Prevalence of stimulant use in a sample of US medical students

BACKGROUND: Stimulant use for academic performance is widespread among college students, but less is known about use among students obtaining advanced degrees.

METHODS: In this cross-sectional survey, we measured the prevalence and demographic correlates of prescription stimulant use among a sample of US medical students.

RESULTS: The lifetime prevalence of stimulant use in this sample of 144 medical students was 20%, and prevalence of use during medical school was 15%. More white students (32%) than Asian students (7%) had used stimulants. Nine percent of respondents reported an attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis, and those diagnosed were more than 30 times more likely to have used stimulants compared with those without a diagnosis. Of those who had taken stimulants, 83% reported using them specifically for cognitive performance enhancement such as studying better and staying awake longer while on clinical duties.

CONCLUSIONS: This study suggests a high prevalence of stimulant use among medical students compared with the general population. Personal experience with these medications as medical students could impact physician attitudes and prescribing patterns toward patients seeking help for ADHD-related symptoms.

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