College Undergraduate Ritalin Abusers in Southwestern California: Protective and Risk Factors

Article excerpt

During the past five years, a few studies have reported that college students are using stimulants such as Ritalin without a prescription. To date, studies on college Ritalin/Adderall use have been from samples in the eastern or midwestern U.S. This study was designed to examine risk and protective factors associated with Ritalin/Adderall use among a college sample in Southern California. Our findings indicate that 11.2% of students reported past year and over 4% reported past 30 day use of Ritalin/Adderall. In our final analysis, students with lower GPAs, in a fraternity/sorority, not in a committed relationship, and who smoke and use other drugs were more likely to report past year and past 30 day Ritalin/Adderall use. Implications for prevention programming of these findings are discussed.


College years have historically been marked by the use of alcohol and heavy drinking behaviors. Alcohol and other drug use are among the top threats to college student health and a leading cause of death in the U.S. (Hingson, Heeren, Zakocs, Kopstein, & Wechsler, 2002). Alcohol consumption is highly prevalent among college students as documented through several national population based studies. In addition to heavy alcohol use, during the past five years data have revealed that college students are using prescription drugs such as Ritalin (methylphenidate), Adderall (mixed-salts amphetamine), and Dexedrine (D-amphetamine). These drugs are primarily prescribed to treat attention déficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The most recent estimates, based upon the 2003 National Survey of Children's Health (Centers for Disease Control [CDC], 2005) indicate 4.4 million children between the ages of 4 and 17 have a history of ADHD diagnosis with a national prevalence rate of 7.8%. Of those with a diagnosis, 2.5 million (56%) report taking medication for the disorder resulting in a medication rate with a mean of 4.3% ranging from 0.3% to 9.3% (CDC, 2005). Although Adderall is more potent than Ritalin, they both have been found effective in treating ADHD (Pelham et al., 1999). However, as of the late 1990s, 90% of stimulant use for the treatment of ADHD in the U.S. is methylphenidate (Goldman, Genel, Bezman, & Slantez, 1998). Methylphenidate is classified as a Schedule II substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and is considered it to have a high potential for abuse and psychological dependence (Woodworm, 2000).

In 2003,36% of college students reported past year use of an illicit drug; however, this prevalence rate drops to about 18% of college students using any illicit substance when marijuana is excluded (Johnston, O'Malley, Bachman, & Schulenberg, 2004). Published studies indicate that there has been an increase in popularity of the use of Ritalin among college students. The national Monitoring the Future study has collected the annual prevalence of Ritalin use only since 2002. For the two years of data published for 2002 and 2003, between 4.7% and 5.7% of college students have reported past year Ritalin use (Johnston et al., 2004). Table 1 summarizes this research. This table presents the populations, parts of the country, sample and sample size, response rates, and AOD use rates reported. As shown in Table 1, most studies report rates of Ritalin use among college students that are similar to those obtained in the 2003 Monitoring the Future report. For example Teter and colleagues (2005) reported that 8.1% of college undergraduate students reported illicit use of prescription stimulants during their lifetime, and 5.4% reported such use during the past year. Higher rates have been reported by Low and Gendaszek(2002), with 10.3% of college undergraduates surveyed reporting use without a prescription of either Ritalin or Adderall and another 24.0% reporting the use of both substances.

In addition to surveys conducted at individual undergraduate colleges (as seen in Table 1), a national college survey of four-year institutions showed that 6. …