Drug and Alcohol Use Among College and University Students

There are countless reasons why students begin to abuse drugs or alcohol. It could involve peer pressure, managing stress, or an effort to boost academic performance. Some students struggle with the pressures associated with college life, which becomes too much to handle, thus leading to substance use as a way of coping.

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According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, daily or near-daily marijuana use among non-college young adults has continued to rise. Also, alcohol use in college students is higher than in non-college students. According to the report, A Day in the Life of College Students Aged 18 to 22, over 2,000 full-time college students drank alcohol for the first time on an average day, and over 1,300 students used an illicit drug for the first time.

Tip to Combat Addiction in College

  • Be aware of people in your environment that are a bad influence.
  • Educate yourself and the people around you on drugs and alcohol.
  • Check if there is anything that you don’t understand in school. It can cause physiologic and emotional symptoms. Get a tutor or see a teacher to clarify it.
  • Go to the gym. Exercise can boost morale and reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Find a hobby or activity, that allows you to be in a different location than where you are using drugs.
  • Be aware of the sources of stress in your life and find healthy ways to reduce or handle it. This could include finding a hobby with no pressure, taking some time to hang out with friends or simply taking a walk and decompressing.
  • If people are drinking or using drugs, look out for signs of overdose. If one of your friends starts blacking out or showing severe side effects, get help immediately.

The Pressure to Succeed in College Can Leads to Substance Use

College and University students across America face relentless pressure to succeed, graduate, and get a career. Unfortunately, the process from start to finish takes a toll and is not easy to manage for many students. Substance abuse among college students is a significant problem, and many students cannot achieve their academic goals.

For tens of thousands of students yearly, unforgiving expectations placed on them by parents, teachers, and other students lead to drug and alcohol problems. Students are often pulled in different directions, whether to study, party, travel, plan for the future, or enjoy college. It is sometimes described as the perfect storm, and students often struggle with increased anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, alcohol flows freely on college campuses, and drugs are abused recreationally, whether legal or illegal.

On an average day in the United States, nine million students and 1.2 million have consumed alcohol; over 700,000 have used marijuana, according to SAMHSA. This report used alcohol, marijuana, hallucinogens, pain medication, cocaine, stimulants, inhalants, methamphetamine, and heroin among college students.

Commonly Abused Drugs on College Campuses

Marijuana— According to the Monitoring the Future Survey, data on drug use in college-age adults ages 19 to 22 shows an increase in marijuana use in the past five years. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Drug and Alcohol Use in College-Age Adults, in 2018, annual marijuana use is at historic highs, with over 42% of college students. Approximately 5.9% of college students use marijuana daily.

Stimulant Drugs—Approximately 14.6% of college men misused the drug, while 8.8% of college women misused Adderall. Cocaine use increased significantly among college students from 2.7% in 2013 to 5.2% in 2018—it has been at the highest point over the past decade. Also, about 2.7% of college students are misusing prescription drugs, which includes 11.1% of students misusing Adderall.

Pain Medication— The annual prevalence of the non-medical use of prescription opioids continued to trend downward. College students reported a five-year decline to 2.7% in 2018 from 5.4% in 2013. According to a 2018 Prescription Drug Study, approximately 9.1% of students reported misusing pain medication, 9.4% misusing sedatives, and 15.9% misusing stimulants. Also, 16% of students said it is somewhat easy or very easy to obtain pain medication for non-medical use, and 20% of students said sedatives were easy to obtain.

Alcohol—According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, almost 53% of full-time college students aged 18 to 22 drank alcohol in the past month, and 33% engaged in binge drinking during that time frame. In addition, 1,519 college students aged 18 to 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes.

The Consequences of College Drug and Alcohol Use

Per a journal article titled College Student Drug Use: Patterns, Concerns, Consequences, and Interest in Intervention, it states in the abstract—“In a survey of 262 college students who self-reported lifetime use of an illicit drug, 69% reported at least one negative consequence over the course of their lifetime and 63% in the past year”. Approximately 28% of college students were moderately concerned about their drug or medication misuse and moderately interested in some form of intervention.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol abuse and binge drinking lead to assault, sexual assault, academic problems, and alcohol use disorders.

  • An estimated 696,000 students aged 18 to 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
  • One in five college women experiences sexual assault during their time in college.
  • One in four college students reports experiencing academic difficulties from drinking, such as missing class or getting behind in school work.
  • Nine percent of full-time college students aged 18 to 24 meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder.

Prescription drug misuse has also become increasingly prevalent among college students.

  • Prescription drug use misuse leads to poor academic performance.
  • Students who misused pain medication were more likely to have a lower grade point average.
  • Students who misused stimulant drugs were more likely to have engaged in polydrug use, illegal activities and experienced blackouts.
  • 9.1% of students reported misusing pain medication.
  • 9.4% of students misused sedatives.
  • 15.9% reported misusing stimulants.
  • Roughly 16% of students said it is somewhat easy or very easy to obtain pain medication for non-medical use.
  • The most common reasons students reported misusing pain medication were to get high.

Are There Substance Use Treatment Resources on College Campuses?

Rehabilitation resources for college students are much the same as for anyone else. However, most college and university campuses provide health services. These services usually offer counseling and support options to help struggling students. The extent of the services depends on the college campus. Still, some programs include family and individual counseling and even access to substance use treatment referrals.

Most health services programs within colleges know of substance use treatment services. Also, most schools have policies that permit students to take a leave of absence to manage mental health problems or problems with addiction. There is a common misconception that you can no longer graduate if you leave college for drug rehab. This is false because if you express interest in getting help, the college will provide the resources to help you.

