Person wearing headphones sitting in front of two computer monitors late at night.

As we prepare to hunker down for exams and projects, it can be tempting for some to use study drugs not as prescribed. If you choose to use study drugs to prepare for finals, here are a few things you should know.

What are study drugs?

Study drugs are typically defined as any prescription stimulant that is used without a prescription to increase energy and concentration. Amphetamine is typically prescribed to manage attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Ritalin and Adderall are the two mostly commonly misused study drugs.

In addition to study drugs, some students may also use anti-anxiety medications like Xanax. If you choose to use study drugs, prescription medications or other substances, it’s important to know that many street and counterfeit drugs are laced with fentanyl.

Learn more about fentanyl and overdose prevention

Use intentionally

Reflect on the reasons you may want to use study drugs. Think through the experiences you want to have, as well as those you’d rather avoid. Here are a couple examples:

If I choose to use study drugs, I want to...

  • Have more energy and focus
  • Meet a tight deadline or pull an all-nighter
  • Experience effects not related to studying (e.g. euphoria, relief, etc.)
  • Want to work faster or feel more productive

If I choose to use study drugs, I don’t want to...

  • Feel anxious, jittery or experience other mental health impacts
  • Experience physical symptoms (e.g. nausea, digestive issues, etc.)
  • Lose sleep
  • Lose my appetite
  • Focus on the wrong thing (e.g. organizing your room instead of studying)

As you think through the experiences you may want to have or avoid, consider if there are other ways to achieve the same results while avoiding unwanted experiences. For instance, you may find that you feel more energized after seven to nine hours of sleep at night or you may feel more productive if you break down your study blocks into smaller sections.

 Note: Side effects can occur when stimulants are used with or without a prescription. If you are currently using stimulants as prescribed to treat a condition and are concerned about negative side effects, contact your healthcare provider.

Use with caution

Stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin are safer when prescribed by a physician, and can pose additional risks when taken without a prescription. They can also cause more unwanted experiences when mixed with other drugs or alcohol. For instance, stimulants can reduce a person’s awareness of the effects of alcohol, which may cause some to drink unsafe quantities.

It’s also important to know that any drug not purchased directly from a pharmacy may contain unknown substances, including fentanyl. This is because many counterfeit capsules and pressed pills are made to look like prescription medications. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), nearly half of all counterfeit pills tested contained a lethal dose of fentanyl. 

If you choose to use study drugs without a prescription, here are some strategies to reduce your risks of harm:

  • Assume any drug not purchased directly from a pharmacy might contain fentanyl.
  • Start slow, use smaller doses and practice caution when using drugs that have not been prescribed to you by a licensed healthcare provider.
  • Avoid using alone in case of an accidental overdose. Ensure you have Narcan (naloxone) on hand in case of an emergency.
  • Set reminders to eat and stay hydrated while using.
  • Schedule time to sleep and recover after use.

 Note: Possession of Ritalin or Adderall without a prescription and the sale of prescription drugs are a violation of the Student Code of Conduct and can result in criminal charges.

Know when to call for help

If you choose to use study drugs with or without a prescription, you may experience a number of unwanted side effects.

Here are a few side effects to watch for:

Restlessness, nervousness, anxiety
Headaches, dizziness, nausea
Diarrhea, constipation
Impotence (sexual dysfunction)
Mood changes, swings

Call 911 if you or someone you know experiences any of the following:

Irregular heart beat, chest pain
Delusions, hallucinations
Convulsions, seizures
Passed out, unresponsive
Shallow breathing
Blue/gray lips or fingertips

CU Boulder Amnesty Policy

Calling for help in an alcohol- or drug-related emergency means neither the person who calls for help nor the person who needs help will be subject to formal disciplinary sanctions by the university (i.e., probation, suspension, expulsion). 

To be covered by the Amnesty Policy, a student must:

  • Call for help (911 or university staff).
  • Stay with the individual until help arrives.
  • Cooperate with staff and emergency responders.

