Assessing Prescription Stimulant Use Among Young Adult College Students: Who Uses, Why, and What are the Consequences? Open Access

Fairman, Robert (Spring 2019)

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Background/Objective: The use of prescription stimulants (PS), commonly used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), is higher in the United States compared to any other country. Among college students, the use of PS in ways other than prescribed is common and is a concerning public health problem. The current study used a Socioecological Model and the Social Cognitive Theory to examine PS use, particularly use with versus without a prescription or ADD-diagnosis, accounting for important individual, interpersonal, and community level factors, particularly sociodemographics, outcome expectancies, behavioral factors, and school setting.

Methods: Cross-sectional data from a longitudinal study of students at seven colleges and universities in Georgia were analyzed to address the study aim. Measures included sociodemographic characteristics, psychosocial factors, substance use, ADD-specific factors, prescription stimulant use, access to prescription stimulants, mode of use, reasons for stimulant use, and side effects of use. Bivariate analyses and multivariable regression were conducted examining differences between PS users with versus without a prescription or ADD diagnosis.

Results: Of the 219 students who reported using PS, almost half (N=100, 45.7%) did not have a prescription or ADD diagnosis. Correlates of use includes parental education less than a bachelor’s degree, attending a private school compared to a technical college, not being diagnosed with depression, not being diagnosed with anxiety, marijuana use in the past 30 days, and tobacco use in the past 30 days. Results also show that those who use without a prescription are more likely to use PS to stay awake longer, have more enjoyable time, and to party longer.

Conclusions: Investigating the correlates of PS among college and university students may help identify those at risk for using PS without a prescription or diagnosis – either because they are using recreationally or because they may lack access to healthcare. In either case, this study highlights the need for college campuses to address this public health concern through educational campaigns highlighting ADD, its symptoms, its treatment, and the adverse consequences of recreational PS use.  

Table of Contents



Prescription Stimulant Use among US College Students. 3

Correlates of PS Use. 5

Theoretical Framework. 6


Procedures. 7

Measures. 8

Data Analysis. 11


Participant Characteristics. 11

Correlates of PS Use Without an ADD Diagnosis or Prescription. 13


Strengths and Limitations. 15

Implications for Research and Practice. 16

Conclusion. 16



Table 1. Participant Characteristics and Bivariate Analyses Examining Correlates of Prescription Stimulant Use. 24

Table 2. Multivariable Regression Analyses Examining Correlates of Prescription Stimulant Use Without a Prescription or Diagnosis. 26

Figure 1. Reasons for Taking Stimulants, N=219. 27

Figure 2. Problems Associated with Taking Stimulants, N=219. 28

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