College is meant to be a period for growth and experimentation. Unfortunately, all too often the experimentation that people do in college involves drugs and alcohol. While many people might shrug off the idea of college substance abuse, the fact is that substance abuse in college often goes far beyond harmless fun. College students comprise one of the largest groups of alcohol and drug abusers in the United States. Young people who develop substance use disorders in college are likely to suffer severe consequences.
Why do so many young people turn to drugs and alcohol in college? For many, it is simply an expectation. Depictions of college life in movies and television invariably paint a picture of wild parties and reckless behavior. Some colleges have reputations as “party schools,” and countless young people arrive with the understanding that college is about drugs and alcohol far more than it is about academics and classwork.
College is also a period of time characterized by a great deal of stress and anxiety. For young people leaving high school, college often represents the first time in their lives that they have lived away from home. Lacking access to their former social support system, they may feel lonely and have a strong desire to fit in. With intense academic pressure stacked on top of these social pressures, it is no surprise that many seek short-term relief in the form of drugs and alcohol.
Many young people are under the misconception that they are “too young” to have a drinking or drug problem. They may believe that as soon as college is over, they will curb their excesses and start living healthily. All too often, however, they may find that the consequences become severe well before that. Countless college students drop out of school, suffer severe physical or mental health problems, or even overdose as a result of their continued substance abuse. No one is too young for addiction. On the contrary: young people’s developing brains are actually at a higher risk for developing a substance use disorder.
College and Drug Abuse
Although many colleges are perhaps more infamous for high levels of alcohol abuse, drugs are frequently abused on college campuses. There are many reasons why college students turn to drugs. Drugs may offer a perceived escape from the social pressures, anxieties, and stress associated with college life. Taking drugs might also seem like a way of fitting in. However, it is also becoming increasingly common for college students to take so-called “study drugs.”
Signs that a college student may be engaging in drug abuse include:
- Lowered grades and academic performance
- Loss of interest in extracurricular activities
- Lack of class attendance
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Weight fluctuations
- Change of social circles
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Sudden mood swings
- Behavior or personality changes
- Increased secretiveness
Facts and Statistics on College Drug Abuse
Drug abuse on college campuses is nothing new. Ever since the 1970s, the rate of binge drinking and drug abuse on college campuses has not gone down. In fact, college students represent the largest population of individuals abusing drugs and alcohol in the country.
While the rate of drug abuse on college campuses has not shifted in decades, the nature of this drug abuse has undergone many changes. The type of drug use that occurs among today’s college students is very different from the type of drug abuse that people engaged in during the 1970s.
Part of this is due to trends and fads that have emerged around certain drugs. However, research also indicates that certain drugs go through cycles. When parents and college administrators become concerned over a particular substance, they tend to crack down on it. This makes it more difficult for college students to abuse this particular drug, and as a result, different drugs become popular.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, college students engage in a wide range of drug abuse-related activities. Their most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health has uncovered several disturbing trends among college students.
- Roughly 5.5% of college students abuse or misuse pain pills
- Approximately 1.9 million college-age students abuse or misuse opioids
- 39% of college students report abusing illegal drugs
- 20% of college-age students smoke cigarettes
- Over 6 million college-age students meet the criteria for a substance use disorder
What Drugs are College Students Abusing?
College students abuse drugs for many reasons. As such, it stands to reason that they also abuse a variety of drugs for different purposes. Many college students abuse prescription stimulants like Adderall because of the way these drugs are perceived to improve their academic performance. Nicotine and marijuana are common stress-relievers. Meanwhile, alcohol, opioids, benzodiazepines, and other substances are often abused for recreational purposes. It is important to note that many college students abuse multiple substances simultaneously, which can significantly increase the dangers.
Prescription Stimulants and “Study Drugs”
“Study drugs” is a term that broadly refers to drugs that are perceived to offer a boost to academic performance. The vast majority of these drugs are prescription stimulants. Prescription stimulants provide temporary increases in energy, concentration, and stamina. These drugs are legal for individuals who possess prescriptions. They are generally prescribed to treat the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, many college students sell their prescriptions to other students on campus.
Commonly abused prescription stimulants include Concerta, Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse.
