The uppers and downers of college life

Between classes, work and studying for midterms, it may seem there isn’t enough time. This overwhelming feeling may move some to turn to artificial and chemical means to survive. For some, coping may be popping a Vivrin to stay awake for an all night study session. For others, it may include using a parent or friend’s prescription sleep-aid or pain medication. Stimulants are found in many forms, and many are legal. Caffeine, ginseng and prescription drugs are a few examples.

But there are drawbacks to using these substances to increase your energy. Jeffrey Fleming, director of pharmacy at Suncoast Hospital in Largo, said these drugs are often caffeine-based or contain sudafedrin-containing products an d put users into a state of temporary alertness. The resultant surge of energy and activity that is followed by an unsettling crash once the drug has run its course.

Stimulants, according to, have a chemical structure similar to brain neurotransmitters, which increase the amount of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain, raising blood pressure and increasing the heart rate.

Another side effect, and the reason some choose to use stimulants, is the sense of euphoria the increase in dopamine causes.

“It’s actually like being high … you get a sense of calm, like there are no worries. But that’s not the case,” Fleming said.

Although addiction to these substances is uncommon, people can become dependent on them.

Signs of overuse include insomnia and nervousness, or in more serious situations, hallucinations and paranoia.

Students may eventually form to a cycle where they use stimulants regularly just to get through the day and accomplish regular daily activities.

In some cases students may deal with insomnia caused by stress. In those situations, some may turn to sleeping aids to help them sleep.

These can be obtained over-the- counter and by prescription.

Sleeping aids work by slowing down the nervous system, which, in turn, causes sleep.

“Over a period of time the body becomes used to it (the drug), so you need more to get the same effect,” Fleming said. “I’m not in favor of anyone taking these agents. A lot of the problems people have with falling asleep are self-induced.”

Abuse can create lethargy, difficulty concentrating and labored breathing.

While the effects of using a stimulant or sleeping aid may not seem like a big deal at first, a dependency problem can form.

“I think people need to stop looking for a crutch. You don’t want to develop a physical or mental dependence. Mental dependence is the worst. Physical dependence you can kick. Mental dependence is like a person addicted to crack,” Fleming said.

If students’ schedules are hectic, and sleep is rare, using these substances may seem like the best solution. But Fleming said time management is a better way to fix the problem, which college students in general don’t tend to do if they haven’t adjusted to a new environment yet.

Fleming said students should research any substances before considering using anything. Instead of relying on an over-the-counter medicine, students can talk to a doctor about getting a prescription.

Students can also research other options such as meditation, making a better effort at time management or simply scheduling a regular bedtime.