New Research Identifies Motivation for Prescription Stimulant Misuse by Age Group



New research shows that abuse of prescription stimulant medication by adolescents and young adults is driven by different motivations closely linked to age.

The study was conducted by Ty Schepis, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Texas State University; Jason Ford, Ph.D., Department of Sociology, University of Central Florida; Timothy Wilens, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Mass. and Harvard Medical School; Christian Teter, McLean Hospital; and Sean Esteban McCabe, Center for the Study of Drugs, Alcohol, Smoking and Health, School of Nursing, University of Michigan.

Their research, “Differences in Prescription Stimulant Misuse Motives Across Adolescents and Young Adults in the United States,” is published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (

The study explored why adolescents and young adults misuse prescription stimulant medication — the kind prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

“I think the biggest take-home message from the study is those motivations seem to change as people age,” said Schepis.

The study showed 14-year-olds are more likely than 21-year-olds to misuse the prescription for what researchers called recreational purposes, or getting high. Typical college misuse was for studying and staying awake. College students think of this as being more productive and being a better student, in spite of evidence to the contrary, Schepis explained.

The presence of any prescription stimulant misuse among adolescents and young adults is linked to more substance use, suicidal thoughts and other negative psychological effects.

“We believe this research gives prescribers and others working with these age groups specific motives to look out for. For the college age population what’s really needed is more guidance to orient the student to college. Clarify what the expectations are, how best to study, time management, those kinds of things,” Schepis said.

This study examined prescription stimulant misuse motives in 86,918 adolescents and young adults aged 14-25 years using the 2015–2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Individual prescription stimulant misuse motives and motive categories (cognitive enhancement only, recreational only, weight loss only and combined motives) were examined by age.

While any prescription stimulant misuse was associated with higher odds of substance use disorders and mental health problems, including suicidal thoughts, odds were highest for recreational or combined motives.

“The study highlights how motives vary based on educational status among young adults, as those not in college are more likely to endorse recreational motives. This is significant as the likelihood of having a substance use disorder or adverse mental health outcomes is substantially higher among young adults who misuse for recreational reasons,” said Ford.









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