For decades, drinking at college has been considered a right of passage. Many young people who had only minimal exposure to alcohol suddenly find themselves immersed in a college atmosphere where partying and substance use is common.
Alcohol continues to be the most commonly used substance among this age group, with marijuana, ecstasy, prescription pills and cocaine also gaining popularity on college campuses. Substance use can develop into addiction, which, if untreated, can have a devastating effect on a student’s academic development and life.
Facts about substance use in college
While not all substance use results in addiction, excessive and habitual use places students at risk for developing a substance use disorder. Here are some important facts about college-aged adults and substance use:
- One-third of college students engage in binge drinking in a given month. Binge drinking is higher for members of fraternities or sororities. Each year, approximately 30,000 college students in the U.S. are treated for alcohol poisoning as a result of binge drinking.
- About 10% of college students report using Adderall without a prescription. Adderall is a stimulant drug that is used for treating individuals with ADHD or narcolepsy. Students misuse Adderall as a study tool, as the stimulant effects increase their focus, stamina and reduce the need for sleep.
- 9% of college students met the criteria for an alcohol use disorder in 2019. Approximately 110,000 students ages 18-24 are arrested for alcohol-related violations each year, including drunk driving, assault or public intoxication.
- Cannabis, or marijuana, continues to be the most commonly used drug on college campuses. THC, the psychoactive agent found in marijuana, is ingested in various ways, including smoking marijuana cigarettes, vaping liquid products containing THC and consuming edibles.
- Drugs are easily accessible on college campuses, making it easy for students to experiment with substances. Now, with the dangerous drug fentanyl infiltrating much of today’s drug supply, there is an increased risk for overdose.
Why do college students engage in substance use?
Most young adults get their first real experience of adult freedom when they go off to college, where substance use is ubiquitous. While not all students will engage in the campus party scene, most will be curious enough to at least check it out.
Here are some reasons why young adults at college might be open to experimenting with drugs and alcohol:
- Peer pressure: Teens aren’t the only ones vulnerable to peer pressure. In college, students feel the pressure to fit in and be accepted, and many times that involves partaking in substance use. Joining a fraternity or sorority only increases the expectation that the student will engage in substance use.
- Stress: Young college students may struggle under the burden of heavy course loads and turn to substances as a way to cope with the stress.
- Self-medicating: If the student is experiencing a mental health issue, such as depression, insomnia or anxiety, they may use substances to self-medicate.
Signs of addiction in college students
If parents, friends or siblings recognize these early warning signs in a loved one who is engaged in substance use, they may be able to help them seek treatment. Common warning signs include:
- Skipping classes
- Affected grades
- Money problems
- Neglecting hygiene or personal appearance
- Withdrawing socially, avoiding contact with parents
- Seems unmotivated, loss of interest in school
- Seems depressed or anxious
- Exhibits withdrawal symptoms
If you are a college student, or have a college-aged loved one, and are witnessing the signs of addiction, please take the first step toward reclaiming health and wellness. Reach out today for support.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call 866-313-6307.