What is it about?

We developed a measure to identify reasons and measure the relative motivation for students who use prescription stimulant medications like Adderall. We did this using a hypothetical purchase task, which asks students how many individual pills they would buy and consume at increasing prices (from $0 free to $60 per pill). How much their consumption decreased as cost increased was used as a measure of reinforcing strength (i.e. how motivated they would be to use stimulants for the stated reason).

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Why is it important?

College students use prescription stimulants without a prescription or in some way that is different from their intended medical use (larger doses, different routes of administration, or in combination with other drugs). However, most of the research literature has mostly focused on students who report using stimulants for academic achievement purposes despite the many different ways stimulant use could be reinforced in the college environment. Our study applies a method informed by behavioral economic theory to try and capture the heterogeneity in this population and quantify how motivation for use differs by reason for use. Our hope is this can inform more individual-level assessment and intervention for the diverse students who may be currently using and at risk of using stimulants in harmful ways.


Prescription stimulant use has increased to the point where it has become a stereotype of high achieving college students in competitive university environments trying to keep up with their academic demands. But our research shows that there are many different reasons students use these drugs and this may prove to be important if universities take steps to develop interventions to reduce the prevalence of use.

Matthew Dwyer
Rowan University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Using the novel functional purchase task to examine prescription stimulant drug effect preferences in college students., Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, January 2022, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/pha0000539.
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