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Misuse of Prescription Stimulant Medication

Misuse of Prescription Stimulant Medication

A growing concern on college campuses is the misuse of prescription stimulant medications. We know that early adulthood can be a time of significant change and intense challenges resulting in increased risk of substance abuse, self-harm, and even suicide. Stimulant misuse among college students is of particular concern due to the medical risk of mixing substances, the potential for addiction, and the possibility that self-medicating may mask depression and exacerbate developing anxiety and/or psychotic disorders.


  • 1 in 10 college students acknowledge taking a prescription stimulant in the past year that wasn’t prescribed to them. Read more.
  • Students believe the main drivers to start misusing ADHD prescription stimulants are a desire to get good grades and pressure to succeed. See infographic.
  • Students who misuse stimulant medications are more likely to consume alcohol and marijuana. This combined use is associated with a number of negative outcomes (e.g., poor class attendance, low grade point averages, use of other substances, and increased alcohol-related consequences). Read more.
  • 75% of students believe at least some of their peers have misused ADHD prescription stimulants not prescribed to them. Misuse of prescription ADHD medication among their peers is less frequent than many students believe (90% did not misuse stimulants in the past year). See infographic. Read more.
  • Some students have the mistaken belief that using stimulants (not prescribed to them) will improve their academic performance, but this isn’t the case.

Parents and campus professionals can all play an important role as mentors to college students. We know that mentoring can contribute to student success in and outside of the classroom. Mentors can be instrumental in helping college students cope effectively with academic stress, build strong time management skills, and develop healthy coping. These skills and accurate information about the issue can help young adults avoid stimulant misuse.

Ways to help young adults avoid stimulant misuse. Share these tips with college students:

  • Manage academic pressure
    • Set realistic expectations.
    • Focus on successes other in addition to academic accomplishments (such as making an impact through community service) to help keep academic challenges in perspective.
  • Develop time management skills
    • Use a daily calendar
    • Break study sessions into smaller blocks of 45-50 minutes each of focused studying, followed by a 10-15 minutes break.
    • Set deadlines for each element of a project (e.g., write an outline, complete rough draft, etc.) to stay on track with large projects
    • Find one’s own patterns of attention & maximum productivity (e.g., first thing in the morning, evening study sessions, a number of shorter study sessions throughout the day).
  • Manage stress effectively. Focus on self-care by:
    • Getting enough sleep
    • Eating healthy, well-balanced meals
    • Exercising regularly and sensibly
    • Keeping stressors in perspective
    • Practicing gratitude — instead of focusing on stress, focus on what’s going well.
    • Taking pleasurable breaks (e.g., read for pleasure, connect with friends or loved ones, or do something fun that you enjoy)
    • Practicing relaxation (such as meditation or listening to music)
    • Avoiding drugs and alcohol:
      • In the short term, drugs and alcohol may seem like a way to lessen or avoid feeling overwhelmed with stress. However, in the long run, they create additional problems and actually increase stress levels.

If the tips above don’t adequately help, reach out to the Counseling Center or a mental health provider in your community.

Educate yourself about this issue. Visit

(Egan, Reboussin, Blocker, Wolfson, & Sutfin, 2013)
McCabe, S.E., West, B.T., Teter, C.J. & Boyd, C.J., Trends in Medical Use, Diversion, and Nonmedical Use of Prescription Medications among College Students from 2003 to 2013: Connecting the Dots, Addictive Behaviors (2014), doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2014.03.008
Schlosser, Knox, Moskovitz, & Hill, A Qualitative Examination of Graduate Advising Relationships: The Advisee Perspective, Journal of Counseling Psychology Addictive Behaviors (2003) v50 n2 p178-188 Apr 2003

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