Information on College & University Student Substance Abuse Treatment

Created On Friday, 09, August 2019
Modified On Friday, 01, October 2021


College and University students across America face relentless amounts of 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 are unable to achieve their academic goals because of this. For tens of thousands of students every year, unforgiving expectations placed on them by parents, teachers, and other students leads to problems with drugs and alcohol. Students are often pulled in different directions, whether to study, party, travel, plan for the future, or enjoy college years. It is sometimes described as the perfect storm, and students are often struggling with increased anxiety and depression.

Unfortunately, alcohol flows quite freely on college campuses, and drugs are abused recreationally, whether legal or illegal. There are countless reasons why students begin to abuse drugs or alcohol. Typically, it could involve peer pressure, managing stress, or an effort to boost academic performance. Some students struggle with the pressure, and it becomes too much to manage. Expectations and peer pressure become too much. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, daily or near-daily marijuana use among non-college young adults has continued to rise. As a result, daily or near-daily marijuana use is now nearly three times as high among non-college young adults as among college students. Also, alcohol use in college students is higher than in non-college students.

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According to the 2019 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. However, the annual prevalence of the non-medical use of prescription opioids continued to trend downward. College students reported a significant five-year decline to 2.7% in 2018 from 5.4% in 2013. Per the same survey, there are interesting gender differences in the non-medical use of Adderall. 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. However, binge drinking has been on the decline, dropping to below 30% for the first time in 2018.

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Rehabilitation resources for college students are much of 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 students that are struggling. The extent of the services depends on the college campus, but 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 in place that permit students from taking a leave of absence to manage mental health problems or problems with addiction. There is a common misconception that if you leave college for drug rehab, you can no longer graduate. This is not true because if you express interest in getting help, the college will provide the resources to help you.

When Rehabilitation the Best Option for College or University Students?

Many of the issues with substance abuse and addiction begin with social media and the pressure of attempting to compare yourself to other people. Social media only shows the highlights of life and creates uncertainty among students leading to students becoming overwhelmed, insecure, and isolated. Also, there is pressure from parents and wanting to succeed, or pressure with meeting deadlines and doing well on tests and projects. All of this leads to increased stress and students struggling with their mental well-being. According to a report titled A Day in the Life of College Students Aged 18 to 22, on an average day, over 2,000 full-time college students drank alcohol for the first time, and over 1,300 students used an illicit drug for the first time.

On an average day in the United States, there are nine million students, and 1.2 million had consumed alcohol over 700,000 had used marijuana. At the time of this report, alcohol, marijuana, hallucinogens, pain medication, cocaine, stimulants, inhalants, methamphetamine, and heroin were used among college students. Problems with addiction are common but are treatable with the right resources. When deciding on treatment, it is important 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 treatment resources they need.

Most students struggle with the idea of getting help during school because they are afraid of 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. Today, there is a growing consensus among addiction experts that these programs are needed. According to a 2016 report titled a Collegiate Recovery Programs: A Win-Win Proposition for Students and Colleges, the exact number of college students who are in recovery is not known. The report states. “the college social environment can pose significant challenges for students in recovery, especially settings where drinking and drug use define the social environment.”

When recovery programs are not available on college campuses, students in recovery are often referred to as off-campus resources. College Recovery Programs, for example, are a safe 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, which is a network of colleges and universities that have a shared mission of supporting students in recovery. There are many benefits to college recovery programs, such as having a higher graduation rate. Also, there are higher GPAs and relapse rates of around four to eight percent.

How Do Drug Rehabilitation Programs for College Students Operate?

Drug rehabilitation for college students is no different than for anyone else, besides the recovery programs sober living options for students. However, the first step is detox, and this process allows the drugs to leave a person’s system before entering treatment. Typically, the extent and severity of addiction determine what method of detox is required. The common 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 withdrawal process to control withdrawal symptoms. Following detox, the next step involves attending an inpatient or outpatient treatment program. Typically, colleges or universities work with students who are struggling and ensure they get the time off and help they need.

Most college students follow through with behavioral therapy, and counselors help college students learn how to cope with drug cravings as well as 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. However, the most common option is a college recovery program, which provides a place for students in recovery to get addiction counseling.

