Normative Influences on the Nonmedical Use of Prescription Stimulants Among College Students

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Recent epidemiological data indicate an increasing trend in the nonmedical use of prescription drugs among college students. The nonmedical use of prescription drugs involves using a prescription medication without a prescription, or using the medication in a manner inconsistent with a health care provider’s instructions. Among college students, prescription stimulants have the highest ratio of nonmedical to medical use and the highest rate of illicit selling and trading on college campuses. The increased prevalence is accompanied by increased risk, as 18–25-year-olds have the highest rate of emergency department visits for nonmedical use of prescription stimulants (NMUPS). To date, no study has examined the impact of social norms on NMUPS. The social norm theory has accounted for other health related behaviors (e.g., alcohol and marijuana use) and has been utilized in brief interventions targeting risky health behaviors. The current study examined the prevalence of self-reported NMUPS among college students and the impact of perceived social norms on NMUPS. The current study included 959 participants who completed an online survey that assessed for NMUPS, self-approval for NMUPS, and perceived descriptive and injunctive norms for NMUPS. Similar to previous research on alcohol and marijuana use, students overestimated the prevalence of NMUPS and this overestimation was related to past-year NMUPS. Perceived close friend and parental approval of NMUPS was positively related to self-approval and past-year NMUPS. Overall, the study broadens the existing literature on NMUPS and provides a platform for developing brief interventions that target this risky behavior.

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