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Substance Abuse in College Students

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Table of Contents

College is a time when young adults begin to experiment with independence and adult responsibilities. It’s also a time when many people begin to experiment with drugs, alcohol, and other substances. If you are the parent of a college-age student, this can be scary — after all, substance abuse can lead to health problems, academic issues, and personal difficulties. But understanding why so many college students use drugs or alcohol can help you recognize the risks and take steps to protect your child from substance abuse risks. Whether you have a child who is about to start college or know someone who does, it’s good to understand why so many young adults abuse alcohol or other drugs. Understanding these risks can help keep your kid safe or assist another young person if they need help recovering from substance abuse issues.

Understanding the causes of substance abuse among college students is the first step to helping young adults.

If you understand why so many young people abuse drugs or alcohol, you’ll be better able to identify at-risk students and take steps to address their needs. For example, if you know that many college students turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with depression or anxiety, you can help your child find healthier ways to manage those issues. This can help reduce the risk of your child abusing drugs or alcohol. Understanding the causes of substance abuse can also help you educate other parents and college administrators about risks. This can help create a culture in which young people feel comfortable asking for help if they need it.

Easy access to drugs and alcohol on campus

The reality is that many college students drink alcohol or use drugs. This is partly due to the fact that alcohol and other drugs are readily available in many college communities. In fact, some campuses have been called “party schools” due to the high level of substance abuse on campus. This is especially true if the campus is located near an urban area, where drugs are readily available. If your child is considering attending a party school, you may want to look at the statistics to see how the school compares to others nearby. You may also want to talk to your child about the level of substance abuse that takes place on campus. If your child wants to attend a party school, you can help set up a plan to reduce the risks. This might include setting firm rules about staying safe, getting involved in extracurricular activities, and taking advantage of resources on campus that can help students avoid substance abuse.

Peer Pressure and Group Behavior

Many experts believe that peer pressure is the biggest cause of substance abuse among college students. In many cases, the people who pressure others to drink alcohol or use drugs are not heavy users themselves. Instead, they are people who are simply trying to fit in with a group or feel more comfortable socially. As a parent, you can help your child resist such peer pressure by teaching them techniques for saying no. It may also help to warn your child that they are likely to experience some peer pressure during their time in college. Knowing this in advance can help your child to prepare for the pressure they may encounter.

Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues

Many college students suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues that may lead to substance abuse. Again, parents can help their children by setting firm expectations about healthy coping strategies. Parents can also help their children learn more about mental health issues and how to address them. This can include helping your child find a therapist or other mental health professional to talk to. And, as a parent, you can help campus administrators create a culture in which students feel comfortable seeking help for mental health issues. This may involve speaking with key administrators about your concerns and helping them create strategies for addressing mental health issues on campus. 

Drug Use as a Means of Escapism

Some people turn to drugs or alcohol as a means to escape from the stress and challenges of college life. This may include social pressures, the rigors of academic life, work and other responsibilities. Again, parents can help their children by setting clear expectations about healthy ways to cope with stress and handle responsibilities. You can also help your child to learn more about healthy ways to cope with stress. This may involve helping your child find an outlet they enjoy, such as an athletic activity or creative pursuit. It may also be helpful to encourage your child to get involved in extracurricular activities that don’t involve alcohol or drugs. These can provide a healthy distraction from stress and help your child to meet new people.

The Pressure to Experiment

Some college students turn to drugs or alcohol simply because they feel like they should experiment with them. After all, many young people start drinking alcohol or using drugs at a young age. As a result, some kids may feel like they have to experiment with these substances before they go to college or stick out as different from the rest of their friends. For this reason, parents can help their children by setting clear expectations and rules about alcohol and other drugs. Parents can also help their children to avoid feeling like they have to experiment with drugs or alcohol. This may involve having your child get involved in extracurricular activities that don’t involve drugs or alcohol. It may also help to encourage your child to talk to their peers and friends about their feelings and see if others feel the same way.

The Risk of Substance Abuse Among College Students is Real

It’s important to understand that many college students drink alcohol or use drugs. In fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that one third of college students reported drinking in the last month. And many of these students reported binge drinking, which is drinking enough to cause problems or injury. Almost one-third of college students reported using drugs in the last month. This includes marijuana, prescription drugs, and other illegal substances. SAMHSA reports that drug use rates vary between different college campuses. Some campuses have high rates of drug use, while others have relatively low rates. One reason for this variation is the level of available drugs. Colleges with easy access to illegal drugs have high rates of drug use. Colleges with low rates of drug use have strict enforcement of drug laws and a culture that discourages illegal drug use.

Alcohol Abuse Among Full-Time College Students

Perhaps the most well-known risk of college is binge drinking. But that’s not the whole story. Although students who attend colleges and universities are more likely to binge drink than those who do not attend school, an increasing number of people in all age groups are now engaging in this risky behavior. If you are a current student or plan on attending a university in the near future, it’s important to be aware of the consequences of binge drinking as well as strategies for avoiding it. Students should know about the dangers of binge drinking so they can make healthy choices while at school and after they graduate.

