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College students’ prescription drug misuse motivated by desires for fun, improved academic performance, influenced by other drug use, social approval

A new study used social learning theory and general strain theory to investigate predictors of instrumental (e.g., to enhance academic performance) and recreational (e.g., to get high) nonmedical prescription drug use (NMPDU) among college students. Participants were a convenience sample of U.S. university students (n = 2,458) who completed questionnaires on their drug use behaviors. Multiple imputation was used to correct for missing data. Results showed 10.2% of respondents reported using prescription stimulants with a physician’s approval and 4.4% reported using benzodiazepines with a physician’s approval, yet 15% reported NMPDU of stimulants and 4% reported NMPDU of benzodiazepines within the past 30 days. 32.5% of respondents reported lifetime NMPDU of stimulants and nearly 19% reported other NMPDU. 31.8% reported lifetime NMPDU to improve academic performance, while 15% reported NMPDU to get high. The perceived efficacy of specific stimulants to improve academic performance varied. The authors concluded there was a lack of support for strain theory in predicting NMDU, but found support for social learning theory: Increased peer and parental approval of NMPDU was positively associated with both types of NMPDU. In addition, marijuana use, illicit drug use, and possession of a relatively low academic ethic positively predicted both types of NMPDU. Membership in Greek life significantly predicted instrumental, but not recreational, NMPDU.

Take away: Nearly half of respondents in this sample reported lifetime nonmedical prescription drug use (NMPDU) and almost one-third of these reported engaging in NMPDU to improve their academic performance. Positive predictors of either instrumental or recreational NMPDU included marijuana use, illicit drug use, possession of a low academic ethic, and approval from parents and/or peers.

Citation: Pino NW, Tajalli H, Smith CL, et al. (2017). Nonmedical prescription drug use by college students for recreational and instrumental purposes: Assessing the differences, Journal of Drug Issues, 1-16

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