The Journal of Primary Prevention

, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 363–383 | Cite as

A Mixed-Methods Approach Examining Illicit Prescription Stimulant Use: Findings From a Northern California University

  • Niloofar Bavarian
  • Jaimie McMullen
  • Brian R. Flay
  • Cathy Kodama
  • Melissa Martin
  • Robert F. Saltz
Original Paper


Preventing the illicit use of prescription stimulants, a particularly high-risk form of substance use, requires approaches that utilize theory-guided research. We examined this behavior within the context of a random sample of 554 undergraduate students attending a university in northern California. Approximately 17% of students self-reported engaging in this behavior during college; frequency of misuse per academic term ranged from less than once to 40 or more times. Although most misusers reported oral ingestion, a small proportion reported snorting and smoking the drug. The majority of misusers reported receiving the drug at no cost, and the primary source of the drug was friends. Misusers were motivated by both academic (e.g., to improve focus) and non-academic (e.g., to experiment) reasons. Our thematic analyses of an open-end question revealed that students abstaining from illicit use of prescription stimulants did so primarily for reasons related to health risks, ethics, and adherence regulations. Results from adjusted logistic regression analyses showed that correlates of the behavior were intrapersonal, interpersonal, and environmental in nature. We conclude that characteristics of misuse are a cause for concern, and correlates of the behavior are multifaceted. These findings, in addition to insights provided by students who choose not to engage in this behavior, suggest that a number of prevention approaches are plausible, such as a social norms campaign that simultaneously corrects exaggerated beliefs about prevalence while also illustrating why abstainers, in their own words, choose to abstain.


College students Illicit use of prescription stimulants Etiology Prevention 



This study was funded by the Prevention Research Center Development Fund. Manuscript preparation was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Training Grant T32 AA014125. The NIAAA had no further role in study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretations of data; in the writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the paper for publication. The authors would like to thank the instructors who invited us into their classrooms and the students who completed the surveys. We would also like to thank Aracely Velazquez for her assistance with data collection and Cassandra Iannucci for her assistance with the thematic analysis.

Compliance With Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Standards

The study was approved by the Institutional Review Boards at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation and the University of California, Berkeley.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Niloofar Bavarian
    • 1
  • Jaimie McMullen
    • 2
  • Brian R. Flay
    • 3
  • Cathy Kodama
    • 4
  • Melissa Martin
    • 4
  • Robert F. Saltz
    • 5
  1. 1.College of Health and Human ServicesCalifornia State University, Long BeachLong BeachUSA
  2. 2.Sport and Exercise ScienceUniversity of Northern ColoradoGreeleyUSA
  3. 3.College of Public Health and Human SciencesOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA
  4. 4.University Health Services Tang CenterUniversity of California, BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA
  5. 5.Prevention Research CenterPacific Institute for Research and EvaluationOaklandUSA

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