APH 2009, 67, 169-178

Stimulant medication use among Flemish students: results from an exploring secondary data analysis 1965-2005

J. Rosiers, G. Van Hal

Keywords: students, substance abuse, central stimulants, residence characteristics, gender

Background/Aim
Recent media coverage in the Flemish media in Belgium reinforced the general public opinion on medication use among students, suggesting an alarming magnitude and a rising trend, with the use of stimulants as a specific element for enhancing study performances. These assumptions needed scientific verification, which we intended to do with this study.

Method
Secondary data analysis was conducted on four Belgian studies on medication use among students from 1965, 1969, 1993 and 2005. The 2005 survey data are also used to give an insight in prevalence and frequency of use during exams and in other periods and to widen the scope to poly-substance use.

Main Findings
All studies show prevalence figures for stimulant medication use under 10%. Prevalence and frequency of use is highest during exam periods. No gender differences were found for stimulant medication use. Living status on the other hand is an influential factor: students living away from the parental home report higher prevalence rates than students still living in their parents’ house. Prescription regulations seem to have a declining impact on the most popular products.

Conclusions/Discussion
Students’ medication use, more particularly during exam periods, appears to be an all-time reality in Flanders. No indications for a rising trend were found. Although the extent of stimulant medication use is relatively limited, a small minority shows more risky consumption patterns: daily use of stimulant medication (incl. risky side effects) during exam periods and higher prevalence of poly-substance use. More research is needed, particularly on the most consumed products (e.g. methylphenidates) and on the supplying sources of this medication.