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Original Research

Prevalence and Correlates of Prescription Stimulant Misuse Among US College Students: Results From a National Survey

Sylvia H. M. Wong, EdMa; Courtney Stevens, PhDb; Cindy H. Liu, PhDc; and Justin A. Chen, MD, MPHd,*

Published: December 28, 2022


Objective: There is a high prevalence of prescription stimulant misuse (PSM) among college students in the United States (US). Preventing and identifying PSM requires an understanding of risk factors and correlates, but large-scale surveys regarding this issue have been lacking. We present the largest multi-institution study to date on the correlates of PSM among US college students.

Methods: We performed a secondary analysis of the 2017 American College Health Association–National College Health Assessment (ACHA-NCHA), an annual national survey on the demographics, health, and academic experiences of US college students. Logistic regression models examined associations between past-year PSM in 40,645 undergraduate college students and hypothesized risk factors.

Results: PSM was reported in 8% of college students. PSM was associated with past-year diagnosis or treatment of depression (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 1.16; 99% CI, 1.01–1.33), anorexia (AOR = 1.44; 99% CI, 1.02–2.03), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AOR = 1.66; 99% CI, 1.41–1.95), and substance use disorder/other addiction (AOR = 1.79; 99% CI, 1.30–2.46). The odds of PSM were 5.5 times higher for students who endorsed past-month use of “Legal drugs” and 8 times higher for students who endorsed past-month use of “Illegal drugs” than for those who did not. Other factors associated with PSM included academic difficulty, daytime sleepiness, fraternity or sorority involvement, White race, and cis-male gender.

Conclusions: This study identifies many potential risk factors for PSM among US undergraduate college students. Targeted outreach, prevention, and clinical management are discussed. As the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated psychiatric distress, sleep difficulties, substance use, and attentional challenges among college students, this study may serve as a baseline for future studies examining the impact of COVID-19 on PSM among college students.

Volume: 84

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