Misuse of Stimulant Medication Among US College Students

1 in 6 College Students Misuses ADHD Drugs

More and more college students are misusing ADHD medications for a perceived academic boost — taking more than is prescribed, sharing it with others who don’t have a prescription, or selling the medication illegally. A 2015 study from the University of South Carolina found that 17 percent of college kids, or 1 in 6, misuses ADHD drugs.


The misuse of stimulant medication among college students is a prevalent and growing problem. The purpose of this review and meta-analysis is to summarize the current research on rates and demographic and psychosocial correlates of stimulant medication misuse among college students, to provide methodological guidance and other ideas for future research, and to provide some preliminary suggestions for preventing and reducing misuse on college campuses.

Misuse of Stimulant Medication Among College Students: A Comprehensive Review and Meta-analysis, springer, 10 January 2015.

Random-effects meta-analysis found that the rate of stimulant medication misuse among college students was estimated at 17 % (95 % CI [0.13, 0.23], p < .001) and identified several psychological variables that differentiated misusers and nonusers, including symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, problems associated with alcohol use, and marijuana use.

1 in 6 College Students Misuses ADHD Drugs — How Can We Break the Cycle?, healthline, 30 March 2015.

Boston College students by bc-burnslibrary.

A qualitative review of the literature also revealed that Greek organization membership, academic performance, and other substance use were associated with misuse. Students are misusing primarily for academic reasons, and the most common source for obtaining stimulant medication is peers with prescriptions. Interpretation of findings is complicated by the lack of a standard misuse definition as well as validated tools for measuring stimulant misuse.

The relation between stimulant medication misuse and extra curricular participation, academic outcomes, depression, and eating disorders requires further investigation, as do the reasons why students divert or misuse and whether policies on college campuses contribute to the high rates of misuse among students.

Future research should also work to develop and implement effective prevention strategies for reducing the diversion and misuse of stimulant medication on college campuses.

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