Stress, Drugs, and Alcohol Use Among Health Care Professional Students: A Focus on Prescription Stimulants

J Pharm Pract. 2015 Dec;28(6):535-42. doi: 10.1177/0897190014544824. Epub 2014 Aug 14.


Objective: To contrast the characteristics of pharmacy, medicine, and physician assistant (PA) students regarding the prevalence of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use and to identify risk factors associated with prescription stimulant use.

Participants: Five hundred eighty nine students were recruited to complete a 50-item Web-based survey.

Main outcome measures: Demographics, nonmedical prescription medication use, illicit drug and alcohol use, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition, Text Revision; DSM-IV-TR) psychiatric diagnoses, and perceived stress scale (PSS) scores.

Results: Medicine and PA students reported greater nonmedical prescription stimulant use than pharmacy students (10.4% vs 14.0% vs 6.1%; P < .05). Medicine and PA students were more likely to report a history of an anxiety disorder (12.1% vs 18.6% vs 5.9%; P < .05), major depressive disorder (9.4% vs 8.1% vs 3.3%; P < .05), and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD; 4.0% vs 9.3% vs 0.7%; P < .001) than pharmacy students. PSS scores for all 3 groups (21.9-22.3) were roughly twice as high as the general adult population.

Conclusion: Illicit drug and prescription stimulant use, psychiatric disorders, and elevated stress levels are prevalent among health care professional students. Health care professional programs may wish to use this information to better understand their student population which may lead to a reassessment of student resources and awareness/prevention programs.

Keywords: abuse; medical professional students; prescription medication misuse; stimulants.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology
  • California / epidemiology
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Health Personnel / education
  • Health Personnel / psychology
  • Health Personnel / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prescription Drugs / adverse effects
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Students / psychology
  • Students / statistics & numerical data*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Young Adult


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Prescription Drugs