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Addiction Resources for College Students

Written by Megan Hull

& Medically Reviewed by Paula Holmes, LCSW

Medically Reviewed

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This article was reviewed by a medical professional to guarantee the delivery of accurate and up-to- date information. View our research policy.

Last Updated - 03/31/22

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College can be a stressful time in life, even in the best of circumstances. Fortunately, there are many resources available for college students who need support.

College is one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences in life. The college years are often when you make lifelong friends and learn more about who you are and how you want to live your life. College and stress are practically synonymous. Thankfully, there are resources for college students available to reduce stress, learn healthy coping strategies and improve quality of life.

Substance Abuse Stats in College Students

No one would be surprised to hear that college students frequently participate in substance use. The rate of substance abuse in college students in a 2016 survey showed that 9.9% of students had misused Adderall within the past year; 32.4% of college students reported binge drinking within the past two weeks and 40.8% had been intoxicated. Daily marijuana use was reported by 4.9% of college students surveyed, the highest rate since the 1980s. These substance abuse college statistics indicate the rate at which the use of various substances has increased over the years. The increase of pill abuse has been the most staggering, as 28.1% of college students report having abused prescription drugs.

Why Do College Students Abuse Drugs

There are many reasons college students may resort to drug abuse. Some of those reasons may relate to the pressures of academic life, while others are more connected with life changes and social pressures.

Some of the most common reasons college students do drugs include:

  • Peer pressure
  • Stress
  • Curiosity
  • Study aid

Drugs Commonly Abused By College Students

College students often resort to using substances that are readily available, and on many campuses that can supply can be fairly extensive. The drugs commonly used by college students depend on the purpose that the use is serving.

The use of these drugs may start out as “purposeful” and end up becoming dependence, given the addictive nature of many substances. Some substances are clearly recreational, while others, such as study aids, prescriptions and even weight loss drugs, may be viewed by students as “useful” and thus less harmful. This misinformation can lead to serious addiction and health problems. College students need to be mindful of the physiological and psychologically addictive properties of any substance.

Some of the substances most commonly used by college students include:

Cocaine – Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug that can change the structure and functioning of the brain with repeated use.

Study Aids –

Also knowns as “nootropics,” study aids are a class of stimulants that are used by college students to heighten cognitive awareness. Multiple study aids are sometimes used simultaneously, which increases the risk of physical and mental harm.

See Related: Are nootropics addictive?

Marijuana – In the United States, 11 million people between the ages of 18 and 25 used marijuana in the past year. The drug impacts brain development and cognitive functioning and can cause hallucinations and psychosis in large doses.

Ecstasy/MDMA Ecstasy or MDMA, is a stimulant drug that also produces hallucinations and intense positive and negative emotions. The drug causes extreme physical reactions and can induce seizures, brain swelling, heart and liver issues and death.

Prescription Drugs – Prescription drug use has become an epidemic. Prescription drugs such as opioids, stimulants and medications for anxiety have been abused widely on college campuses and are having devastating consequences, including addiction, overdose and death.

Alcohol Abuse In College Students

Alcohol abuse in college students is common, but this does not make it any less dangerous. The occasional use of alcohol in moderation is benign, but when occasional use turns into frequent use, the risk for addiction becomes much more significant. College life is stressful and exciting, as there are many life changes that take place. These changes, while often enlightening, can also bring a lot of stress and pressure. College students are notoriously blowing off steam and stress with alcohol.

Binge Drinking

College students trying to reduce stress and socialize will often participate in binge drinking. Binge drinking is when someone drinks four or more drinks within two hours (five or more for males). People who binge drink are not always alcohol dependent, but they are abusing alcohol. Dependency involves physiological and psychological factors, while abuse is characterized by shorter, more intense bouts of use that may or may not be accompanied by dependency. The risks of binge drinking are significant and include increased rates of car accidents, chronic health conditions and alcohol poisoning.

Greek Life & Substance Abuse

Drug abuse in Greek life is common. The initiation phases of joining fraternities and sororities often involve substance abuse. Some Greek organizations have changed their hazing practices in response to pressures from colleges who have experienced deaths related to substance abuse practices. While the use of substances as part of Greek initiation is in the spirit of fun and camaraderie, the risks of these practices can be catastrophic.

How To Recognize A Drug Or Alcohol Problem

Drug and alcohol problems often start out gradually. What may begin as casual use can quickly transform into more frequent consumption, which results in increased tolerance over time. When tolerance and frequency of use increase, the amount of substances used often also increases.

As the frequency of use and amount used increase, college students may experience a broad range of negative effects, including:

  • Poor grades
  • Skipping class
  • Lack of motivation
  • Mood swings or personality changes

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College Students & Mental Health

It is important to monitor mental health in college students. With the multiple life changes that college students face, substance abuse is only one of many struggles mental health challenges this age group faces. College students may also experience other mental health conditions and need the support of family, friends and professionals to help navigate this stressful time of life.

Some of the most common mental health conditions that college students struggle with include:

Preventing Substance Abuse In College

Preventing substance abuse in college students can be challenging. Students can benefit from being educated about the signs of substance abuse and the risks associated with the use of drugs and alcohol. College students who practice healthy coping skills will have other outlets for stress that aren’t related to alcohol or drug use. Substance abuse caused by peer group pressure may be more difficult to prevent, but if college students are aware of the ways they respond to their peers, it can be easier to identify ways to avoid putting themselves at risk.

Students in college have many treatment options available. Most campuses have on-site counseling services available to address addiction and other mental health challenges. Additional treatment options include online treatment options and support groups. Treatment centers like The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health also offer a variety of evidence-based practices to help college students who have substance abuse and mental health issues improve their quality of life.

Collegiate Recovery Communities

College campuses offer recovery support services that can help prevent the negative long-term effects of substance abuse. Finding a community of people in recovery is an important step in maintaining sobriety and accessing the needed support to do so in an environment that is well known for substance use. If you or a loved one is a college student who is struggling with substance abuse, reach out for support today.

View Sources

The National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Drug and Alcohol Use in College-Age Adults in 2016.” Last updated September 2017. Accessed July 28, 2019.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What Is Marijuana?” Revised July 2019. Accessed August 1, 2019.

Preventing Prescription Abuse In The Workplace. “Prescription Drug Misuse Among College Students.” Accessed July 29, 2019.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Fact Sheet: Binge Drinking.” Accessed July 30, 2019.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Frequently Asked Questions.” Accessed July 30, 2019.

Collegedrinkingprevention.gov. “College Drinking: Facts for Parents.” Accessed July 30, 2019.

Drugrehab.com. “A Better Path for Students in Recovery.”Accessed July 30, 2019.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “Drug Use in Adolescence.” Content last reviewed on March 29, 2019. Accessed April 2019.