Motivations of Stimulant Misuse in Adults in the United States

man taking a pill
man taking a pill
Investigators examined the prevalence of prescription stimulant use, misuse, use disorder, and motivations for misuse in adults in the US from 2015 to 2016.

The findings of an analysis in the American Journal of Psychiatry revealed the motivations of American adults who misuse stimulants, as well as the most popular means of stimulant acquisition.

The investigators used data on 102,000 respondents from the 2015 and 2016 National Surveys on Drug and Health Use to estimate that 6.6% of adults in the United States had past-year stimulant use. In this group, 4.5% used but did not misuse stimulants, 1.9% misused stimulants without a use disorder, and 0.2% misused stimulants with disorders.

Motivations for stimulant use included feeling alert (56.3%), help studying (21.9%), experiencing the effects of the drug (15.5%), and weight loss (4.1%). Users between age 18 and 49 were more likely to use stimulants to help them study. High-frequency users were more likely to use stimulants to concentrate, while individuals with use disorders were motivated by the effects of the substance.

More than half of adults who used stimulants obtained them for free from friends or family, while another 21.8% stole them from friends or family. Individuals who misused stimulants most frequently were more likely to obtain stimulants directly from physicians or drug dealers.

Regardless of whether they exhibited a substance use disorder, the characteristic profiles of adults who misused stimulants were generally similar. However, adults with disorders were more likely to report major depressive episodes, nicotine dependence, cannabis use disorders, and sedative use disorders.

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The investigators pointed to several subtypes of stimulant users who might require different prevention and intervention pathways, and concluded that “physicians need to be alert for population impacts of their prescriptions of stimulants.”

The researchers cautioned that the analysis excluded some vulnerable populations, as the face-to-face household surveys did not include people who were living in shelters, in prisons, or were homeless. They also noted that the 2015 and 2016 National Surveys on Drug and Health Use had lower response rates compared with previous years, increasing the possibility of nonresponse bias.


Compton W, Han B, Blanco C, Johnson K, Jones C. Prevalence and correlates of prescription stimulant use, misuse, use disorders, and motivations for misuse among adults in the United States [published online April 16, 2018]. Am J Psychiatry. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.17091048