Stimulant abuse nationwide

Dr. Sean Esteban McCabe and colleagues at the University of Michigan and Harvard University analyzed the answers from the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study, which in 2001 surveyed 10,904 randomly selected students enrolled at 119 colleges across the United States. Overall, four percent of the respondents reported having taken a stimulant medication without a prescription at least once during the previous year. Men were twice as likely as women (5.8 percent versus 2.9 percent) to have abused methylphenidate (Ritalin), dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine) and amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall). Stimulant medication abuse was also more prevalent among students who were:

  • White (4.9 percent versus 1.6 percent for African-Americans and 1.3 percent for Asians);
  • Members of fraternities or sororities (8.6 percent versus 3.5 percent for nonmembers); and
  • Earning lower grades (5.2 percent for grade point average of B or lower versus 3.3 percent for B+ or higher).

Students who abused prescription stimulants reported higher levels of cigarette smoking; heavy drinking; risky driving and abuse of marijuana, MDMA (ecstasy), and cocaine. Compared with other survey respondents, for example, they were 20 times as likely to report past-year cocaine abuse and five times as likely to report driving after heavy drinking.

The campus prevalence of past-year stimulant abuse ranged from 0 percent at 20 colleges — including the three historically African-American institutions included in the survey — to 25 percent. The prevalence was 10 percent or higher at 12 colleges. Students attending colleges in the Northeast, schools with more competitive admission standards and noncommuter schools reported higher rates of abuse.

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