The risks associated with college drinking don’t end when you leave campus. In fact, statistics show that young adults who complete their degrees tend to engage in risky behavior less often than those who do not finish their schooling, which means that staying in school, even if it isn’t your first choice, has positive long-term benefits.

What is Binge Drinking?

The definition of binge drinking varies by country and culture. In the United States, binge drinking is described as consuming five or more drinks in a single sitting for men and four or more drinks for women. It’s important to note that having one too many drinks isn’t the only way to binge drink. You can also binge drink by consuming alcohol regularly over a short period of time. In fact, the patterns of binge drinking have changed over the last several decades. Students today are less likely to binge drink in groups than to drink alone. This means that you may be engaging in binge drinking even if you don’t feel that you are consuming a dangerous amount of alcohol in one sitting. Binge drinking is dangerous because it interferes with normal brain function. It also increases the risk of harmful side effects, such as alcohol poisoning, unintentional injury, and sexual misconduct.

Short-term Consequences of Binge Drinking

Short-term consequences of binge drinking include blackouts, alcohol-related injuries, and poor academic performance. Binging may result in a blackout, which occurs when your brain temporarily stops recording memories due to the influence of alcohol. Blackouts are dangerous because people who experience them generally don’t know they’re happening, which means they may make poor decisions. This can lead to risky sexual behavior, unplanned driving, and other dangerous outcomes. Binging also increases the risk of alcohol-related injuries. Since people who binge drink often engage in risky or dangerous activities, like driving under the influence or putting themselves in dangerous situations, they may get hurt. Binging can also negatively affect academic performance. College students who binge drink on a regular basis have lower grade point averages, are more likely to drop out of school, and take longer to finish their degrees than non-binge drinkers.

Long-term Consequences of Binge Drinking

Long-term consequences of binge drinking include alcohol use disorder, dependence, and other serious health problems. Binge drinking over time can lead to alcohol use disorder, or AUD. This is a mental health problem that can be treated with therapy, medication, or a combination of both. As many as 1 in 4 college students has AUD, and it can develop in people of any age or life circumstances. Mental health disorders like AUD can lead to substance use disorders and may require long-term treatment. Binging can also lead to alcohol dependence, or dependence on alcohol, which is a physical condition that can require medical treatment and support for recovery.

Strategies for Avoiding Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is often a choice, meaning that you can avoid it by choosing not to drink alcohol. If you don’t drink alcohol, you won’t experience any of the negative consequences associated with binge drinking. If you do drink, it’s important to consume alcohol responsibly by pacing yourself and taking breaks between drinks to give your body time to process the alcohol you’ve consumed. Research indicates that students who participate in extracurricular activities, get involved with campus organizations, and take advantage of resources offered by their schools are less likely to engage in risky behavior, including binge drinking.

Regardless of whether you are in college or not, it’s important to understand the dangers of binge drinking. This can be detrimental to your health and that of those around you. By avoiding binge drinking, you can avoid the many short-term and long-term consequences that come with it.

Drug Abuse on College Campuses

College is the time when most young adults experiment with alcohol and other substances. But some drugs are more dangerous than others. Many college students abuse opioid painkillers, stimulants like meth and Adderall, and hallucinogens like LSD. These drugs can be addictive, cause long-term psychological complications, and lead to risky behaviors such as unprotected sex or needle sharing. The dangers of these drugs on campus might not be as apparent as the dangers of drinking too much or smoking a lot of pot. However, they’re far more likely to result in serious consequences for users.

There are a number of different types of drugs that have become increasingly popular among today’s youth, especially those attending college or university. They’re widely available, cheap, and offer a brief but intense escape from everyday stressors and pressures. In other words, they meet all the criteria for being perfect accessories for the collegiate lifestyle. These top most dangerous drugs on college campuses pose serious threats to users, as well as anyone who comes into contact with someone who is under the influence of one of these substances.


Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States, and its use is particularly prevalent on college campuses. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 9 and 30% of all full-time college students who use marijuana become addicted to it. Students who smoke marijuana are more likely to have lower grade-point averages than those who do not use the drug, and they are also more likely to drop out of school. Marijuana is a psychoactive drug that can cause distorted perceptions and mood changes, difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and decreased ability to pay attention. It can also increase heart rate and blood pressure, which is why it has been linked to an increased risk of a heart attack in middle-aged and older individuals.

