The use of prescription stimulants to enhance academic performance among college students in health care programs

J Physician Assist Educ. 2011;22(4):15-22. doi: 10.1097/01367895-201122040-00003.


Purpose: Prescription stimulant use as academic performance enhancers is increasingly widespread among college students. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the prevalence of prescription stimulant use among health care students attending a university in the northeastern United States. The study investigated the specific stimulants being used and the frequency of usage. It also examined the rates of nicotine, alcohol, and drug abuse versus dependence.

Methods: A web-based survey was administered to medical and health profession students regarding prescription stimulant use for nonprescribed purposes. Tobacco, alcohol, and recreational drug use were also surveyed.

Results: Approximately 10.4% (32) of students surveyed have either used a stimulant or are currently using prescription stimulants illegally. The most common reason for stimulant use was to focus and concentrate during studying (93.5%). Of the 308 students, 45.2% were female, 83.9% were Caucasian, and amphetamine-dextroamphetamine was the most commonly abused stimulant (71.4%).

Conclusions: Results from this study are consistent with previous research of undergraduate students regarding prescription stimulant use for nonprescribed purposes, specifically for academic performance enhancement. Data from the study support that alcohol abuse and dependence among students is a pertinent concern, suggesting that substance abuse in general must be addressed. Substance abuse and awareness programs combined with stress management programs in an overall substance-abuse reduction strategy, including the use of prescription stimulant use beyond the originally intended purpose, may be beneficial. Because of the lack of research focusing on graduate health care students, further investigations should use similar populations.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Amphetamine-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Amphetamine-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Amphetamines
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methylphenidate
  • Motivation
  • New York / epidemiology
  • Physician Assistants / education
  • Prescription Drugs*
  • Students, Health Occupations* / statistics & numerical data
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology


  • Adderall
  • Amphetamines
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Prescription Drugs
  • Methylphenidate