The cat is completely out of the bag and across the street when it comes to student use of modafinil. Increasingly, university surveys report higher percentages of students using pharmaceuticals to stay awake, keep focused, and perform better. Students are one of the biggest demographics for modafinil sales. This blog has often talked about the benefits that modafinil gives students, but one thing we haven’t talked about is why students feel the need seek medical assistance to complete their work in the first place.
The late David Bowie put it well. Students are under increased pressure to succeed, and not just at the university level anymore. Pressures formerly reserved for the hardest working students, kids in law school and medical school, are now commonplace in secondary schools. A recent study that surveyed kids in three different types of high schools in New York revealed that almost exactly half of them reported feeling stressed on a daily basis, with over 40% reporting 3 hours of homework or more per night. I don’t know about you, but 40% of the people I know don’t take home three hours of extra work after they clock out for the day.
With the average school student putting in an 8-hour work day like an adult, plus this extra work at home, it’s no surprise people need more energy to compensate. Enter the stimulants: Ritalin and Adderall dominated for much of the last decade, and modafinil has gained in market share since.
Why it’s a problem now
This pressure was not commonplace a few decades ago. So why now? A big part of the problem is that there simply are more people and less seats available in university classrooms. Over 2.3 million students attend university in the UK, and most of the brick and mortar buildings are at max capacity. This has been great for online modalities, such as England’s Open University, whose enrollment is more than double the University of London’s 65,000 students.
But there is still a stigma surrounding online education. Online universities are increasingly attaining accreditation, but most parents would prefer their children study in a reputable school. Without enough seats for everyone, universities have no choice but to raise their standards of admission. And this is where the problem begins.
Students must compete harder to get into universities that 30 years ago might have taken just about anyone. A high GPA, the best test scores, extracurricular activities, all of these things are now considered necessary for a student to break into the group of chosen ones.
The logical answer
With more and more pressure on students to succeed in order to get into university, secondary schools have upped their game as well. This is especially true in the United States where a school’s funding can depend on the success of their students, and an important metric is the percent of graduates who go on to university. This results in the pressure we talked about at the opening. Effectively what we’re witnessing is a wicked bottleneck effect. As the opening for universities narrows, the water pressure builds along the way, through secondary school. For a student to swim to the front of the pack, they need to go beyond their normal human limits.
Stimulants are giving students this extra push. While substances like modafinil are safe for people to use, and provide people with the energy and focus they need to achieve better results, we shouldn’t be asking what pills students should be taking. We should be asking whether they need to be taking pills in the first place, and what can be done to reduce pressure on a student body that is increasingly suffering from physical symptoms as a result of their intense life pressures.