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Substance Abuse in College Students

For decades, college has been synonymous with the experimentation of drugs and alcohol. College-aged students are often experiencing their first taste of freedom and adulthood when they start college, especially when they are living on campus. They no longer have parental supervision, they are living amongst their peers, and they are beginning to dictate their own daily schedules and habits. This is one of the primary reasons why substance abuse in college students is so common.

While this is an exciting time in one’s life, it is also a vulnerable time as many changes are occurring simultaneously, and areas of the brain that control decision-making and self-control are still developing. These factors contribute to college students’ susceptibility to engage in drug and alcohol experimentation, but they are not the only factors by far. 

Common Causes for Substance Abuse in College Students

College-aged students face a unique set of challenges while earning their degrees that may compromise their ability to abstain from substance abuse. There are numerous factors that lead to substance abuse in college students, including the following:

  • Peer pressure – College-aged students want to be accepted by their peers and are often willing to do a number of things to gain that acceptance, including drinking and using drugs. This is most evident at college parties where seemingly everyone is drinking or using drugs. These parties do not occur every once in a while, rather they typically happen on a weekly basis, increasing the number of times students engage in substance use. This increases the risk of addiction among college students.
  • Curiosity – Now that they are in college, many students are curious to try alcohol and drugs if they haven’t already. This is an expected curiosity, however, it is a dangerous one. Being curious about drug and alcohol abuse signifies several things, including a lack of knowledge about drugs and alcohol and what they can do to a person. Experimenting with drugs and alcohol can also lead to poly-substance abuse in college students and even accidental overdose.
  • Stress – College is an experience unlike any other. It is vastly different from high school, especially because the work that students do at college is done in an effort to build a lifelong career. This means that there is more pressure than ever before to do well with assignments, projects, and tests. This educational strain may be too much for many college-aged students to bear, often causing them to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with the pressure. If using drugs and alcohol to manage school-related stress becomes habitual, then more serious problems may develop later down the line.

Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol are readily available almost anywhere a person goes, including college campuses. Therefore, drug abuse in college is common. And, alcohol is no longer the primary substance of choice, rather there are several other dangerous substances that college students are regularly abusing. 

Commonly Abused Substances Among College-Aged Students 

  • Alcohol – Alcohol is easily the most commonly abused substance among college students, as it is readily available and affordable. The greatest area of concern regarding alcohol abuse among college students, however, lies in a specific type of alcoholic drinking called binge drinking. Binge drinking occurs when men consume 5 drinks or women consume 4 drinks within a two-hour span of time.
  • Marijuana – 42.5% of college students report using marijuana. With marijuana being legalized in countless parts of the country, this drug is now more accessible than ever before. The fear of being caught with marijuana is also eliminated in most places, as it is legal to have certain amounts in one’s possession. These factors make marijuana abuse highly popular among college students. 
  • Prescription drugs – College students are no different than the rest of the population when it comes to accessibility to prescription drugs. These drugs, such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax, Adderall, and Ambien are so highly addictive that it only takes a short period of time to get hooked on them. Prescription drugs continue to be loosely prescribed despite the surge of addiction and overdoses in the United States. This makes them accessible through personal prescription or stealing from someone else. Continual consumption of prescription drugs can have fatal consequences.

These are certainly not the only substances that are abused on campuses, however, they are the most widely used by this population. 

college students studying in library

Signs of Substance Abuse Among College Students 

Approximately 60% of college students drink alcohol while another 37% use drugs. Drug and alcohol use is unfortunately very common in this environment, which is why deciphering which students are struggling with a substance abuse problem can be difficult. However, if aware of exactly what to look for, being able to pinpoint problematic use is much simpler. 

There are several signs of substance abuse in college students, many of which include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Poor academic behavior – Grades begin to drop, interest in attending class diminishes, and little (if any) effort is put towards academic responsibilities like tests and assignments
  • Changes in social circles – Beginning to make friends with new groups of people who are heavily interested in drinking and using drugs while neglecting previous groups of friends
  • Disrupted sleep patterns – Sleeping excessively, sleeping during the day, and/or being unable to sleep at night 
  • Reckless behavior – Engaging in unprotected sexual activity, starting physical arguments, verbally/sexually/physically assaulting others, being a victim of sexual assault, getting in trouble on campus and/or with local police
  • Financial problems – Being unable to provide for oneself, regularly asking parents or friends for money, having outstanding debts
  • Changes in physical appearance – Bathing less, not regularly brushing teeth, wearing the same clothes more than once, and/or having problems upkeep overall physical wellbeing 

It is also common for college students with a substance abuse problem to withdraw from friends and family entirely as well as experience significant and unexplained mood swings.

Do You Need Help Ending Your Substance Abuse Problem?

When everyone around you is engaging in drinking and using drugs, it is difficult to think that your behavior is any different. However, if your substance abuse matches patterns similar to those above, chances are your use is problematic. The most important thing you can do if this is the case is to reach out for help right away.

Call us right now. We can help you get started on the road to recovery before it’s too late.

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