Marijuana is the most widely abused illicit drug in the United States. It is also the most widely abused drug on college campuses. College students often consume cannabis by smoking it or eating it in the form of edibles, though vaping marijuana is becoming increasingly popular. Cannabis offers college students a relaxing high, and highly potent strains of cannabis can even have mildly hallucinogenic aspects.
Marijuana is widely perceived by young people as harmless and non-addictive, and as a result, marijuana abuse has soared in recent years. Surveys indicate that roughly 43% of college students have consumed marijuana in 2018. This rate of marijuana abuse represents a 7% increase over the last 5 years. 1 in 20 college students uses marijuana on a daily or nearly daily basis.
While marijuana is certainly not as immediately dangerous as many illicit drugs, regular marijuana abuse can cause significant mental health problems. Students who abuse marijuana have higher rates of depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. It can also deplete motivation and cause students to miss classes, do poorly on assignments, or even drop out of school entirely. Marijuana may not be as physically addictive as many illicit substances, but young people are nonetheless at an increased risk of developing a marijuana use disorder.
Cocaine is regularly used on college campuses as a party drug. This drug provides a very short-lived euphoric high, increasing energy, talkativeness, and focus. College students can take cocaine by injecting it, smoking it in the form of crack cocaine, or snorting it. Cocaine abuse rapidly leads to addiction, and it also does not take long for it to cause severe physical and mental health problems. College students can easily overdose on cocaine, especially when it is mixed with alcohol or other drugs.
Approximately 616,000 college-age students use cocaine for the first time in 2018. In that year alone, roughly 2 million college students used cocaine or crack cocaine regularly. Perhaps most concerningly of all, roughly 212,000 young adults in college met the conditions for a cocaine use disorder.
MDMA is another party drug. Often known as molly or ecstasy, MDMA has effects that are similar to both stimulants and hallucinogens. Individuals who take ecstasy pills or tablets release extra serotonin in their brains. As a result, they experience boosts of happiness, affability, excitement, and even emotional sensitivity. Ecstasy was originally popular in raves and nightclubs, but today it is regularly abused by college students.
While ecstasy may make college students feel temporarily euphoric, over time this drug tends to deplete happiness levels. The withdrawal effects from ecstasy often last as long as a week, and they are characterized by depleted serotonin levels. In other words, college students exchange a few hours of euphoria for multiple days of depression, low energy, and isolation. This dangerous party drug can cause mental health problems, addiction, and even overdose.
It should be noted that ecstasy pills rarely contain MDMA alone. In many cases, they contain traces of many other drugs, including amphetamine. Mixing MDMA with other drugs is almost inevitable, and it dramatically increases the likelihood of overdose.
Benzodiazepines are a type of drug that is often prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, panic attacks, and insomnia. However, many young prescription holders sell their pills to college students who are looking to use them to get high. Xanax, a commonly abused type of benzodiazepine, provides would-be abusers with a sense of calm sedation. The drug is often abused to relieve stress or anxiety. It can even have disinhibiting effects like alcohol, which often results in risk-taking behavior. However, regular benzodiazepine abuse is extremely addictive. Withdrawing from benzodiazepines without outside help is not only painful and difficult, but it can also even potentially be fatal.
College Students and Alcohol Abuse
College culture is widely associated with alcohol abuse. In fact, it is often the first thing people think of when the subject of college comes up. However, alcohol abuse among college students is no joke. Excessive drinking in college can have serious impacts on the lives of students — as well as their family members and loved ones.
Drinking in college tends to affect academic performance first. During a hangover, college students are likely to ditch class or sleep in instead of studying. 1 in every 4 college students reports suffering from academic consequences as a direct result of their drinking. Over time, as grades decline, many students end up dropping out of college entirely. This can have a dramatic impact on their future career plans.
College drinking is also likely to result in severe injuries. Every year, approximately 1,825 college students die from alcohol-related injuries. These unintentional injuries range from falls to motor vehicle crashes. Young people already are more likely to be impulsive than older people, but alcohol abuse can significantly increase the likelihood of engaging in risk-taking behaviors like drunk driving.
