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 different pressures associated with college life and it becomes too much to handle, thus leading to substance use as a way of coping

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.

Addiction and College

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.

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The Pressure to Succeed in College Leads to Substance Use

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 cannot 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 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 years. It is sometimes described as the perfect storm, and students often struggle with increased anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, alcohol flows quite freely on college campuses, and drugs are abused recreationally, whether legal or illegal.

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, according to SAMHSA. At the time of this report, alcohol, marijuana, hallucinogens, pain medication, cocaine, stimulants, inhalants, methamphetamine, and heroin were used 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 significant 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% 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.

Alcohol—According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, almost 53% of full-time college students age 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 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. 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 not true because if you express interest in getting help, the college will provide the resources to help you.

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 helping students in recovery.

When Should You Consider Drug Rehab While Attending College?

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. When you feel your substance use prevents you from succeeding with school, this is a clear indicator of seeking help.

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

Available Resources for Treatment & Maintaining Sobriety While at College

Accessing the support services available on campus is great place to start for anyone looking for support. Formal inpatient or outpatient drug rehabilitation is best for anyone experiencing serious substance use issues, and college counseling and peer support services can help connect individuals with these services. These internal services can be extremely 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 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.

The Drug Rehabilitation Process for College-Age Students

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.

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. 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 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.

Additionally, recovery housing is also an option for students, and 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 sponsored activities on campus. Additional support may also include 12-step meetings and support groups.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do All Fraternities and Sororities Make Their Pledges Drink Alcohol?
What are the Dangers of Binge Drinking While in College?
How Do You Have Fun in College Without Drinking?
Can Drinking a Small Amount of Alcohol Help Me Study Better?
Will I Get in Trouble if I Talk to a Counselor About my Drinking Problem if I’m Not 21?
What Do I Do if I Feel My Fraternity or Sorority is Making me Drink Too Much?
Can An Underage Drinking Offense Affect my Ability to Get a Job?
Is There Such a Thing as a Healthy Drinking Habit?
Is It Illegal to Share my ADHD Medication with a Classmate?
What are the Long-Term Effects of Using ADHD Medication?
What Do I Do If I Know Someone is Selling Drugs on Campus?
What Do I Do If My College Friend is Hanging Out with People Who Are Known Drug Users?
Will Drinking and Using Drugs Make Me More Susceptible to STDs?
What Are the Negative Effects of Party Drugs?


Marcel Gemme, DATS

Marcel Gemme, DATS


on June 22, 2022

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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

Michael Leach, CCMA

Medically Reviewed

on June 22, 2022

More Information

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.