the 1,811 undergraduate students polled from a public university, 34% said they had used ADHD medication without a prescription. study-drug-statsAlthough this study proves that the use of ADHD medication is indeed a problem, it is relatively small sample size compared to the 20.5 million enrolled in colleges during 2016. The problem that I have with this current study is that the sample size should be increased for more accurate results and the data collected was from one university only. This flaw leaves open the possibility that the usage of ADHD medication without a prescription at this one school may be larger or smaller than at all other schools. With a larger sample size and polling data from undergrads at multiple different campuses, the results can be more accurate and cover a broader spectrum of students with different study habits.

This issue is a tough one to test experimentally amongst scientists. For scientists to perform a randomized control trial, they would have to give these study drugs to members of the control group and then test their exam taking capabilities compared to members of the group who did not take these drugs. It would be considered unethical to perform an experiment like this. Although a trial like this would be able to provide excellent insight into whether or not study drugs actually work, scientists have yet to find an ethical way to perform study where a patient’s health is not hanging in the balance. For now, they will have to settle on using self-reported data to try to find a mechanism for these drugs to impact performance.

Final thoughts

The things that can be taken away from this study are although it is a popular belief that these study drugs can improve performance on test and quizzes, there is no evidence to prove it. There is in fact evidence that disproves this theory as presented in the article listed above. Although there is no mechanism describing why study drug users tend to have lower GPA’s than non-users, it would probably be in your best interest to put down the Adderall or its substitute, and hit the books hard like a normal student would. Along with the fact that there is no proven benefit for non-prescribed users, there are also various health risks associated with the use of ADHD medication. Heart disease, high blood pressure, and seizure are some of the many side effects and dangers of using these drugs. Because of these risks, the benefits of using drugs like Adderal to study do not outweigh the potential dangers which can occur.  An old saying states that “there is no substitute for hard work,” and these findings help prove that to be true.

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