From Ritalin to Modafinil: how to take study drugs safely

With deadlines mounting and exams looming, some college students will turn to stimulants like Ritalin and Modafinil to help them study, here\’s how you can do it so sure

Exam season is here, deadlines are looming and right now most students are wondering how they can get through the next few weeks let alone pass the modules without losing their minds. Rather than leave it to chance, some students will likely turn to the study of drugs to help them focus on their work and meet deadlines a little more easily.

If you\’re a university student in the UK, chances are you\’ve heard of these drugs. While the term could encompass a load of substances, it is more commonly used to refer to stimulants that are most often prescribed for ADHD and narcolepsy, Modafinil (or Provigil) and Ritalin being the most common. These drugs are not legal to give to anyone without a prescription. (Psychedelics, when microdosed, could also be considered study drugs but you can read Dazeds Guide to Microdosing if you want to know more).

It is unclear how many students use illicit drugs each year, and research tends to paint a mixed picture. One small-scale investigation of 506 students at 54 UK universities from Loughborough University found that 19% of respondents had used cognitive enhancers during university. Meanwhile, a survey of approximately 2,000 Neurosight students in 2020 found that six percent had used both Ritalin and Modafinil in a single trimester. In fact, that survey found that being able to perform better at work or academically was a top motivation for taking drugs in college, with 63 percent of students saying that\’s why they did it. Having said that, a smaller stallionLast year, out of 1,600 college students, only 2% used drugs as a way to help them study. But, as always with drug data, it\’s fair to assume there are more users than the figures suggest.

The main reasons students use these drugs are to stay awake (and study) longer and to increase their concentration on the task at hand. The pharmacology is different for each of these drugs, but they all increase the excitation of neurons in the nervous system, explains Ivan Ezquerra-Romano, director of and PhD student at University College London. This results in better attention and, in some cases, short-term memory appears to be increased.

Sounds good, right? But don\’t be fooled: these drugs, like all drugs, are not without their drawbacks. If you\’re going to rely on study drugs to get you through the deadline, don\’t do it without thinking. The safest thing to do would be to skip the stimulants altogether, but if you\’ve already made the decision to take a few doses of Modafinil and Ritalin, here\’s how to take them as safely as possible.

As Ezquerra-Romano notes, stimulants like Ritalin and Modafinil don\’t actually make you smarter, they simply make you more alert. They also keep you awake, just like caffeine. Your body still needs to rest, says Ezquerra-Romano. It doesn\’t help not to sleep and replace that lack of sleep with a stimulant, because your condition will get worse in the long run if you don\’t have a healthy sleep schedule.

Not only will lack of sleep actually hinder your academic performance, but it will also make you feel like shit across the board. Just like with coffee (if you\’re being reasonable), don\’t take any study drug around the time you usually go to sleep, or even less than six hours before bedtime. Take it in the morning and try not to have any redoses, adds Ezquerra-Romano. If you need to redose, do it no less than six to eight hours before bed.

One of the major harms associated with taking stimulants is the strain they put on your heart. Stimulants increase heart rate, so there\’s always a cardiovascular risk when taking them, says Ezquerra-Romanos. This is especially true for anyone who already has an underlying heart condition.

While some stimulants are worse than others in terms of the pressure they put on your heart, it\’s important to be mindful while using them.

It\’s important to realize that if you\’re not sleeping well, eating well, and are particularly stressed or anxious, it\’s likely that the study drugs are exacerbating the problem. This can also make socializing more difficult.

The drugs being studied may induce anxiety or make anxiety worse, says Ezquerra-Romano. If you\’re already anxious and you supplement that with a stimulant, you may find that some social interactions are actually harder to deal with, and this can have a knock-on effect on other aspects of your life.


To avoid all the negative side effects of study drugs, it\’s important to be intentional with your approach to using them. Ezquerra-Romano recommends an every other day approach, and try to make sure your days off coincide with the days you\’ll be sitting with exams.

One recommendation is to stick with a strategy rather than casually taking a study drug one day, she says. This won\’t help you and will probably make things worse in terms of making you feel anxious.

Taking stimulants every day if you don\’t need them is bound to leave you worse off when you finally stop.

For the most part, Ezquerra-Romano says addiction to the study drugs is unlikely, because context matters when it comes to drugs and most students will stop using them as soon as exam season is over, which is something you should do.

However, it may be difficult to stop taking the study drugs if you have been consuming them consistently for an extended period of time. This is because the withdrawals can be pretty awful. They include symptoms such as agitation, anxiety, depression, confusion, fatigue, and chest pain, just to name a few.

You may feel anxious, irritable, and continue to struggle to sleep, particularly if you go cold turkey, and those withdrawals can make you want to continue using the study drugs simply to avoid them. To avoid this, Ezquerra-Romano recommends tapering the study drugs gradually over the course of a week or so.


Struggling to sleep after using study drugs can be hellish, but it\’s vital that you don\’t attempt to use sedatives such as benzodiazepines like Valium or Xanax to help you sleep.

Not only are they unlikely to completely neutralize the stimulant, says Ezquerra-Romano, they\’re also super dangerous. This is because stimulants and depressants, as the names suggest, have opposite effects on the body. The stimulant is pushing you up while the depressive is pushing you down, she says. This really messes with your body.


Alcohol is also a depressant, so drinking while taking stimulants is not recommended, due in part to the pressure it can put on the heart and body. But there are other things to be aware of when mixing alcohol and stimulants.

When you mix stimulants with alcohol, the effects are somewhat neutralized, which makes people think they\’re less stoned than they are and may cause them to keep redossing, which puts you at a higher risk of overdosing, she says Ezquerra-Romano. Similarly, people are able to drink more while high on stimulants, both because they\’re able to stay up (and out) longer and don\’t feel drunk. That means your hangover will be much worse and you\’re also at a higher risk of alcohol poisoning, she adds.

Finally, it\’s important to be mindful of alcohol consumption in general when exam season is over, especially if you haven\’t been drinking heavily in preparation. When tests finish, there\’s a risk of alcohol overdose because people haven\’t drank in a while, so their tolerance drops, Ezquerra-Romano says. People are elated because they just finished and drink the same amount as the last time they drank, which is often too much. This, she says, can lead people into dangerous and problematic situations.

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