Nonmedical Stimulant Use in College Students: Association With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Other Disorders




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Objective: The nonmedical use of stimulants (misuse) in the college setting remains of utmost public health and clinical concern. The objective of this study was to evaluate comprehensively the characteristics of college students who misused stimulants, attending to rates of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), other psychopathology, and substance use disorders.

Methods: The data presented are from a cross-sectional study of college students who misused prescription stimulant medications (not including cocaine or methamphetamine) and controls (college students without stimulant misuse). Between May 2010 and May 2013, college students were assessed blindly for psychopathology and substance use disorder by way of Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV-TR Axis I Disorders, Research Version, Patient Edition (SCID-I/P) and completion of self-report questionnaires.

Results: The analysis included 198 controls (mean ± SD age = 20.7 ± 2.6 years) and 100 stimulant misusers (20.7 ± 1.7 years). Misusers, when compared to controls, were more likely to endorse alcohol, drug, alcohol + drug, and any substance use disorder (all P values < .01). When a subset of stimulant misusers (n = 58) was examined, 67% had a full or subthreshold prescription stimulant use disorder. Misusers also had higher rates of conduct disorder (10% vs 3%; P = .02) and ADHD (including subthreshold cases; 27% vs 16%; P = .02) in addition to lower Global Assessment of Functioning score (P < .01). Higher rates of misuse of immediate-release—relative to extended-release—stimulants were reported.

Conclusions: Our data suggest that, compared to controls, college students who misuse stimulant medications are more likely to have ADHD, conduct disorder, stimulant and other substance use disorder, and overall dysfunction.​

J Clin Psychiatry 2016;77(7):940–947