Motives for illicit prescription drug use among university students: A systematic review and meta-analysis

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There is a growing body of research on the motives for prescription drug misuse (PDM) among university students. However, the overall findings of this research are hard to decipher. Studies use different methods, they examine different drug types, the motives are phrased in various ways, and the results differ widely. In order to make sense of this body of knowledge, it is necessary to synthesise the results across studies and draw out conclusions.


The research comprises a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies on the motives of university students for illicit use of four different types of prescription medication (stimulants, analgesics, tranquillisers and sedatives). The search for studies was conducted on six bibliographic databases with stated criteria governing search eligibility and inclusion in the final review.


Overall, the most prevalent motives for PDM among university students cover some kind of personal enhancement to the user in terms of performance (in relation to sports, and academic outcomes), mental health (ability sleep, to reduce anxiety), or physical health (manage pre-existing illnesses). Fewer than half of users said that they were involved in PDM for pleasure purposes (to party, to get high, or to experiment).


PDM among students might be viewed as a means of self-improvement when other means of achieving desired objectives are unavailable or restricted. A more thorough understanding of motives for PDM, especially in relation to their influence on behaviour, might help in devising university-based treatment and prevention programmes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1941
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Early online date23 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2017


  • prescription drug misuse
  • University students
  • systematic review
  • meta-analysis


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