Stress and heavy workloads have some college students turning to stimulants such a prescription drugs and caffeine to stay sharp as they study for exams and do schoolwork.

(Michael Krinke, ThinkStock)

A new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which reviewed data from the annual Natural Survey on Drug Use and Health, finds many college students tend to experiment with stimulant medications like Ritalin and Adderall for the first time during the month of November.

Researchers believe stressed-out students think these drugs will help keep them awake and alert as they study for exams.

Many students at the College of New Jersey in Ewing confirm they do feel stressed, but most say they’re not trying prescription stimulation medications to chill out and focus.

Carol, a sophomore, says many students just drink a lot of coffee. She tries to calm herself when she feels overwhelmed.

“I try to breath and not freak out about it,” she said.

Another student admits coffee is the stimulant of choice for her and other students.

“I’m pretty stressed, I’m a nursing major so I have a lot of work all the time and I have labs and stuff, and personally coffee helps me and I know a lot of people use coffee on our campus," she said. “There’s a line for Starbucks all the time, I work at the library so I see it – it helps some people, other people not really so it all depends who you are.”

Another coed confessed “I think I’ve definitively gotten the caffeine addiction lately, especially like I definitely need a coffee to function now or to just get through my studies. For me personally, it’s coffee but after two coffees, you build up tolerance so it’s not really doing anything anymore, so people resort to the Adderall and Ritalin."

Other students said they stayed sharp and relaxed by exercising

“I am stressed out right now, and I’m heading to the gym,” said one young man. “I have a couple of exams coming up and I have to study for, one in particular, and it’s really killing me, like it’s taking over my life. I just listen to music and sing to try and relax and do exercise.”

Angela Lauer Chong, the dean of students at The College of New Jersey, says they try to take a holistic approach to reducing stress.

“It’s everything from providing a kind of free form fun kind of recreational activities, fitness classes, late night fun activities and we also provide some emotional support through our counseling and psychological services and through the TCNJ clinic,” she said.

Chong also said the clinic offers meditation every weekday in the spiritual center.

"It’s a mindfulness practice. Above all else we really try to keep the students engaged and with a level of perspective, reminding them this is a short term stress, that they will absolutely get through this and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel," Chong said. "We try to teach our students that no level of caffeine or stimulant is going to do the same thing as a really good nights sleep.”

Other colleges and universities around the Garden State take a similar approach.

Rutgers University promotes a “DeStress Fest” that features a round-the-clock study lounge, massages, relaxation stations, yoga and free snacks, as well as pet therapy events and musical presentations.

Seton Hall University has a Dog Day Afternoon series of events that feature therapy dogs, as well as stress management workshops and yoga classes, while Rider University has what’s called Lalanobooza, which is a stress reduction and alcohol free event that features different carnival and boardwalk games, food, magic, a photo booth, skeeball as well as a hypnotist and massage therapy.