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