College Students Who Abuse Stimulants Seeking Improved Grades, Not ‘High’
In the U.S., significant numbers of young adults enrolled in college (and college-age young adults not enrolled in school) abuse some sort of prescription medication. This form of drug abuse poses a number of risks, including clearly increased odds of developing diagnosable symptoms of drug addiction. In a study published in November 2014 in the journal Addictive Behaviors, a team of researchers from Auburn University investigated the reasons college students abuse prescription substances. The researchers also sought to identify those individuals most likely to abuse a medication while enrolled in college.
Prescription Medication Abuse
Public health officials and researchers use the terms prescription drug abuse, prescription medication abuse and prescription substance abuse to characterize the consumption of any prescription medication in circumstances not approved and monitored by a licensed physician. Some people who participate in this form of substance abuse actually have prescriptions for the medications they consume, but they use those medications in excessive amounts for recreational purposes or in a misguided attempt to gain greater symptom relief. Other people who participate in prescription drug abuse have no prescription for the medication(s) they consume and rely on friends, relatives or (in a fairly small number of cases) drug dealers to provide access.
Three classes of prescription medications are the most likely targets of abuse, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports: opioid painkillers or pain relievers, stimulant medications prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and certain other ailments, and sedative-hypnotics (a group that includes tranquilizers, many anti-anxiety drugs and most sleeping pills). Opioid substances such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, fentanyl, meperidine and propoxyphene are abused far more than any other type of prescription medication.
College and Prescription Medications
A federally sponsored project called the National Study on Drug Use and Health tracks the year-to-year rate of prescription medication abuse among young adults in the typical college age range of 18 to 25. According to the most recent results from this survey (which cover the year 2013), roughly 4.8 percent of all college-age adults across the U.S. abuse some sort of prescription medication in the average month. This is the lowest monthly rate recorded for more than a decade. Still, there are indications that college students abuse prescription medications more often than their age contemporaries not enrolled in college. For example, more than 50 percent of college undergrads with legitimate access to prescription stimulants (frequently abused as “study drugs”) report receiving offers from other students to sell their medications or barter their medications for other goods or services, or report receiving requests from other students to grant access to their medications at no cost.
Why Do College Students Participate?
In the study published in Addictive Behaviors, the Auburn University researchers used information gathered from 128 college undergrads to explore the reasons college students abuse prescription medications. All of these study participants were recruited on National Alcohol Screening Day, a day dedicated to educating people about the risks of excessive drinking and identifying people likely at risk for serious alcohol problems or already affected by serious alcohol problems. In addition to uncovering why college students abuse prescription drugs, the researchers sought to estimate the lifetime and past-year rates for prescription drug abuse on college campuses, in addition to determining which students have the highest chances of partaking in prescription medication abuse.
The researchers concluded that 42 percent of the study participants had abused a prescription drug one or more times in their lives. Almost 30 percent of the participants had abused a prescription drug one or more times in the year prior to the beginning of the study; in addition, roughly 18 percent of the study participants reported involvement in an overlapping pattern of prescription medication abuse and alcohol use or abuse. The No. 1 reason given for abusing a prescription drug was a desire to perform well academically or to achieve other functional goals, not a desire to get “high” or otherwise use a medication recreationally.
The study’s authors concluded that the medications most commonly abused by the participants in the previous year were prescription stimulants. However, they also concluded that the class of medications most commonly abused by the participants over the course of a lifetime was opioid painkillers. Finally, the authors concluded that the participating students who binged on alcohol (rapidly consumed enough alcohol to get legally drunk) reported a 200 percent higher chance of abusing prescription drugs than their peers who didn’t binge drink.
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