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Drug and Alcohol Abuse in College Students

College student uses prohibited drugs

Published: August 15, 2023

Binge drinking and drug use are common problems that students face on college campuses. Many times it is the first time that these youths are being exposed to drugs and the ease of access to them.

College Students and Drug Use

College is supposed to be the greatest time of a student’s life. They are finally out on their own and making their own decisions. Unfortunately, those decisions aren’t always the best ones.

According to Columbia University, almost half of the full-time college students binge drink or use prescription drugs. Almost a quarter of those college students meet the medical definition of having a problem with substance abuse or dependence – that is three times the rate of the general population.

Abuse vs. Dependence

Substance abuse is defined as a pattern of drug abuse leading to significant problems or distress, while substance dependence is defined as continued use of drugs or alcohol, even when significant problems related to use have developed.

College students make up one of the largest groups of drug abusers nationwide. Young people (ages 18-24) are already at an elevated risk of addiction. Starting out in college already produces some natural social anxiety for many.

College students are often faced with the strong temptation to drink underage because they feel that alcohol makes socializing easier. Unfortunately, routinely drinking alcohol to have fun opens the door to alcohol addiction or other addictions in the future.

Here are a few reasons why college students turn to drinking or drugs:

  • Stress – Since students are facing the high demands of coursework, part-time jobs, internships, social obligations, and more, many turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with it all.
  • Course load – More than ever, students are now taking stimulants like Adderall to help them stay awake long enough to study or to complete their homework. Unfortunately, these pills are often obtained without a prescription from a doctor.
  • Curiosity – Since college students are exploring many new aspects of their lives in personal and professional ways, it is not uncommon that they may experiment with drugs or alcohol.
  • Peer pressure – College students are usually surrounded by other students experimenting with recreational and performance-enhancing drugs, and therefore are more likely to try the substances themselves.

Drugs of Choice

Of course, over time the drug of choice will change, and no drug is immune to experimentation. However, there are a few substances that have been consistently used by college students over the years:

  • Alcohol Because drinking is so socially acceptable in college, it can be hard for students to recognize that they, in fact, do have a drinking problem.
  • Adderall – This stimulant is most commonly referred to as the “study drug” and it can be pretty easy to obtain. Students often take these in order to cope with the pressure of completing all of their coursework.
  • Marijuana – Since legalizing marijuana is constantly in the news lately, more college students are turning to pot as their drug of choice and don’t feel like they are breaking the law. Abuse can easily turn into an addiction to marijuana if students become dependent.
  • Ecstasy – College students fall well within the target age range for this “party drug” commonly known as MDMA or Molly.

Alcohol Abuse in College

When someone thinks of college students, usually the image of drinking alcohol comes to mind. Whether it be at a party, a tailgate for a football game, or just hanging out with friends in the dorm, students are drinking alcohol much more than their parents would like.

Drinking excessively can lead to something as minor as a hangover, or it can lead to something as serious as death. According to NIH, about 25% of college students report academic consequences of drinking, including missed classes, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, which all can ultimately lead to lower grades. The NIH also reports that 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 to 24 die each year from alcohol-related injuries.

Consequences of Abuse

The more a student drinks or abuses drugs, the more likely they will experience negative consequences. These can include:

  • Unprotected sex – As a result of one night of excessive drinking, approximately 13% of college students reported having unprotected sex. This can lead to dangerous STDs and even unwanted pregnancies.
  • Driving under the influence – Each year, more than 3.3 million students ages 18-24 drive under the influence of alcohol. This of course leads to DUIs and can even cause the death of the offender or an innocent victim.
  • Assault – Every year 690,000 students aged 18-24 are assaulted by another student who is under the influence of alcohol.
  • Sexual Abuse – Each year, 97,000 college students are victims of alcohol-related date-rape or sexual abuse.
  • Injuries – Approximately 599,000 college students sustain alcohol-related injuries each year.

Greek Life

A popular way to socialize in college is to join a fraternity or sorority. Greek life is a great way for students to make friends and to have some fun. Although these fraternities and sororities try to create a family-like environment, drinking and drug abuse is much more prevalent than it is in students outside of the community.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Higher Education Center stated that students who are part of the Greek system are up to 26% more likely to binge drink. In addition, fraternity and sorority members are more likely than their non-Greek peers to abuse prescription drugs, including Adderall.

Alcohol and Hazing

The misuse of alcohol plays a role in the rapidly increasing rate of hazing on college campuses. Hazing can occur in, but extends beyond varsity athletics, sorority and fraternities, and includes behaviors that are abusive, dangerous, and often illegal.

According to the National Study of Student Hazing, more than half of the college students who participate in clubs, teams, or organizations are victims of hazing. Although hazing has been around for years, studies are just recently documenting its effects and severity of it.

Adderall in College

Adderall is known as the “study drug” on college campuses, even though that is oftentimes not the correct use of the pill. It is a prescription drug that is prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Unfortunately, it is widely abused by students that are not diagnosed with the disorder. In fact, one in five college students admits to using Adderall without an ADHD diagnosis, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Students without ADHD who take Adderall report a heightened sense of motivation, focus, and concentration. All of these can help when a student is pulling an all-nighter and provide an added boost before a test or presentation. The drug doesn’t make the student smarter; it simply helps them eliminate distractions and helps them stay focused and on task.

Who Can Get Adderall

Students who are looking for Adderall can easily obtain the drug from friends who have been actually diagnosed with ADHD. College students also report that it is easy to copy the symptoms of ADHD in front of a doctor, and some say doctors hand out Adderall if students express any anxiety over their ability to focus in school.

Adderall abuse has been known to cause serious problems among college students. According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 11% of people aged 12 to 25 reported using prescription drugs for non-medical reasons in the past year. In addition, full-time college students aged 18 to 22 were twice as likely to abuse Adderall as those of the same age, not in college.

Early Detection

Early detection is key when dealing with a college student’s drug or alcohol abuse problems. Since they are away from home and on campus most of the time, it may be harder to monitor the changes in their mood and behavior.

Try scheduling regular talks and visits, and maybe that will help detect any changes. If you do think your college student has an addiction problem, finding the correct treatment plan and center is key to their recovery.

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