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Objectives

Nonmedical prescription stimulant (NPS) use is an important problem among university students. The present studies applied the prototype-willingness model (Gibbons, Gerrard & Lane, 2003) to academic-based NPS use and examined the impact of academic versus health information on university students' NPS use cognitions.

Design and Methods

Study 1 used the prototype-willingness model to examine cognitions associated with academic-based willingness to use NPS. In Study 2, participants were randomly assigned to a control condition or to read information on the negative academic or negative health effects of NPS use. Beliefs, willingness, and expectation of engaging in future NPS use, prototypes of users, and perceived vulnerability were assessed.

Results

Students without a prescription for stimulants or a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) participated in each study (Ns = 555; 166). Twenty to thirty per cent reported NPS use, primarily for academic reasons. Controlling for past NPS, alcohol, and marijuana use: friends' NPS use, prototypes, perceived vulnerability, and negative health and positive academic beliefs were associated with willingness to use NPS in Study 1. Study 2 demonstrated that participants in the academic-information condition reported the lowest willingness and expectations as well as the least favourable prototypes of NPS users. Participants in the health-information condition reported the highest perceived vulnerability.

Conclusions

These studies highlight: the utility of using a health model framework to examine NPS cognitions, the importance of examining beliefs about the behaviour, and the potential for academic and health information to reduce risky NPS use cognitions.

Statement of contribution

What is already known? Nonmedical prescription stimulant (NPS) use is a common health-risk behaviour among college students. The most common reasons cited by students for NPS use are related to academics (e.g., increase concentration, stay awake to study).

What does this study add? Shows the utility of the prototype-willingness model to examine NPS use cognitions. Experimentally demonstrates the positive impact of academic and health information on NPS use cognitions. Reveals new relationships among health cognitions (including academic and health beliefs) that predict behaviour and are targets for future interventions.