In recent years, many incidents of college sexual assault have made the news. Alcohol abuse dramatically increases the likelihood of such events. Researchers estimate that each year 97,000 students experience alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape. Alcohol abuse not only makes victims less capable of defending themselves but also often makes perpetrators more aggressive. In many cases, college students intoxicated on alcohol simply become more violent in general: 696,000 alcohol-fueled violent assaults occur each year.
Many young people are aware that alcohol is addictive, but they believe that they are simply “too young” to develop an alcohol addiction. Because college alcohol abuse is so widely accepted, it is seen as normal and therefore harmless. However, researchers estimate that roughly 9% of college students meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder. Left untreated, these alcohol addictions don’t simply go away after college. In fact, they often get worse.
College and Binge Drinking
Binge drinking is by far the most dangerous way of drinking alcohol. Binge drinking is an activity during which people try to drink as much as possible in a short span of time. The technical definition of a binge drinking session varies from gender to gender. For women, who tend to have a lower tolerance, binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks within two hours. For men, binge drinking involves having five or more drinks in two hours. College students often consume far more than four or five drinks in two hours.
Among teenagers and college students, binge drinking is the most common method of abusing alcohol. In fact, most college students binge drink exclusively. It is common at parties, sporting events, and fraternity and sorority events. Many students believe that binge drinking is safe, especially students who study hard during the week and binge drink on the weekends. However, it is actually the most dangerous and damaging way of consuming alcohol. College students who binge drink have the highest chances of getting injured in a car crash, getting involved in an assault, or experiencing severe health consequences, like liver problems or alcohol use disorder.
College Students and Mental Health
College is often a period during which students experience a great deal of stress and anxiety. Academic pressure and social pressure are both common sources of emotional turmoil. Since students are often leaving home to attend college, they often have reduced access to their social support systems. In a new and difficult environment, many students develop mental health disorders. These can include major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and eating disorders.
Depression, which clinicians refer to as major depressive disorder, is one of the most common mental health conditions in the United States. Depression often makes the news, especially when celebrities take their own lives. Over 17 million adults in the United States suffer from clinical depression. College students make up a significant portion of this 17 million, with over 4.6 million college-age adults experiencing an episode of major depression each year.
Depression is not the same as simple sadness. Sadness is a mood that is normal and even healthy to experience. Depression, however, makes it difficult if not impossible to function. During an episode of major depression, college students can find it overwhelming to engage in even the most basic daily activities. As a result, they may find themselves unable to attend class regularly, study, or even take care of their own basic health needs. Depression can reduce interest or even pleasure from normally enjoyable activities. College students with depression not only do worse academically, they often stop engaging in their hobbies and isolate themselves from friends and loved ones.
Depression can be life-threatening. Left untreated, it often gets progressively worse. Individuals with severe depression often engage in suicidal ideation. This can cause college students to try to take their own lives. If you or your college-aged loved one suffers from depression, it is crucial to get help as soon as possible.
Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental health disorder in the United States. Approximately 40 million adults in the country have some type of anxiety disorder. On college campuses, most students have an anxiety disorder. As a result of the extreme social and academic pressures on college campuses, 60% of students reportedly feel anxiety that is often overwhelming. Anxiety disorders cause many debilitating symptoms, including difficulty sleeping, racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, and even panic attacks. For college students suffering from an anxiety disorder, there are many remedies — you don’t have to manage your anxiety alone.
Eating disorders are extremely dangerous. In fact, research indicates that eating disorders cause one death every hour in the United States. When a person suffers from an eating disorder, they often have unrealistic ideas about what they look like — or what they should look like. They are unable to control their eating habits, which can result in extreme and debilitating physical and mental health issues. Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorders. These often-fatal mental health disorders are often poorly understood. They affect all races, ages, sizes, and genders — and many college students.
Mental Health Disorders and Addiction
Research indicates that roughly 50% of people with a mental health disorder suffer from a substance use disorder as well. It works both ways as well: half of all people with addictions also meet the criteria for one or more mental health conditions. On college campuses, where both mental health problems and addictions are common, students are likely to suffer from comorbid conditions. Students who suffer from both mental health problems and addictions are known as dual diagnosis.
