A new study by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators finds that college students who misuse stimulant drugs are more likely to have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorder or substance-use disorder than are students not misusing stimulants. The report published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry also finds immediate-release stimulants are more likely to be misused than extended-release versions of the drugs.
“Our data suggest that college students who misuse prescription stimulant medications are more likely to exhibit clinically relevant psychiatric dysfunction,” says Timothy Wilens, MD, chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) and co-director of the MGH Center for Addiction Medicine, corresponding author of the report. “In addition to higher levels of ADHD, conduct disorder, and alcohol or drug use disorders, the majority of those misusing stimulants met or approached criteria for stimulant-use disorder.”
Stimulant drugs are widely prescribed to treat ADHD, which is believed to affect up to 8 percent of U.S. college students, and several studies have documented frequent nonmedical use – either without a prescription or taking higher-than-prescribed doses – particularly among college students. One recent study found that almost two thirds of college students had been offered stimulants for nonmedical use and 31 percent had actually used them over a four-year period.
The current study differs from previous investigations in that – instead of relying only on participants’ answers to survey questions about their use of stimulants and other drugs, alcohol consumption and other factors including quality of life – it relied on structured interviews that have been validated for the diagnosis of neuropsychiatric disorders, including substance-use disorders. Wilens explains, “Someone may report on a survey that they misused stimulants on ‘a handful of occasions’ and have never been diagnosed with a substance-use disorder. But during the intensive interview process …