Use of performance enhancing medicine among high school students

The use of performance-enhancing drugs among high school students

An investigation of high school students’ experience with educational pressure and their use of and attitudes towards performance-enhancing drugs, such as Ritalin, beta-blockers, and SSRIs (antidepressants).


The aim of exploring high school students’ use of performance-enhancing drugs and their perspectives on this matter is to generate new knowledge, which can function as a holistic framework for developing new policies and interventions that can improve the well-being of students and prevent medicine abuse in high schools - while including the students in the process.


Researchers and media are increasingly writing about ‘the performance society’ (Petersen 2016) and ‘the public opinion society’ (Willig 2005), in which performance and self-optimisation have been idealised as indicators for living ‘the good life’. At the same time, international studies demonstrate an increase in students who take performance-enhancing drugs in order to perform better and manage educational pressure and stress. Though recent research indicates that the onset of serious educational pressure and stress is often seen during high school years, there is only limited knowledge available on high school students, stress, and performance-enhancers. Converging evidence on [study life] (Djøf 2015; Nielsen & Lagerman 2017) indicate that poor well-being and stress has become an increasing issue among high school students, and that poor well-being is most prevalent among female students and students from low-income families. Subsequently, we wish to explore high school students’ experience with educational pressure and stress as well as their use of and attitudes towards performance-enhancing drugs, including medications such as Ritalin, beta-blockers, and SSRIs (antidepressants).

The study

We will conduct in-depth life-story interviews with 36 high school students. In these interviews, we shall focus on gendered and socio-economic variations in the occurrence, experience, and management of educational pressure, including to what extent and in what manner medicine may function as a [coping] strategy. Which types and amounts of performance- and grade-pressure do young people with various backgrounds find motivating, and which lead to poor well-being - and potentially illness? In addition, we will interview 12 high school teachers and 12 general practitioners as representatives of the educational system and the health care system, respectively.

The project was initiated January 2019 and ran for two years.