Twitter Study Tracks Adderall Abuse On College Campuses
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Misuse of a commonly-prescribed ADHD medication isn´t just trendy amongst college students hoping to gain an academic advantage during finals time, it´s also trending on Twitter, new research has discovered.
Adderall, a psychostimulant medication that contains amphetamine, is being used by an increasing number of post-secondary students as they take their final exams — and those individuals aren´t shying away from posting about their use of the substance on social media sites.
A team of from Brigham Young University´s (BYU) health science and computer science researchers conducted a six-month study in which they monitored all public mentions of Adderall on Twitter. The results, which appear in the current edition of the Journal of Medical Internet Research, revealed that students in the northeastern and southern US were most likely to mention abusing the drug, and that tweets about Adderall peaked in the time surrounding final exams each semester.
“Adderall is the most commonly abused prescription stimulant among college students,” said lead researcher Carl Hanson, a professor of health science at BYU, in a statement. “Our concern is that the more it becomes a social norm in online conversation, the higher risk there is of more people abusing it.”
Hanson and his colleagues tracked all public Twitter mentions of the drug´s name between November 2011 and May 2012, but excluded tweets from individuals with screen names suggesting that they were promoting Adderall. That left 213,633 tweets from 132,099 unique users that mentioned the drug during that time period.
The researchers noticed that the Adderall-related tweets increased drastically during traditional college or university finals periods, peaking on December 13 (2,813) and April 30 (2,207). Furthermore, they found that these tweets peaked during the middle of the week and began to decrease by the weekend — findings that are consistent with previous research linking ADHD stimulant abuse to periods of high academic stress levels.
“It´s not like they´re using it as a party drug on the weekend. This data suggests that they´re using it as a study aid,” said Hanson. “Many of the tweets even made a study reference.”
According to the university, college and university clusters in the northeast and south regions of the US had the highest overall rate of Adderall-related tweets. The authors suggest that the increased activity levels in those regions could be linked to the fraternity/sorority system, which they say has “deep roots” in the northeast.
The state with the highest per capita Adderall tweet rate was Vermont, followed by Massachusetts and Alabama. The region with the lowest per capital rate was Southeast Texas, followed by Central Illinois and Northern California.
Furthermore, nine percent of all Adderall tweets mentioned a second substance — most commonly alcohol (4.8 percent) or stimulates such as coffee or energy drinks (4.7 percent), but also substances such as cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamines and depressants such as Xanax.
“Tweets hinting at co-ingestion are particularly troubling because morbidity and mortality risk increases when substances are combined,” said study co-author Michael Barnes. He, Hanson, and their colleagues hope that their work will raise awareness as well as interest in promoting the safe and legal use of drugs like Adderall on college campuses.