Stimulant Use Among Medical School Students

Mar 14, 2013

Colleges have known for years that students use prescription stimulants to focus and stay awake while studying. But new research finds that the rate of stimulant use among medical school students is higher.

Jadon Webb says he and a colleague got the idea for their research while in medical school, listening to a professor’s lecture.  

"He was talking with us about life in medical school 50, 60 years ago. And in the course of talking about it, he was joking about how whenever exams came up, everyone had to use speed."

Webb is a fellow now at the Yale Child Study Center.

He says prescriptions to treat ADHD have soared in the past decade. Some people share or sell their ADHD medications and because they’re so widely available, colleges have been wrestling with growing stimulant use among students.

Webb wondered whether medical school students – who may have to function in very competitive environments with exhausting schedules –  also use the drugs.  

"What struck us the most was the amount of stimulant use was higher than virtually all studies of college students, which is probably the best studied population."

Roughly one in five medical students had used stimulants at some point in their lifetime. And about 15% admitted to using stimulants while in medical school.

Webb says the research is important because physicians are at the forefront of dispensing controlled substances.  

"Their attitudes toward stimulants will no doubt shape the way they prescribe to other patients."

Webb believes medical students may use stimulants as study aids, rather than party drugs. Students with very high standardized test scores reported nearly identical rates of stimulant use as those with lower scores.

The study is published in the Annals of Clinical Psychiatry.