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College Abuse of Prescription Stimulants

A new study finds college kids abuse particular prescription medications in the belief that the medications will improve academic performance. According to the study by Northeastern University researchers, less than a third of illicit users express intentions to get high or experiment with the stimulants.

More than 75 percent of college students who reported using prescription stimulants illicitly chose amphetamine-dextroamphetamine products, like Adderall, over methylphenidate products, like Ritalin. Students believe use of the amphetamine type products will improve concentration.

College Abuse of Prescription Stimulants   However, alarmingly, approximately 40 percent of these students had snorted prescription stimulants.

Titled, “Illicit Use of Specific Prescription Stimulants among College Students: Prevalence, Motives, and Routes of Administration,” the study randomly sampled 4580 undergraduate college students from a large, Midwestern university. Using a self-administered Web survey, the authors assessed lifetime and past-year prevalence to find out what prescription drugs students use illicitly, for what purpose, and how they administered these pills.

“We knew prescription stimulant abuse happened on college campuses, but until this study, data regarding the prevalence of individual drugs had been scarce,” says Christian J. Teter, Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice at Northeastern University School of Pharmacy and Clinical Research Pharmacist at McLean Hospital. “The only way to effectively combat this problem is by assessing the prevalence and motives for illicit use of these potent psychostimulants.”

“We also found that students who started illicitly using prescription stimulants during college were motivated primarily by a desire to improve concentration, possibly due to academic competitiveness,” adds Teter. “However, most pre-college initiators reported using it to get high, lose weight, and for experimentation.”

While there were no differences in past-year illicit use between men and women, the study found significant ethnic-racial differences. While not one African-American student reported getting high as a motive, nearly thirty percent of Caucasians and nearly twenty percent of Asians, Hispanics and others did. These groups were also more likely to experiment with prescription stimulants than their African-American counterparts.

The study found that most lifetime users started while in college. Also, those students who began using pre-college were almost three times more likely to still use during the past year, than those who began while in college.

The study also puts forth several hypotheses as to why amphetamine-dextroamphetamines, like Adderall, are three times more popular than other stimulants.

Authors note that Adderall might be more appealing to a student because it is an extended-release drug with effects lasting 10-12 hours, whereas Ritalin and similar stimulants may produce a so-called roller coaster response with effects lasting no longer than 6 hours in many cases. Another possibility for the overwhelming prevalence of illicit Adderall use may be the fact that it is the most commonly prescribed brand-name stimulant in the U.S.

Source: Northeastern University

College Abuse of Prescription Stimulants

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). College Abuse of Prescription Stimulants. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 22, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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