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Study finds that perceived academic benefit is linked to nonmedical prescription stimulant use among college students

A new study documented the prevalence of perceived academic benefit of the nonmedical use of prescription stimulants (NPS) among college students for improving grades and to examine the association between such belief and NPS. Participants (N = 6962) included full-time undergraduate students from nine different universities who indicated that they had never been diagnosed with ADHD. The reason for excluding students with an ADHD diagnosis was that their perceptions about NPS might differ from other students due to taking ADHD medications for their diagnosis. Participants received an online survey, which measured NPS, perceived academic benefit of NPS, alcohol use and marijuana use frequency. For the NPS measure, participants were asked about the number of days they had used prescription stimulants non-medically during the past six months. For perceived academic benefit of NPS, participants were asked to rate the degree to which they agree to statements such as “prescription stimulants will help people without a prescription get better grades.” For alcohol use, the total number of drinks consumed in a typical week during the past six months was computed from responses to the Daily Drinking Questionnaire (DDQ). Lastly, for the marijuana use frequency measure, participants were asked about the number of days they had used marijuana during the past six months. The authors computed descriptive statistics for the overall sample and within the subsets of students who did and did not engage in NPS during the past six months. A multivariate logistic regression model was developed with NPS as the binary dependent variable and included the three hypothesized explanatory variables of perceived academic benefit, alcohol use, and marijuana use as well as the control variables of gender, race, ethnicity and school. Results showed that 11.2% of participants engaged in NPS during the past six months. Furthermore, 28.6% of participants agreed or strongly agreed that NPS could help students earn higher grades and an additional 38% were unsure. Among the students who had engaged in NPS over the past six months, 64.9% endorsed the academic benefit of NPS, while 24.1% of non-users endorsed such beliefs. It is important to note that even though the endorsement was higher among NPS users, the perceived academic benefit was still relatively high among non-users. The logistic regression model found that all three of the hypothesized variables were significantly and positively associated with NPS (all ps < .001). In addition, students with higher perceived academic benefit of NPS were significantly more likely to engage in NPS (p < 0.001).

Take away: College students with the highest perceived academic benefits of NPS were more likely to report use. Students who were more likely to report use, agreed with the academic benefits of NPS at higher rates than non-users.

Arria, A. M., Geisner, I. M., Cimini, M. D., Kilmer, J. R., Caldeira, K. M., Barrall, A. L., & Lee, C. M. (2018). Perceived academic benefit is associated with nonmedical prescription stimulant use among college students. Addictive Behaviors76, 27-33.

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