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Mitigating Risks of Students Use of Study Drugs Through Understanding Motivations for Use and Applying Harm Reduction Theory: A Literature Review


Mitigating Risks of Students Use of Study Drugs Through Understanding Motivations for Use and Applying Harm Reduction Theory: A Literature Review

Dor David Abelman. Harm Reduct J.


As postsecondary students' use of "study drugs" becomes more popular with increasingly reported negative effects on health and academic performance, failing prohibitionist policies to reduce consumption, and ambiguity in literature towards best practices to address this population, we present a literature review that seeks effective solutions educational institutions can apply to improve outcomes for students who use drugs. Motivations for use, effects of the substances, an analysis of efforts to control use from educational institutions, and suggestions on promoting most effective outcomes based on harm reduction, are described. Theory, quantitative, and qualitative works from systematic reviews, cohort studies, and epidemiological assessments are examined on the "study drugs" methylphenidate, dextroamphetamine, and amphetamine, also known as Adderall, Ritalin, Focalin, and Concerta. There is a focus on postsecondary students ages 18-25 in North America. Results show important risk factors for drug use including low perceived self-efficacy or enjoyment in courses, poor accommodation of special needs, reliance on external validation, having a low GPA, and experiencing a mental health issue. There is much misconception on the health and academic effects of these drugs in literature, among students, and on online knowledge sources. We suggest these drugs do not improve GPA and learning, while they might temporarily increase memory, but with detrimental negative health effects. Campaigns that address underlying factors of use can be most successful in mitigating harms.

Keywords: Adderall; Harm reduction; Methylphenidate; Postsecondary education; Primary prevention; Qualitative research; Self-medication hypothesis; Study drugs; Substance-related disorders.

Conflict of interest statement

Ethics approval and consent to participate

Ethics approval and consent to participate was not required for this work due to nature of study design—a literature review—and publicly available, de-identified, and secondary data used. This has been confirmed by the Research Ethics Board of Western University.

Consent for publication

As individual participant data was not used, additional consent for publication is not applicable.

Competing interests

There are no competing interests. This study was completed as a final 50% of grade research project in an honors course offered at Western University’s School of Health Studies. The task of this project was to complete a literature review using an ethical argument on a health-related issue. This is an amended version with help from faculty (acknowledged) designed for publication at BioMed Central’s Harm Reduction Journal.

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

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