A new, nationally representative survey released this week by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids confirms that the abuse of prescription stimulants is becoming normalized among current college students and other young adults. The online study found that young adults often misuse and abuse prescription (Rx) stimulants as a way to manage the daily demands of academics, work and social pressures. The survey was released this week at a panel discussion at New York University, hosted by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and titled Under Pressure: College Students and the Abuse of Rx Stimulants.
The new research found that 1 in 5 college students (20 percent) report abusing prescription stimulants at least once in their lifetime, compared to 1 in 7 non-students (15 percent). Older students are also more prone to engage in these behaviors: the data found that among current students, sophomores, juniors, seniors and graduate students are significantly more likely to abuse Rx stimulants than college freshmen.
Among young adults between the ages of 18 to 25, 1 in 6 (17 percent) has abused a prescription stimulant at least once in their lifetime. Overall, young adults are most likely to abuse the prescribed stimulants Adderall (60 percent), Ritalin (20 percent) and Vyvanse (14 percent), which are prescribed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
The reasons that current college students and other young adults give for abusing these Rx medications are focused on achieving functional goals such as studying, working or staying awake. They clearly seem to recognize the importance of succeeding at school and work, yet they value maintaining a vibrant social life at the same time, and feel that it can be difficult to maintain a balance between the two priorities.
The new study confirms that young adults generally misuse and abuse prescription stimulants for functional reasons. Findings include:
- half of all young adults surveyed (50 percent) report abusing Rx stimulants to study or improve academic performance;
- more than 4 in 10 (41 percent) say they misuse or abuse them to stay awake;
- almost one-fourth (24 percent) misuse or abuse Rx stimulants to improve work performance at a job
- among current college students specifically: More than 4 in 10 (44 percent) say they abuse Rx stimulants in order to study and improve academic performance, while 31 percent say they abuse in order to stay awake;
- more than 1 in 5 (21 percent) report abusing Rx stimulants in order to improve work performance at their jobs; and
- more than a quarter of students (27 percent) who report abuse of Rx stimulants also hold full-time jobs, in addition to attending school (compared to 12 percent of those who do not abuse Rx stimulants).
The research also shows that college students perceive tangible rewards after they abuse Rx stimulants. Nearly two-thirds of college students (64 percent) who report abusing Rx stimulants indicate that doing so helped them obtain a higher grade, improve work performance or gain a competitive edge.