When recovery programs are unavailable on college campuses, students in recovery are often referred to as off-campus resources. College Recovery Programs, for example, are a haven for students to further their education within an alternative social environment that supports recovery. Also, there is the Association of Recovery in Higher Education, a network of colleges and universities with a shared mission of helping students in recovery.

When Should You Consider Drug Rehab While Attending College?

Most students struggle with getting help because they fear being kicked out of school. However, recovery programs that help students with alcohol and drug problems are more welcome to help students overcome social barriers that prevent them from earning degrees. When you feel your substance use prevents you from succeeding in school, this is a clear indicator of seeking help.

Problems with addiction are standard but are treatable with the right resources. When deciding on treatment, it is essential to speak with health services at the college or university you are attending. Most health services provide programs to help students who are struggling. Also, these services can refer students to the proper drug rehab resources they need.

Available Resources for Treatment & Maintaining Sobriety While at College

Accessing the support services available on campus is a great place to start for anyone looking for support. Formal inpatient or outpatient drug rehabilitation is best for anyone experiencing severe substance use issues, and college counseling and peer support services can help connect individuals with these services. These internal services can be highly beneficial, especially if a student is unwilling to attend inpatient or outpatient drug rehab or their substance use doesn’t warrant such services.

There are also plenty of Non-Federal Resources available for college and university students:

  • The Association of Recovery in Higher Education represents collegiate recovery programs and communities.
  • The Coalition of Higher Education Associations for Substance Abuse Prevention seeks to eradicate the abuse of alcohol, tobacco, legal and illegal drugs, and other substances among college students.
  • The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Drug Misuse Prevention and Recovery provides colleges and universities with tools and resources to launch alcohol and drug misuse prevention and recovery programs on their campuses.
  • The National Collegiate Athletic Association collaborates with athletics stakeholders and campus substance abuse prevention experts. The purpose is to reduce substance abuse and to promote healthy choices, fair competition, and a positive environment for college athletes.

The Drug Rehabilitation Process for College-Age Students

Drug rehabilitation for college students is no different than for anyone else, besides the recovery programs and sober living options for students. However, the first step is detox, which allows the drugs to leave a person’s system before entering treatment. Typically, the extent and severity of addiction determine what detox method is required.

The standard detox options include medically supervised detox and conventional detox programs. For example, alcohol withdrawal could be severe, along with Adderall withdrawal. A withdrawal involving benzodiazepines would require a medically supervised process to control withdrawal symptoms. Following detox, the next step involves attending an inpatient or outpatient treatment program.

Most college students follow through with behavioral therapy, and counselors help college students learn how to cope with drug cravings, stress, and difficulties that can trigger drug use. Some college students need to attend formal residential treatment because of the severity of the addiction. However, outpatient programs are also effective because the student would still manage school while attending treatment. The most common option is a college recovery program, which provides a place for students in recovery to get addiction counseling.

Maintaining Sobriety and Recovery During College

After completing substance use treatment, the next challenge is maintaining sobriety while at college. Some college recovery programs have behavioral and sobriety contracts, which is a way of fostering group cohesion as well as promoting personal recovery. For example, the contract would require the student to attend 12-step meetings, avoid high-risk environments, avoid gambling, and maintain student responsibilities.

Recovery housing is also an option for students; some universities and colleges offer this. Sober dorms are only one part of the equation, and recovering addicts may also need additional peer support from campus-sponsored activities. Additional support may also include 12-step meetings and support groups.

What's Next?

After completing a rehab that specializes in helping college students, the next step involves aftercare support. This is especially critical for college students in recovery as they will likely continue their academic progress. Most colleges offer recovery support meetings or access to outpatient services. Other options may include sober living homes or sober coaching, which is done online. The recovery process takes time, but it is not impossible to achieve lifelong sobriety.

Contributors to this Article

Marcel Gemme has been helping people struggling with addiction for over 19 years. He first started as an intake counselor for a drug rehabilitation center in 2000. During his 5 years as an intake counselor, he helped many addicts get the treatment they needed. He also dealt with the families and friends of those people; he saw first-hand how much strain addiction puts on a family and how it can tear relationships apart. With drug and alcohol problems constantly on the rise in the United States and Canada, he decided to use the Internet as a way to educate and help many more people in both those countries. This was 15 years ago. Since then, Marcel has built two of the largest websites in the U.S. and Canada which reach and help millions of people each year. He is an author and a leader in the field of drug and alcohol addiction. His main focus is threefold: education, prevention and rehabilitation. To this day, he still strives to be at the forefront of technology in order to help more and more people. He is a Licensed Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist graduate with Honours of Stratford Career Institute. Marcel has also received a certificate from Harvard for completing a course entitled The Opioid Crisis in America and a certificate from The University of Adelaide for completing a course entitled AddictionX: Managing Addiction: A Framework for Succesful Treatment.

Michael Leach

Medical Reviewer

Michael Leach is a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant, who has over 5 years of experience working in the field of addiction. He spent his career working under the board-certified Addictionologist Dr. Rohit Adi. His experience includes working with families during their loved one’s stay in treatment, helping those with substance abuse issues find treatment, and teaching life skills to patients in a recovery atmosphere. Though he has worked in many different areas of rehabilitation, the majority of his time was spent working one on one with patients who were actively withdrawing from drugs. Withdrawal and the fear of going through it is one biggest reason why an addict continues to use and can be the most difficult part of the rehabilitation process. His experience in the withdrawal atmosphere has taught him that regardless of what approach a person takes to get off drugs, there are always mental and emotional obstacles that need to be overcome. He believes having someone there to help a person through these obstacles can make all the difference during the withdrawal process.

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Calls to the website’s main number are answered by best treatment center LLC and Intervention, a call center that specializes in helping individuals and families find resources for substance use disorders.