Prescription Stimulant Use in Students

University student studying in library
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Stimulants, or uppers, are a group of drugs that make the user feel alert, awake, and focused. They are even used as a prescription medication for a variety of ailments, including ADD/ADHD, in which the person has a neurologically based difficulty in focusing. So what's the problem for students taking these drugs?

Unfortunately, they have some harmful side effects. They are addictive, and can cause overdose if not carefully monitored by a physician.

In some cases, they can even trigger or cause mental health problems.

National research looking at the health of college students has shown that prescription stimulants are the most widely used prescription drugs among college students, with 9% reporting that they have taken prescription stimulants for nonmedical reasons in the past year. The widespread prescribing of ADD/ADHD to students has led to a situation where these drugs are readily available and may be a quick and easy way to make money for cash-strapped students.

Why Do So Many Students Take Prescription Stimulants?

Stimulants are readily available as street drugs and have recently gone through a resurgence of use with the rise of so-called "bath salts," a collection of stimulants which have occasionally got through a legal loophole and been sold as legal highs. However, the widespread panic that hit the media following a spate of unfortunate high-profile cases of violence and severe side effects may make the purchase of a friend's prescription stimulant -- especially when you've sat in class with him every day for the past year while he's been taking it -- seem harmless.

There are two main reasons that students take stimulants. The first is for recreational reasons, to get high. They may take stimulants in conjunction with other substances, in particular, alcohol. In fact, the nonmedical use of prescription stimulants is associated with alcohol use, and in particular, with binge drinking.

It may also be used to "enhance" other recreational activities, such as sports, or be used as an aid to weight loss, particularly in people with eating disorders.

The other main reason that students are attracted to taking stimulants is to help with academic work. The findings of one study indicated that roughly 17% of students reported nonmedical use of prescription stimulants for academic reasons during the past year. The nonmedical use of prescription stimulants was higher believed these substances were an effective way of enhancing studying, and for those whose friends also use prescription stimulants for these reasons. Therefore, there appears to be a certain amount of peer pressure at play.


Ford, Jason A., Ong, Julianne. Non-medical use of prescription stimulants for academic purposes among college students: A test of social learning theory. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Vol 144, Nov 1, 2014. pp.279-282.

Messina, Bryan G.; Silvestri, Mark M.; Diulio, Andrea R.; Murphy, James G.; Garza, Kimberly B.; Correia, Christopher J.. Alcohol use, impulsivity, and the non-medical use of prescription stimulants among college students. Addictive Behaviors, Vol 39(12), Dec, 2014. pp. 1798-1803.

Prescription Stimulants Are A Okay Applying Neutralization Theory to College Students' Nonmedical Prescription Stimulant Use. Cutler, Kristin A.; Journal of American College Health, 2014 Oct; 62 (7): 478-86.

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