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Stressed-Out Students Turning to Drugs, Study Says

Germany's new bachelor's and master's courses are whittling away the time students devote to their degrees. But they're also upping the pressure. A new study claims that increased drug use is the result.

Lecture hall at Karlsrühe University

Experts say uncomfortable, overfilled lecture halls are just one problem students face

It used to be that German students spent an average of six years at university before getting a degree, but times are changing. In conjunction with the more streamlined bachelor's and master's degrees gaining popularity here, students face a more regular barrage of tests and exams -- meaning increased pressure to perform.

To combat this, it seems more and more German students are turning to alcohol and drugs. Like Mareike, 24, a master's student at a university in northern Germany. At family celebrations, she hears time and time again how lucky she is to be a student. But Mareike says she feels anything but happy.

Psychosomatic illness on the rise

Her problems began when she finished secondary school and made the transition to university. She suffered from psychosomatic stomach and intestinal complaints. But, she put it all down to her diet and decided to change her eating habits. When this didn't help matters, her psychological problems got worse. Shortly before finishing her bachelor's degree, her physical symptoms become too much to bear. In addition to her stomach and intestinal problems, she also started experiencing difficulties in breathing.

Students in cap and gown on graduation day

German students are under pressure to spend fewer years at university

Like many others, Mareike failed to attribute her health problems to the strain she was feeling from her studies.

"Somehow, you just can't accept that there's something wrong with your body," she said. "You think there has to be some sort of disease behind it, because this feeling is just so real."

Mareike sought out different doctors, and underwent a battery of tests. Only when specialists had ruled out all physical causes did she allow herself to think that the cause could be psychological.

It's not just the sufferer who has trouble identifying the cause of their problems. Often, doctors don't realize how much stress the student is under, so they look for other causes in what can be a long, painful process.

Students increasingly look to alcohol, drugs

It's no wonder, then, that more and more students reach for a "quick fix" in the form of alcohol. A study by the University of Muenster found that every third university student has a problem with alcohol. Cannabis consumption is also on the rise, and while the normal German worker takes anti-depressant medication on an average of 3.5 days a year, the average dose for students is five days. Attempts to relax and escape the pressure of competition are becoming ever more dangerous.

Two men stand before shelves stocked with alcohol

Experts say more students are looking to alcohol as a way to relax

Experts are increasingly warning about the link between studying and stress. The public health insurance fund Techniker, together with the University of Bielefeld, carried out a survey of 3,300 students that came to shocking conclusions. Sixteen percent of those polled reported feeling depressed, and every fourth student said they suffered from excessive neck and back pain and/or had difficulty concentrating.

According to Techniker spokeswoman Andrea Kleinbreuer, there are multiple causes, from uncomfortable chairs in overfilled lecture halls, to time pressure and financial worries due to increasing tuition fees.

"Students have to deal with these burdens, the pressure at universities is growing," Kleinbreuer said.

Prevention is key

In order to prevent students from suffering from nervous breakdowns, public health funds are developing special preventative programs for universities. Among the offerings are courses on stress-free studying. Participants learn everything from how to sit ergonomically and better manage their time, to how to relax -- without turning to alcohol, drugs or medication.

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