Original Research

Prevalence and correlates of non-medical stimulants and related drug use in a sample of South African undergraduate medical students

Mari Retief, Chris Verster
South African Journal of Psychiatry | Vol 22, No 1 | a795 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v22i1.795 | © 2016 Mari Retief, Chris Verster | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 11 March 2015 | Published: 24 June 2016

About the author(s)

Mari Retief, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Department of Psychiatry, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Chris Verster, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Department of Psychiatry, Stellenbosch University, South Africa


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Abstract

Background: The non-medical use of prescription psychostimulants or cognitive-enhancing substances among healthy college students is a growing concern. This use appears to be particularly high among medical students. To our knowledge, no literature is available on the non-medical use of stimulants among South African medical students.

Objective: To determine the prevalence and correlates of non-medical stimulant use as well as subjective opinion on peer numbers using stimulants and university attitude towards stimulant use among a sample of South African undergraduate medical students.

Methods: A descriptive observational study was conducted by means of a self-report questionnaire. Second- and fourth-year medical students (n = 252) completed the questionnaire.

Results: Of the sample, 44 (18%) reported a lifetime use of stimulants for non-medical purposes and 33 (85%) of this group reported use within the past year. A total of six (2%) students reported a diagnosis of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In the group without a diagnosis of ADHD, non-medical stimulant use was associated with the year of study (p = 0.03) and illicit substance use (p = 0.01). Most of the students in this group (31, 32%) reported using stimulants to improve concentration.

Conclusion: Non-medical use of stimulants to improve concentration and academic performance is prevalent among the South African medical students sampled in this study. Further research at other institutions and under non-medical students would be helpful to assess the scope of this phenomenon.


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