January 18, 2017

Using cognitive stimulants without a medical prescription is not associated with better academic performance, according to a recently published study by Dr. Amelia Arria and a team of researchers from the University of Maryland.

Instead, the study revealed that students who use stimulants without a prescription have lower overall GPAs, skip more classes and are more at-risk for controlled substance abuse.

“Many students engage in NPS (nonmedical use of prescription stimulants) in response to academic difficulties, thinking these drugs will help them improve their grades, but results of this study add to the growing body of research indicating that NPS likely provides no academic benefits,” the study read.

The study, part of College Life Study (CLS), gathered data from 898 undergraduate students who were not diagnosed with ADHD. These students, who were observed during their second and third year of college, were divided into four groups: Abstainers, Persisters, Initiators and Desisters.  

Abstainers, the group that did not use nonmedical prescription stimulants during both years, showed an increase in their GPA. The Persisters, the group that used non-prescribed stimulants on both years, did not show any GPA increases. The Initiators, the group that engaged in non-prescribed used of stimulants in the second year of study, and the Desisters, the group that stopped using non-prescribed medication in the first year of the study, did not show any academic improvements as well.

Because the nonmedical use of prescription stimulants does not provide any academic benefits, Dr. Arria’s study advises college administrators and parents to implement interventions that warn students about the potential health and legal risks of using stimulants without a prescription. Medical professionals should also ensure that their ADHD patients understand that sharing their medication is illegal.

“This research underscores the importance of challenging the common belief among college students that nonmedical prescription stimulant use has academic benefits,” Dr. Arria said.

“Do college students improve their grades by using prescription stimulants nonmedically?” was published in Addictive Behaviors.

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