Students from all over the world are using performance enhancing drugs during finals and exams. A natural development, says Chairman of a student organization.

By Simon Vincensen

Students can easily get hold of performance enhancing drugs through their doctor. Photo: Simon Vincensen.

If you attended school at the college level, memories of studying all night accompanied by a huge consumption of coffee and sugary products probably still haunts the mind. Today, students who are ‘pulling an all-nighter’ are substituting food stimulants for synthetic effectors.

Multiple surveys conducted show that students’ use of performance enhancing drugs is increasing worldwide. From the United States of America to Australia and Europe, the story is the same. Performance enhancing drugs such as beta-blockers, Ritalin and even alcohol are emerging as enhancers in the pursuit for better grades.

So far, according to multiple surveys around the globe, students in America are popping pills at a faster rate than their colleagues in Europe and Australia. An online survey of 1,018 students performed by Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, a helpline for families exposed to drugs, showed that 20 percent of the consulted students have experience with the use of performance enhancing drugs.

Sweaty palms no more

Ajman El-Soussi currently studies at Odense Katedralskole. I met with him in the school cafeteria where he resides with his friends between classes, and where he will graduate from next summer if everything goes as planned. In order to reach the Promised Land however, he must endure seven exams that will determine his graduation status. Needless to say, the pressure is mounting.

“I want to say no, but I’m not sure I can,” says Ajman, when I ask him whether he thinks he will use performance enhancing drugs during next summer’s finals.

It wouldn’t be a first for Ajman. Six months ago he called his doctor in response to repeatedly failing his final driving test. Short on money and confidence, he couldn’t afford to keep falling short of passing. The doctor gave him beta-blockers, a substance that lowers blood pressure by hindering adrenaline hormone release in order to get rid of his nervousness. One week later he earned his license.

Ajman El-Soussi says he feels relaxed when he uses the beta-blockers. Photo: Simon Vincensen

Ajman El-Soussi says he feels relaxed when he uses the beta-blockers. Photo: Simon Vincensen

The beta-blockers Ajman received from his doctor were only meant to help him pass his driving test; but he suddenly found himself with a driver’s license in one hand, and a plethora of unused pills with pleasing effects in the other. Seemingly at an impasse, he decided to use beta-blockers again shortly after, this time during the exam period. The temptation for success outweighed the thought of amplifying anxiety.

“I used to get so nervous before important tests. But when I take that pill, the sweaty palms disappear and my heartbeat slows down. I get focused. More relaxed,” says Ajman.

The system is at fault

The proliferation of drug abundance is occurring at a slower rate when you compare the use amongst American students to their Australian and European colleagues. In Australia, a study found that one in twelve university students misuse performance enhancing drugs. In Switzerland, a study of students from the universities of Basel and Zurich found that one in seven students have used study drugs. And finally in Denmark, a study performed by Djøf, an organization for students, found that eight percent of its members have used performance enhancing drugs.

According to the Chairman of the 24.000 members of Djøf Students, Ela Acar, students use of performance enhancing drugs is well known and documented. She believes that students today see study drugs as a means to keep up with the demanding expectations of higher education systems.

“Students today are expected to run faster than ever. Students taking beta-blockers and Ritalin is a sad, but natural consequence of the system we have today,” says Ela Acar.

The European Commissioner for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture, Tibor Navracsics, does not want to contribute to this article, nor does Nathalie Vandystadt, Spokesperson of the Commissioner.

Not our problem

Chairman of the Danish Driving Instructors, René Arnt, is not surprised by Ajman El-Soussi’s story. In his opinion, driving instructors are well aware of children’s use of drugs in their pursuit of obtaining their driver’s license, and Arnt is not entirely impressed by the adolescent Danes.

“Young Danes today are dependent on others and they can’t handle even the smallest amount of pressure, because they are used to their parents helping them with everything,” claims Arnt.

Shouldn’t you do something to prevent the use of performance enhancing drugs?

“I don’t think that this is our problem to solve,” he says.

Study drugs are hard to spot

Back at Odense Katedralskole, Ajman El-Soussi relays that he knows a handful of people at the school who also currently use beta-blockers during exams. Jakob Thulesen Dahl, Deputy Chairman, Danske Gymnasier, is unsurprised.

According to Thulesen Dahl, the awareness of study drugs is a constant focus among staffing at Danish High Schools; the challenge is locating study drugs, which in comparison to street substances are much harder to detect.

“Students who do drugs usually tend to have a hard time taking care of their school. That is not the case with users of study drugs and therefor it’s hard to spot,” says Jakob Thulesen Dahl.