Dual diagnosis college students often find themselves in a vicious cycle. Many are driven to abuse alcohol and drugs because these substances offer temporary relief from the symptoms of their mental health conditions. While drugs and alcohol may help people feel calm or happy in the short term, over the long term they tend to exacerbate these very same symptoms. College students who abuse drugs and alcohol often find their mental health slipping further — which can drive them to abuse drugs and alcohol even more. For this reason, it is absolutely critical that any college student with a mental health disorder or substance addiction get help as soon as possible.
Preventing Substance Abuse Among College Students
Students often spend years preparing for college. Few students have plans for dealing with the high quantities of alcohol and drugs on college campuses, however. Planning ahead and taking steps to prevent addictions from developing is often a good idea.
Universities are increasingly offering substance abuse prevention programs for college students. These programs aim to reduce the risk of students developing addictions. How do they go about reducing the risk? Ultimately, there is no sure-fire way of stopping a person from abusing drugs or alcohol. However, substance abuse prevention programs can decrease the likelihood by helping students develop healthier coping tools for maintaining their mental health despite the challenges they face in college. They also encourage students to get involved in campus activities and form friendships on campus.
Treatment Options for College Students Struggling with Substance Abuse
When the symptoms of a drug or alcohol addiction become apparent, it is important to act right away. Left untreated, substance use disorders tend to become progressively worse. Even if a college student’s addiction has not had serious consequences yet, and even if “everyone else is doing it,” it is crucial to get help.
College campuses offer many resources for students with addictions. Campus health center physicians are generally available throughout the week for consultations. These campus doctors can often provide immediate assistance, and they can help connect students to a wider range of resources for addiction recovery. These other resources may include on-campus mental health counseling, college addiction support groups, and even sober dorms. In many cases, however, college counselors will advise students to enroll in a clinical addiction treatment program.
If you or your college-aged loved one is struggling with an addiction, rehab is often the best course of action. Clinical addiction programs can help college students get sober. More importantly, they can help college students develop the coping skills and support system that they need to stay sober. Rehabs and clinical outpatient programs for addiction, like NuView Treatment Center, are sensitive to the needs of college students and recognize that college life comes with its own set of unique challenges. To that end, rehabs for addiction not only help students stay sober but also work to ensure that students thrive and prosper in college during their sobriety.
89% of people with substance use disorders do not seek treatment. College-age young people are even less likely to ask for help. Often this is because addictions are perceived as non-serious — or because college substance abuse is considered “normal.” Young people sometimes worry that asking for help will make them weak, or that it is a form of giving up. The reality, however, is that substance use disorders are serious mental health conditions. By definition, they cannot be managed using individual willpower — because by their very nature they impair a person’s self-control. Asking for help and enrolling in an addiction treatment program, however, can offer college students the freedom and strength they seek.
Addiction Treatment at NuView Treatment Center
Outpatient rehabs are often recommended for college students because outpatient programs are highly flexible. Outpatient rehabs do not require clients to live in their rehab. Instead, clients attend treatment services once or several times a week, depending on their addiction’s severity. During that time, clients engage in a wide range of therapies for addiction, learn new coping skills, and address any underlying issues that may be behind their substance use disorder.
NuView Treatment Center is an outpatient rehab located in West Los Angeles, right near UCLA. Our outpatient rehab offers modern facilities, highly trained staff, and the latest evidence-based treatment modalities. At NuView Treatment Center, college students can develop the behaviors and tools they need to stay drug and alcohol-free and succeed in college both socially and academically.
No matter what drug a student is addicted to or how severe their addiction is, treatment can help. NuView Treatment Center offers multiple levels of care for different addiction severities. Our programs include:
- Partial hospitalization programs
- Intensive outpatient programs
- Outpatient programs
- And aftercare planning services
Our staff members develop individualized treatment plans for every client. These plans incorporate a wide range of therapies, from cognitive behavioral therapy and group therapy to medication-assisted treatment. For college students with comorbid mental health conditions, we also offer integrated treatment services so that students can get relief from their emotional distress while they recover from addiction. Our approach is never one-size-fits-all. Our staff members take a compassionate and person-centered approach to addiction treatment.
If you are ready to get the support you need to recover from addiction and succeed in college, contact us today.