Friday, April 20, 2018
Last updated: 3 years ago

Staying focused: how and why to avoid study drugs this finals season

According to Mikami, study drugs can disrupt sleep patterns, eating habits and digestion. File photo Geoff Lister / The Ubyssey

According to Mikami, study drugs can disrupt sleep patterns, eating habits and digestion. File photo Geoff Lister / The Ubyssey

The end of a school semester calls for extra focus and excellent time management, but one should think twice before reaching for a ‘study drug’ to help, says UBC associate psychology professor Amori Yee Mikami.

Mikami is adept with stimulant pharmaceuticals as she focuses her research on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). These drugs, such as Adderall or Ritalin, work as stimulants on the part of the brain that helps control behaviour.

“It sounds counter-intuitive, someone who is hyper-active taking a stimulant,” Mikami said, but the drug stimulates the part of the brain that acts like “brakes on a car.” Therefore, it helps someone pause before acting and think out consequences more clearly.

According to Mikami, these stimulants function the same way on individuals without ADHD. That’s why they are helpful, in the short term, for students who want to concentrate more and study for longer periods of time.


There are side effects regardless of whether you have ADHD or not, Mikami said, they just vary dependent on who is taking the drugs. Relatively minor effects include trouble falling asleep or a disrupted sleep routine and problems with eating habits or digestion. The more severe potential side effects include addiction and heart problems and while “not common, they certainly exist,” she said.

“There is not enough information about these medications to fully know their effects just yet, but as with all drugs, there are risks and benefits,” said Mikami.

“No medication is perfectly safe,” she said. For someone with ADHD, the pros outweigh the cons and make the medication worthwhile, but for a student who needs a temporary boost it might not be.

“There’s a concern when individuals who don’t have ADHD take the medication for it because there might be a potential downside that outweighs the potential benefits,” Mikami said.

There are many risk-free options to help ease the pain of long study sessions and stay focused.

Shane Galway, a fourth-year geography student in environment and sustainability Studies, says that fellow students look for a quiet space and a cup, or two, of coffee.

Dominique Salh, a third-year psychology student, said that she takes 10 – 15 minute breaks every 60 minutes of studying and that due to a busy schedule, “short small bursts of studying” work best for her.

For long study sessions, it is important to find ways to boost attention and create as pleasant of an experience as possible. With whatever method chosen, it is imperative to weigh the risks and benefits and find out if it will be beneficial and safe in the long run.