• College Students & Addiction: How Addiction Affects The College Population

College Students & Addiction: How Addiction Affects The College Population

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College is an extremely important time in many young people’s lives. Transitioning from teens to adults, college students may be living independently for the first time ever. Most decisions they make are on their own accord and their parents input on their choices are oftentimes at an all-time low. Currently, there are around 16 million people aged 15-24 that are enrolled in college. While each one of these students are following their own unique path, sadly, some of them will have some speed bumps with substances along the way. Moderate to severe substance use in college is a serious issue and can easily change the course of a young adult’s future. 

According to the National Library of Medicine, 37% of college students have used an illicit drug (Opioids, stimulants, Benzodiazepines, Marijuana), and have also abused alcohol on a regular basis. College is a time for self-discovery, however can post numerous risks for substance use disorders. For those that may be suffering or questioning their substance use, it’s crucial to stay informed on the risk factors, symptoms, and signs of substance use disorder within the college-aged community.

What Substance Abuse Looks Like Among College Students

There are many college students that partake in a drinking lifestyle. However, there are others that may avoid it and use prescription drugs to help them stay focused on academics. Some may miss a few classes and see a decline in their grades due to their drinking – this is very common with freshman students. There are also those who will plan their days around getting drunk and/or high. These students can face a variety of issues due to their actions. They may find themselves with legal issues and in trouble with their school. Overall, signs can differ from person to person and from substance to substance. Some common signs for substance use disorder in college students can include the following:

  • Decrease in grades 
  • Skipping class
  • Decline in communication with family members
  • Sleeping during the day
  • Unexplained financial issues
  • Mood swings
  • Lack of motivation

Drugs of Choice within The College Population


For years, alcohol has been ingrained on campus culture and is also the most commonly abused drug. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), almost 60 percent of college students aged 18-22 drank alcohol in the past month and nearly 2 out of 3 of them engaged in binge drinking during that time frame.


Next to alcohol, marijuana is also one of the most commonly-used drugs on college campuses. In recent years, the drug has sparked controversy as many states have legalized its use. In response, many are under the impression that marijuana isn’t harmful. However, the National Institute of Drug Abuse noted that nine percent of marijuana users do become addicted.

Prescription Medications and “Study” Drugs

Recently conducted studies have shown that  as many as 1 in 5 college students, or about 20 percent of college students have admitted misusing prescription stimulants. Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse are the most commonly prescribed and misused stimulants amongst young adults.

Ecstasy and Party Drugs

Ecstasy, known as a party drug is also one of the most popular drugs on college campuses. Known for its euphoric effects, it also goes by the name Molly, or MDMA – which is ecstasy in its purest form. Other party drugs can include Cocaine. Often mixed with other drugs to produce a stronger high, they can create severe side effects.

Risk Factors for College Students and Addiction

College is a time of self-discovery, however there can be many underlying factors that can contribute to addiction. There’s numerous reasons and risk factors that contribute to substance use disorder in college students that include the following:


Transitioning to college is a major life event and new pressures to obtain high grades, continue extracurricular activities, meet new friends, continue personal obligations, can be stressful. These high expectations can lead students to turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to handle stress.

Social Anxiety

Along with a big life change, students can face pressure to drink or use as a way to fit in, find new friends, and join new social circles. Using substances can help “lower inhibitions,” ease anxiety, and temporarily calm nerves. When college campuses and Greek life are surrounded with alcohol and drugs it can lead individuals to begin to partake in more severe substance use.


College is typically the first time where individuals are away from their families and gain a sense of freedom. A common myth of partaking in the “college experience,” can lead to risky behaviors by partaking in partying and experimentation.

Mental Health Issues

Attending college can present a number of mental health issues that may not have been present in a family household. In recent years, the number of students receiving help for mental health disorders have risen. Whether it’s anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or other mental health issues, these underlying conditions can contribute to substance abuse. In fact, 27% of college students have been diagnosed with depression and 39% of all students in the US report dealing with some kind of mental illness.

College-Aged Treatment & Help For Young Adults

Oftentimes, understanding and reaching out for help for college students can seem overwhelming and uncomfortable. Substance use on college campuses can frequently be minimized and normalized, and it’s important to understand no matter what substance you’re using, help is available. If left untreated, substance use disorder can pose harmful risks to a student’s mind, body, and overall future. Learning about substance use disorder and reaching out for help may be challenging, but is possible.

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