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Drug Alcohol Depend. 2014 Oct 1;143:272-6. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2014.07.034. Epub 2014 Aug 7.

A survey of nonmedical use of tranquilizers, stimulants, and pain relievers among college students: patterns of use among users and factors related to abstinence in non-users.

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  • 1Dept of psychology, Skidmore College, 815 N Broadway, Saratoga Springs NY, 12866.
  • 2Neuroscience Program, Skidmore College, 815 N Broadway, Saratoga Springs NY 12866.
  • 3Neuroscience Program, Skidmore College, 815 N Broadway, Saratoga Springs NY 12866. Electronic address:



This study examined lifetime non-medical prescription drug use among college students at a small liberal arts college in the Northeast. We assessed the motives, frequency of use, sources, and perceived emotional/physical risks of nonmedical prescription drugs. Specifically, we examined the non-medical use of prescription pain relievers, stimulants, and anti-anxiety medication.


We sent an internet-based survey to 1/3 of the student body and 303 students completed the survey.


We found that 36.8% of the sample reported using prescription drugs for non-medical purposes. First-year students were less likely to have used the drugs than those in other class years. Of those reporting use, 48% reported non-medical use of pain relievers, 72.8% reported using stimulants, and 39.8% reported using anti-anxiety medication. The most commonly used pain relievers were Vicodin (hydrocodone/acetaminophen), OxyContin (oxycodone), and codeine (acetaminophen/codeine). The most commonly used stimulants were Adderall (amphetamine/dextroamphetamine) and Ritalin (methylphenidate), while the most commonly used anti-anxiety medication was Xanax (alprazolam). When non-users were asked what factors influenced their choice not to abuse prescription drugs, 82% cited a lack of interest, 61% responded it was due to a fear of damaging their physical health, and 60.1% responded fear of damaging their mental health.


This study supports recent findings that show widespread non-medical use of prescription drugs among college students. Our report brings a more detailed understanding of the patterns of drug usage, and the factors influencing both drug use in those who use them and abstinence in those who choose not to use them.


Non-medical prescription drug use; Polydrug use; Stimulant abuse

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