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Res Social Adm Pharm. 2018 Oct 12. pii: S1551-7411(18)30314-0. doi: 10.1016/j.sapharm.2018.10.005. [Epub ahead of print]

Contextualizing study drugs - An exploratory study of perceptions and practices among study counselors, general practitioners, psychiatrists and from student polls.

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Copenhagen University, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, Department of Pharmacy, Universitetsparken 2, Copenhagen, Denmark. Electronic address:
Copenhagen University, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, Department of Pharmacy, Universitetsparken 2, Copenhagen, Denmark.



Recent decades have revealed a growing use of medicines for non-disease conditions, especially among university students. The prevalence rates for the use of study drugs (SDs), i.e. prescription stimulants and β-blockers, range from 2 to 20% among students worldwide. However, SD use does not take place in a vacuum. Like any other health-related behavior, medicine use takes place in specific social and cultural contexts, and there is very little scholarly work on these contextual aspects of SD use.


This article aims to explore university students' use of SDs through the perceptions and practices of university counselors, general practitioners (GPs), psychiatrists, and from student polls in Denmark, in order to advocate for a contextual approach to SD use.


The article relies on data from three different data sets involving a total of 18 semi-structured interviews, seven study counselors, nine GPs, and two psychiatrists, as well as votes from eight in-class polls conducted among approximately 300 university students in total. Data were collected between 2012 and 2017 and analyzed through meaning condensation and categorization.


The study shows that a great variety of perceptions and practices concerning SDs exists. While study counselors generally do not hear much about SDs from students, except for those seeking help with regard to β-blockers, they link the pressure, competition and perfectionism among students to a more general explanation of why some students may feel the need to use SDs. GPs meet students seeking SDs, but differ significantly in how they align their perceptions with their prescribing practices. The psychiatrists who participated in the study expressed widely different perceptions and practices regarding SDs. Finally, student polls indicate that students' opinions on SDs are also highly divided.


The lack of consensus on SDs among professionals in health and education may contribute to students' divided opinions about SDs, just as it provides students with an opportunity to legitimize their use of SDs.


Assemblage thinking; Beta-blockers; Cognitive enhancement; Health care professionals; Prescription stimulants; Students

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