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Relationship between strain and nonmedical use of prescription drugs among college students

Misuse of prescription drugs is a major concern among college campuses in the United States. College students face changing environments, academic strains, relationship strains, and increased demands that may lead to self-medication with prescription drugs. A recent study observed the relationship between the various stressors in college students’ lives and prescription drug misuse.


This study included 918 undergraduate students who completed an online survey. They were asked about their use of prescription pain relievers, stimulants, and tranquilizers/sedatives over the past year. They were also asked to rank their levels of strain related to romantic relationships, friends, and academics, as well as report symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts.


The results showed that stimulant use was the most prevalent with 18% of respondents reporting use, and that pain reliever and tranquilizer/sedative use was less common, with 11% of participants using each within the past year. As far as strain, 60% of the students reported feeling “quite a bit” or a “great deal” of stress from academics. Relationships with friends and significant others contributed less to the stress of students, and about 12% of the students reported feeling strain in these areas.


However, if students did feel stress from relationships with significant others, nonmedical use of all three categories of prescription drugs measured was more likely. Stress from friends was positively related to use of tranquilizers/sedatives and stimulants. Stress from academics was not correlated to any nonmedical prescription drug use. Symptoms of depression were positively linked to misuse of pain relievers and tranquilizers/sedatives.


This study suggests that nonmedical prescription drug use occurs as a result of negative emotions that result from strain. This is significant because college campuses can play a role in reducing strain among students.


Take Away: Strain from relationships, friendships, and depression increase likelihood of nonmedical prescription drug use among college students.


Pate, M.C., Bolin, R.M. (2018). Examining the Relationship Between Strain and the Use of Nonmedical Prescription Drugs Among College Students. Journal of Drug Issues. doi.org/10.1177/0022042618812398

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