911 Good Samaritan Law

The 911 Good Samaritan Law states that a person is immune from criminal prosecution for an offense when the person reports, in good faith, an emergency drug or alcohol overdose even to a law enforcement officer, to the 911 system or to a medical provider. 

This same immunity applies to persons who remain at the scene of the event until a law enforcement officer or an emergency medical responder arrives, or if the person remains at the facilities of the medical provider until a law enforcement officer, emergency medical responder or medical provider arrives. The immunity described above also extends to the person who suffered the emergency drug or alcohol overdose event.

Use alternative strategies to study

When it’s crunch time, some may feel like study drugs can help extend their study sessions or maintain better focus. However, studies have shown that using study drugs without a prescription doesn’t enhance academic performance. While medications like Ritalin or Adderall may make some feel more alert, they may not improve test-taking or study skills. 

The most effective way to improve your grade is to start early, give yourself plenty of time to study, get consistent sleep and take regular breaks. Here are a few tips as you prepare for finals:

  • Plan out your study sessions. Try to study when you’re most mentally sharp in the day (e.g. are you a morning person or a night owl?).
  • Study based on your priorities. Prioritize what you study based on what will be on your exams. Start with the information you don’t know as well. If you aren’t sure what will be on your exams, reach out to your instructors for clarification.
  • Avoid distractions. Find ways to avoid distractions during your designated study times. Once you hit a milestone in your assignment or study guide, take a short break to check your social media or watch an episode of your favorite show as a reward before you start studying again.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Plan for at least seven hours of sleep each night, and fit a 15 to 20 minute power nap into your day if you need to—your brain functions better when it’s well-rested.
  • Start small. If you are having trouble getting started on a paper, create a loose outline with a list of your main points. Staring at a blank page can make it more difficult to get started, and creating a plan with your outline can help overcome that roadblock.
  • Set the mood. Create an effective study environment or reserve a space to study in advance.
  • Maintain your energy. Schedule time to eat and stay hydrated throughout the day. Study sessions tend to be more productive when we are full and focused.

Check out additional study and test-taking tips

It’s okay to ask for help

CU Boulder has a number of resources to help students prepare for finals. These are a great alternative to going it alone and can be more effective than using study drugs.

Finals resources

For a full list of support resources, events, study spaces and tips for finals week, visit

Health and Wellness resources

Free Finals Week at The Rec

The Rec Center will be hosting free activities and events for all students with a Buff OneCard during finals week, including ice skating, bouldering and climbing shoe rentals, fitness classes and more!

Let’s Talk

Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) provides free drop-in services through Let’s Talk. Counselors are available in person and online to help provide insight, solutions and information about additional resources related to academics, stress, anxiety, substance use, relationships and more.

Peer Wellness Coaching

Meet one-on-one with a trained peer wellness coach to set wellness goals and connect with campus resources. Coaches are available to help you create a plan to manage stress, time management, academics, sleep, relationships and more.

Disability Services

Disability Services is dedicated to providing students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in university programs, courses and activities through reasonable accommodations and services. They also provide free workshops that are open to all students.

Figueroa Wellness Suite

The Wellness Suite is a great place to rest and reset. Whether you need a nap, want to pick up free health and wellness supplies, or if you just want to find a quiet place to study, the Wellness Suite provides a relaxing environment for students.

Weekly programs

Health and Wellness Services offers weekly programs to help you develop healthy habits, participate in self-care and take a break from academics. Programs are available throughout the week and are free to all CU Boulder students.

Collegiate Recovery Center (CUCRC)

The CUCRC provides meetings and support groups, recovery-focused housing, events and activities, peer support and more for students in recovery or interested in pursuing recovery from drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, self-harm, other addictions and unwanted behaviors.

Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) Information

CU Boulder is committed to the health and wellness of our students. Learn more about campus policies, programs and tips to stay safe while using alcohol and other drugs.