Gustavus Commissions Nationwide Survey on College Students’ Use of ADHD Medication

Posted on October 2nd, 2015 by

Gustavus commissioned a nation-wide survey on ADHD medication use and addiction among college students.

Gustavus commissioned a nationwide survey on ADHD medication use and addiction among college students.

Leading up to the 51st Nobel Conference, Gustavus Adolphus College commissioned a nationwide survey of college students aged 18-24 to gauge their thoughts on the use of ADHD medications as study aids. The results indicate that many students nationwide use prescription medications in the belief that it will increase their academic performance even though many believe that using drugs this way is a form of cheating.

Often, substance abuse and addiction are framed by popular culture as easily identifiable and visibly negative activities. The survey reinforces that this year’s Nobel Conference topic, “Addiction: Exploring the Science and Experience of an Equal Opportunity Condition,” is one that is relevant to people from all backgrounds and walks of life.

The key findings of the survey are included in the release below. To see the full results, view the ADHD Medication & Addiction PowerPoint PDF.

Gustavus Adolphus College Survey: U.S. College Students Admit To Using ADHD Medications as Study Aid, Yet Many Believe That Using Them Equates To Cheating

New National survey of ADHD drug use by U.S. college students released as part of Gustavus’s 51st annual Nobel Conference

MINNEAPOLIS, Sept. 28, 2015 — Even though many U.S. college students (54%) believe that the widespread non-prescription use of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) medications such as Ritalin and Adderall to boost academic performance is tantamount to cheating, roughly one in 10 do it anyway, according to a new Ipsos poll conducted this month on behalf of St. Peter, Minnesota-based Gustavus Adolphus College. What’s more, nearly three-quarters (73%) of all U.S. college students surveyed believe that college administrators, faculty and other campus employees are aware that students are taking the medications illegally to help them study.

Gustavus Adolphus College commissioned the survey to better gauge the attitudes and behaviors around the use of non-prescription ADHD drugs in advance of Gustavus’s 51st annual Nobel Conference. The theme of this year’s conference, to be held Oct. 6-7 on its St. Peter, Minn., campus, is Addiction: Exploring the Science and Experience of an Equal Opportunity Condition.

“Addiction permeates our society,” states Gustavus professor Peg O’Connor, chair of this year’s conference. “While colleges have become more attentive to the dangers of the misuse of prescription pain killers, the increase of marijuana use, and the ubiquity of alcohol, we’ve not been as aware of the potential dangers of the non-medical use of ADHD drugs. Students are misusing these drugs in the hope of improving their academic performance.”

O’Connor points to the survey findings as a call to action among college administrators and faculty, as well as parents, to talk with their students about the potential risks of taking prescription medications for reasons other than to treat a diagnosed condition. “The use of ADHD drugs as a study aide is simply not on the radar screen for many of my colleagues,” she said. “These survey results present a terrific opportunity to create awareness among those of us in academics, as well as within families.”

Other findings from the Gustavus survey, which sampled 500 adults, aged 18-24, who are currently enrolled in colleges across America:

  • Friends play an important role in students taking ADHD medications without a prescription. One third (32%) of students who have not been diagnosed with the condition say that they have been offered or encouraged by someone in their life (mostly their friends) to take ADHD medication as a way to improve their academic performance.
  • Nearly half (43%) of all college students surveyed know someone who uses ADHD medication without a prescription to help them study; yet paradoxically, only one in 10 (9%) of those not diagnosed with the condition say that they, themselves, have taken ADHD drugs such as Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, Vyvanse or Dexedrine.
  • When it comes to students who take non-prescription ADHD medications, 85% say that they do so to help them study or concentrate. Even among students who have been diagnosed with ADHD by a physician, a third (32%) say that they have taken more than their prescribed dosage to help their academic performance.

ADHD medications used for more than studying
The use of ADHD medication among students who are not diagnosed with the condition is not strictly reserved for academic purposes. Three in 10 students surveyed say that they’ve drank alcohol while taking an ADHD medication and one in 10 state that they use these drugs to enhance the effect of other drugs or to enhance the effect of drinking. “ADHD drugs diminish a person’s ability to feel the effects of drinking alcohol,” states O’Connor. “The discrepancy between students’ perception that it can enhance the effects of drinking and the reality is disturbing because taking ADHD medications could prompt students to actually drink more to feel buzzed or drunk.”

About the Survey
These are findings from an Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of Gustavus Adolphus College, fielded September 2-10, 2015. For the survey, a sample of 500 U.S. adults ages 18 – 24 who are currently enrolled in college was interviewed online. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 5.0 percentage points for all respondents. The data were weighted to the U.S. current population data by gender, age, region and household income based on Census data. Statistical margins of error are not applicable to online polls. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error and measurement error. Where figures do not sum to 100, this is due to the effects of rounding.

The Nobel Conference will take place on the Gustavus campus Oct. 6-7. For more information about the conference, please visit the 2015 Nobel Conference website.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin


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