College Students’ Non-Medical Use and Misuse of ADHD Meds

This four-year study examined the prevalence, correlates, causes and consequences of the misuse and abuse of ADHD medications by college students at Duke University and The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

The main reason that students reported using ADHD medication was to enhance their academic performance, primarily by improving their ability to study outside of class. Most students who took ADHD medication for this purpose believed it was helpful and few reported any adverse affects. A number of students also used ADHD medication for recreational purposes, but this was rarely the strongest motive for their use.

Other findings: nonprescribed use was more common among whites than nonwhites, among students associated with the Greek system, among upperclassmen and among students who use other substances, such as alcohol, cocaine and marijuana. Of particular interest is that nonprescribed use was also more likely to occur among students who reported high rates of attention difficulties and who were concerned about their academic performance; this suggests that at least some students seek out ADHD medication to treat problems they believe are undermining their academic success.

Our findings suggested that it would be a good idea for the staff at college counseling centers to inquire about the use of nonprescribed ADHD medications and to consider that some of the students with whom they work may have ADHD that has not been previously diagnosed.