One in five college students who participated in a new online survey reported abusing prescription stimulants at least once in their lives. But the real surprise came when students who have been legally prescribed drugs to treat their ADHD answered some questions. More than half reported being pressured by their friends into sharing or selling their drugs.

Overall, the survey paints a sad picture of stressed-out college kids compelled by their parents to keep up and achieve, despite the miserable economy, and so resort to using drugs not for fun (like their parents did) but simply to help them get their work done.

Conducted by The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, the survey included 1,621 adults between the ages of 18 and 25 who answered questions online during parts of July and August of this year. Of those surveyed (by an independent research company), 1,018 people were current college students, either full or part-time, while 603 were non-college students.

Answering why they misuse prescription stimulants, many of the students offered so-called functional reasons. More than half said they do so to study or to improve their academic grades, while more than 41 percent said they misuse the same drugs to stay awake. About a quarter stated they either misused stimulants to improve their performance on the job.

Most importantly, the students who reported abusing stimulants believe the rewards are tangible. Nearly two-thirds said it helped them get a higher grade or gain a competitive edge.

Who Are The Abusers?

Compared to others, those who reported abusing prescription stimulants tend to see themselves as influencers and leaders. More said they enjoy being the center of attention than those who did not abuse drugs, plus they were more likely to consider themselves the “social hub” among their friends.

Importantly, most of the drug users also said they believe their parents would not be upset to learn they were using prescription drugs as a way to increase academic performance.

The prescription stimulant abuses also reported more often that they struggled to balance their social and work lives compared to their non-abusing peers. About half said this was the case versus only one-third of the students who do not abuse drugs.

Access and Acceptance

Accessibility, along with social acceptance, makes it easy for young adults to misuse medications, the survey suggests. Most get their drugs from their friends (not dealers), while over half said their friends also abuse stimulants.

“In the U.S. alone, there are over six million youth, ages 4 to 17, diagnosed with ADHD who are now growing up with both the benefits — and in some cases risks — associated with the increasingly prescribed medications,” said Dr. Cheryl G. Healton, dean of the Global Institute of Public Health, New York University.

More than a quarter of those legally prescribed stimulants said they share their meds with friends, the survey reported. "If we fail to act, social norms around the practice become further normalized and even more challenging to reverse,” Healton said.