When a college student has completed a drug or alcohol treatment program, the next challenge is maintaining sobriety while being 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, and some universities and colleges offer this. Sober dorms is only one part of the equation, and recovering addicts may also need additional peer support that comes from sponsored activities on campus. Additional support may also include 12-step meetings and support groups.

How do College Students Maintain Sobriety and Are There Alternatives to Treatment?

Alternatives to formal inpatient or outpatient drug rehabilitation would involve the counseling and peer support services provided by the college. Internal services are beneficial, especially if a student is unwilling to attend inpatient or outpatient drug rehab. However, it is essential to manage the addiction and not allow it to destroy your opportunities at college. There are circumstances where some college students do not speak up, and the problem quickly spirals out of control. According to a report titled Substance use Among College Students, it says— “Substance use is a significant problem among college students and is associated with a host of consequences, including increases risk of mortality.”

There are specific demographics of college students who are more at risk of the problems of addiction. For example, this includes athletes, students associated with Greek organizations, sexual minorities, those who suffer from depression and or anxiety, and white men. According to the report mentioned above, approximately 26% of men and 19.2% of women in college report current illicit drug use. Also, alcohol use continues to be of significant concern, and approximately 79% of students drink alcohol. Maintaining sobriety is not easy, and it requires remaining connected to a sober group or a college recovery program. Research has estimated that around 10 to 20% of college students drink alcohol at levels twice that of the heavy drinking threshold. Also, upwards of 31% of college students in American meet the criteria for alcohol abuse.

College and university students have access to many non-federal resources to help them during recovery. There is the Association of Recovery in Higher Education, which 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. There is also the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Drug Misuse Prevention and Recovery, which 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 works in collaboration 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.

Substance Abuse Trends Among College Students

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. Also, about 2.7% of college students are misusing prescription drugs, which includes 11.1% of students misusing Adderall. Approximately 28% of college students are binge drinking, which increases the risk of other drug 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 a 2018 Prescription Drug Study, approximately 9.1% of students reported misusing pain medication, 9.4% misused sedatives, and 15.9% reported 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. Most students who misuse prescription drugs say they typically obtain them from friends. The most common reason students misuse pain medication were to get high and relieve pain. Sedatives were commonly misused to get to sleep and relieve anxiety, while stimulants were misused to improve grades. Pain medication abusers were experiencing depression, sedative users experienced memory loss, and stimulant users experienced problems with their academics. Unfortunately, 56% of students were aware of resources either on campus or off that help with prescription drug safety, while 79% of students knew where to go to get help if they were worried or concerned about misuse.

Common Definitions Surrounding Substance Use Treatment for College and University Students

Term Definition
College Recovery Programs these programs across the country provide support and resources to help students in recovery balance their sobriety and education while still having an authentic college experience.
Amphetamines these chemicals are central nervous system stimulants marketed under different brand names. Stimulant drugs speed up the messages traveling between the brain and the body.
Synthetic Marijuana designer drugs commonly sprayed onto plant matter and are usually smoked. They are a class of molecules that bind to the same receptors to which cannabinoids in cannabis plants attach.
Binge Drinking is heavy episodic drinking with the intention of becoming intoxicated with heavy consumption quickly.
Club Drugs also referred to as rave drugs or party drugs, are a group of psychoactive drugs that include MDMA, GHB, and others.
Study Drugs are stimulant drugs that increase alertness, energy, heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure for a short time. Study drugs do not increase the ability to learn and are addictive drugs that include Adderall and Dexedrine.
Student Health Center almost every college campus has a student health center available to students who have questions or desire assistance with addiction or other issues.
Residential Life Center most campuses have a center that focusses on all aspects of housing for students, which includes problems that might come along with drugs or alcohol.
DXM dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant in over the counter cold and cough medicine, and is a commonly abused psychoactive drug among college students.
Co-Occurring Disorders are issues that involve substance abuse and mental health, such as depression, anxiety, and addiction. Rehabilitation centers offer treatment for co-occurring disorders.


Marcel Gemme, DATS - Author

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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, CCMA - Medically Reviewed on October 1, 2021

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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.