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Disordered eating is associated with non-medical use of prescription stimulants among college students

Previous research has shown that approximately one-fifth of college students use prescription stimulants non-medically. Some motivations for this use are cognitive enhancement, to get high or prolong the effects of other substances, and weight loss. The current study attempts to discover associations between disordered eating, non-medical use of prescriptions stimulants (NMUPS), and the medical use of prescription stimulants.

The final study included 87,296 students from 127 participating colleges and universities. To complete the study, participants were asked about illicit substance use in the last 30 days including stimulant medication. They were asked about prescription medication use including psychostimulants, antidepressants, anti-psychotics, anti-anxiety medications, mood stabilizers, sleep medications, or other medications for mental or emotional health. Students were also asked about disordered eating with a five-item screen tool that helps determine eating disorder presence.  Finally, they were asked about current height and weight, demographics, and lifetime history of different mental health conditions.

Out of all participating, 2.8% of students used prescription stimulants non-medically and 4.1% reported using prescription stimulants for medical purposes. Results showed that twice as many students using prescription stimulants reported depression symptoms along with higher anxiety rates. They also found that those who used prescription stimulants non-medically were significantly more likely to endorse disordered eating attitudes and behaviors along with being twice as lightly to have lost 15 points in a 3-month period. The behavior of making yourself sick when feeling uncomfortably full was found to be associated with a 46% increase risk of NUMPS. This provides important information when assessing college students and recognizing the potential association between NMUPS use and disordered eating symptomology.        

Take Away: The current study looks at disordered eating, non-medical use of prescriptions stimulants (NMUPS), and the medical use of prescription stimulants. The final study included 87,296 students who were asked about illicit substance use, prescription medication use, disordered eating, current height and weight, demographics and lifetime history of different mental health conditions. Out of all participating, 2.8% of students used prescription stimulants non-medically. They found those who used prescription stimulants non-medically were significantly more likely to endorse disordered eating attitudes and behaviors along with being twice as likely to have lost 15 points in a 3-month period. This provides important information when assessing college students and recognizing the potential association between NMUPS use and disordered eating.

Nutley, S. K., Mathews, C. A., & Striley, C. W. (2020). Disordered eating is associated with non-medical use of prescription stimulants among college students. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 209, 107907. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2020.107907

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