Attitudes to and use of ‘study drugs’ by tertiary students in Western Australia

June 2016

NDRI: Professor Simon Lenton, Ms Marina Nelson

Project description: 

The use of so-called ‘study drugs’ or cognitive enhancers by students and workers has been receiving increased media attention in recent weeks. Study drugs are substances that are used in an attempt to improve intellectual ability in areas such as alertness, information processing and memory. They range from prescription medications, to illicit drugs, through to herbal substances sold across the counter. Evidence for the effectiveness of these substances is extremely mixed but their use carries a risk of harm to health as well as legal risks of obtaining these substances from unregulated websites selling drugs, or obtaining pharmaceuticals without a prescription.

In response to this emergent drug trend NDRI has just launched its online survey of students in WA Universities and TAFEs which aims to: (1) ascertain the prevalence and frequency of the use of these drugs by tertiary students in WA; (2) obtain more detail on the specific drugs being used, how they are being used and obtained; (3) investigate student attitudes surrounding them; (4) document the self-reported benefits and harms experienced by users; and (5) recommend potential interventions to prevent use and reduce the harm among those who do use these drugs. The study has been informed by, and is being conducted in partnership with, health services and student guilds from a number of tertiary institutions in WA.

The online survey is based on one designed by colleagues at the University of Queensland: PhD student Charmaine Hall, Professor Wayne Hall and others. However, the WA survey differs in two ways. Firstly it includes students from the TAFE sector who have not typically been included in previous research on the use of these drugs. Secondly it also aims to investigate whether there are aspects of the university and TAFE system and experience which might contribute to the use of these drugs. For example the study aims to explore whether factors such as study and career pressure, assessment structure, the use of online learning modules in ‘cramming’ sessions, and the special pressures on overseas students whose student maintenance may be contingent on ongoing academic performance might be related to use of study drugs.

To be eligible to contribute to the study you must be aged 18-29 years, and be enrolled as a student at a WA university or TAFE. To find out more and participate, click on this link: We anticipate the survey will close at the end of July 2016.