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Study investigates influences on college students’ likelihood to intervene in peer’s nonmedical use of prescription stimulants

Bystander intervention is a promising potential solution to risky behaviors on college campuses. A new study investigated factors that may influence the likelihood that college students intervene when a friend misuses prescription stimulants. The authors used the Theory of Planned Behavior as their theoretical framework. The hypothesis for this study was that college students’ (a) attitudes, (b) subjective norms, and (c) perceived behavioral control would predict their intention to intervene on behalf of a friend engaging in excessive nonmedical use of prescription stimulants (NPS). Participants (n = 163) were a convenience sample of undergraduates from one U.S. university who completed an online survey. This sample was 70% female and 72% White. Eighty-eight percent reported they had not misused their own prescription stimulants in the past month and 84% reported they had not misused someone else’s prescription stimulants during the same period. The authors developed a novel survey instrument for assessing participant attitudes, subjective norms, perceived behavioral control, and behavioral intentions related to intervening in a friend’s excessive NPS. All constructs were measured using Likert-type items. Respondents were asked to imagine a friend was engaging in NPS, to define what they considered “excessive” NPS, and then answered items about their likelihood to intervene if a friend were engaging in excessive NPS. The authors examined excessive NPS because they believed any NPS would be too normative to allow for variation in participants’ responses. Twenty-nine percent of respondents (n = 48) labeled NPS that occurred three times were week as excessive, while 25% (n = 41) reported once per week would be excessive. Structural equation modeling using maximum likelihood estimation was used to analyze survey results. Results indicated perceived behavioral control was not a significant predictor in the model (β = − .07, p > .05), but attitudes (β = .51, p < 0.000) and subjective norms (β = 0.32, p < 0.05) positively predicted intent to intervene. However, participants’ perceptions of their abilities to intervene were not significantly related to their intention to intervene (ps ranged from 0.64 – 0.84). The authors acknowledged that, although this study offers support for the use of the Theory of Planned Behavior to understand bystander intervention to NPS, this theory may not be applicable in situations in which college students spontaneously react to peers’ NPS.

Take away: Using the Theory of Planned Behavior, this study documented that attitudes toward nonmedical use of prescription stimulants (NPS), followed by subjective norms about NPS, were the strongest predictors of intent to intervene when a peer engaged in “excessive” NPS.

LaBelle, S. (2018). College students’ intent to intervene when a peer is engaging in nonmedical use of prescription stimulants: An application of the Theory of Planned Behavior. Substance Use & Misuse, 53(7), 1108-1116. doi: 10.1080/10826084.2017.1399421

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