Opioids: Heroin and Fentanyl

Although opioids—which include prescription drugs such as oxycodone and fentanyl as well as illicit drugs like heroin—are widely used to relieve pain, they are also a dangerously addictive class of substances. Even when used as prescribed by a doctor, patients can become dependent on prescription opioids, meaning they require them to feel normal. However, it is possible to wean oneself off these drugs over time without experiencing any significant withdrawal symptoms. The problem is that many people switch to a less expensive but more dangerous alternative. According to a recent survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the vast majority of heroin users report having started out by misusing prescription opioids. Once a person becomes dependent on heroin, he or she must take the drug every day to avoid experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, muscle and bone pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Prescription Drugs

College students who suffer from anxiety or depression are among those most at risk of abusing prescription drugs. Rates of prescription drug misuse and abuse, including painkillers and stimulants, have skyrocketed in recent years. Some of the most commonly misused prescription drugs include opioids, stimulants such as Adderall, tranquilizers such as Xanax, and sleeping pills. There are a few reasons why prescription drugs are so dangerously addicting. First, people who take them for a diagnosed medical condition are more likely to become addicted to them than those who use them recreationally. Secondly, prescription drugs are often easier to obtain than illegal drugs, and they are often cheaper, too.


Cocaine is one of the most addictive and dangerous drugs out there. Users experience increased energy, confidence, and concentration—qualities that appear to help them succeed in the workplace, in school, and in athletic settings. Cocaine is a potent central nervous system stimulant derived from the leaves of the coca plant, which is native to South America. Cocaine is a potent central nervous system stimulant derived from the leaves of the coca plant, which is native to South America. Many people have heard the myth that you have to stop breathing to avoid the harmful effects of snorting cocaine. The truth is that cocaine constricts blood vessels in the nose, which is why it causes bloody noses in many people who snort it. It also constricts blood vessels in the brain, which is why it can cause strokes in some cases. 

Amphetamines and "Study Drugs"

Adderall, Ritalin, and other prescription drugs known as “study drugs” are stimulants used to treat ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and related conditions. These drugs improve attention span and focus, helping people studying for important exams stay calm and focused on the task at hand. However, it’s not uncommon for students who don’t have ADHD to try these drugs for similar purposes. Students who misuse these medications risk becoming dependent on them and then experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking them. These withdrawal symptoms can be so intense that they lead students to take larger doses of the drugs or switch to other drugs, such as opioids, to ease them. 

Rohypnol (Flunitrazepam) and GHB

Rohypnol, also known as “roofies” or “the forget-me drug,” and GHB are powerful sedatives that can render people unconscious and unable to resist sexual assault. Roofies are particularly dangerous since they can be easily slipped into a person’s drink without him or her knowing. Although these drugs are illegal and carry severe criminal penalties, they are often used at parties, clubs, and on college campuses. Roofies and GHB are also dangerous because they can cause heart failure, seizures and strokes.

Synthetic Marijuana (also known as K2 or Spice)

Synthetic marijuana is a mixture of chemicals sprayed onto herbs, spices, or incense. And although the packaging may claim that it is “natural,” the composition of synthetic marijuana is anything but. There are many different types of synthetic marijuana, and many of them produce symptoms far more dangerous than the real thing. Synthetic marijuana can produce intense hallucinations, vomiting and delusions. Like many other drugs, it can also cause heart problems and death.

Ecstasy (MDMA)

Ecstasy, also known as MDMA, is a synthetic drug that produces intense sensory hallucinations, euphoria, and increased energy. Ecstasy can also cause teeth grinding, jaw clenching, blurred vision, and an increased heart rate. Some of the short-term effects of MDMA can fade after a few hours, but some can last for days or even weeks. Extreme feelings of anxiety, paranoia and irritability are all common after the drug wears off. Many college students abuse MDMA while also engaging in alcohol consumption. Combining drug and alcohol use like this can lead to a heightened risk of overdose and other health problems.

Drug and Alcohol Abuse Among University Students

College is supposed to be a time of exploration and growth, but for many students, it’s a time of struggle. Substance abuse is a serious problem that parents and college administrators need to be aware of and prepared to confront. Thankfully, there are ways to reduce risk, including knowing the signs and symptoms of substance abuse so you can get help for a loved one if needed. If you’re a college student, you can help prevent substance abuse by being mindful of your surroundings and how your behavior impacts others. Additionally, you can seek out support and treatment for substance abuse if you find that it’s impacting your life in a negative way.

Get Help Today!

Alcohol addiction is a serious issue that affects many college students, but there is help available for those who are struggling. If you or someone you know is looking for a supportive and sober environment, consider sober living West Los Angeles. Our sober living house provides a safe and comfortable space for individuals who are committed to their recovery. Our experienced staff and community of peers will offer guidance, encouragement, and support throughout the recovery journey. Remember, there is no shame in seeking help, and choosing sober living West Los Angeles can be a life-changing decision for those who are struggling with alcohol addiction.


Edited by: David Beasley

David Beasley - Design for Recovery

David Beasley is a certified RADT (Registered Alcohol/Drug Technician). David, moved to California from North Carolina after many failed attempts to get sober.

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Charley earned his Masters of Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).He teaches mindfulness to both adults and children in group setting such as schools, corporate workplaces, and medical treatment facilities.

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