Substance misuse among college students has been extensively researched. There is also limited research addressing the issue of substance (legal and illegal) misuse in college students with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But identifying which substances are most commonly abused by college students who have high levels of conduct problems that co-occur with ADHD is something that few studies have examined. To address this concern, Kathryn Van Eck of the Department of Psychology at the University of South Carolina led a study that looked at the rates of substance abuse among young adults with conduct problems (CP), antisocial personalities (APD), sensation seeking (SS) behaviors, and ADHD.
For her study, Van Eck evaluated self-reports from 660 college students ranging in age between 18 and 25 years old. The students reported on their use of over-the-counter (OTC) stimulants, such as caffeine pills, illegal drug use, and prescription stimulants. They were assessed for CP, APD, SS, and ADHD. The results confirmed previous research that shows a link between ADHD and OTC and prescription stimulant misuse. Additionally, the participants with SS behaviors also reported increased misuse of stimulants. Van Eck believes that many people with ADHD derive immediate benefits from caffeine stimulants, such as increased concentration, organization, and focus. But she points out that these benefits are usually short term and are far outweighed by the negative consequences that can result from this type of abuse, such as addiction, sleep deprivation, and mood swings.
The study also showed that the students who had symptoms of CP and ADHD had the highest rates of prescription stimulant abuse. This finding shows that individuals who have CP, with or without ADHD, are at increased risk for substance dependency, and those with comorbid ADHD are especially vulnerable. Because many college students are prescribed stimulants, the opportunity to obtain them illegally on college campuses is abundant. Clinicians prescribing stimulants to students with a history of drug misuse may consider using other approaches to help them manage their symptoms of inattention, memory problems and disorganization. Van Eck added, “These students may benefit from psychotherapy oriented toward improving management of these symptoms.”
Van Eck, K., Markle, R. S., Flory, K. (2012). Do Conduct Problems and Sensation Seeking Moderate the Association Between ADHD and Three Types of Stimulant Use in a College Population? Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027431
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