Non-medical use of prescription stimulants among US college students: prevalence and correlates from a national survey


Sean Esteban McCabe
Acting Director and Assistant Research  Scientist
University of Michigan
Substance Abuse Research Center
2025 Traverwood Drive
Suite C
Ann Arbor
MI 48105–2194
Tel: (734) 998 6510
Fax: (734) 998 6508


Aims  To examine the prevalence rates and correlates of non-medical use of prescription stimulants (Ritalin, Dexedrine or Adderall) among US college students in terms of student and college characteristics.

Design  A self-administered mail survey.

Setting  One hundred and nineteen nationally representative 4-year colleges in the United States.

Participants  A representative sample of 10 904 randomly selected college students in 2001.

Measurements  Self-reports of non-medical use of prescription stimulants and other substance use behaviors.

Findings  The life-time prevalence of non-medical prescription stimulant use was 6.9%, past year prevalence was 4.1% and past month prevalence was 2.1%. Past year rates of non-medical use ranged from zero to 25% at individual colleges. Multivariate regression analyses indicated non-medical use was higher among college students who were male, white, members of fraternities and sororities and earned lower grade point averages. Rates were higher at colleges located in the north-eastern region of the US and colleges with more competitive admission standards. Non-medical prescription stimulant users were more likely to report use of alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine and other risky behaviors.

Conclusions  The findings of the present study provide evidence that non-medical use of prescription stimulants is more prevalent among particular subgroups of US college students and types of colleges. The non-medical use of prescription stimulants represents a high-risk behavior that should be monitored further and intervention efforts are needed to curb this form of drug use.