top of page

Substance Abuse In College

Substance abuse among college students is hardly a new trend. From the 1970s on, rates of alcohol consumption and binge drinking have remained fairly constant. College students have always represented a large portion of the population abusing drugs and alcohol on a regular basis.

Changes In Drug Abuse Trends In College

Types and frequency of abuse of other substances has varied throughout the years although alcohol use has maintained a steady presence on college campuses. Some researchers suggest that drug abuse on college campuses is like a cycle. As one drug starts to become more prevalent, efforts to prevent its use increases. When the use of the drug falls so does the effort put forth to reduce its use. This in turn can lead to an increase in the abuse of that drug.

Signs Of Substance Abuse In College Students

Substance abuse occurs when someone uses a drug outside of how it was supposed to be used or prescribed. Examples include taking someone else's or buying Adderall without a prescription to increase concentration or smoking weed to relax. Drinking alcohol is considered abuse when its effects negatively impact the drinker’s social or professional life or health.

Some ways to tell if a person is abusing drugs or alcohol include:

  • Decreased interest in classes and/or extracurricular activities

  • Drastic change in grades and academic performance

  • Fluctuations in weight or shifts in sleeping patterns

  • Time spent in new circles, especially those circles that have a reputation for drug abuse

  • Unexplained changes in behavior or personality

  • Mood swings, depression, or irritability

Some College Students Are At Higher Risk

There are some demographics on college campuses that may be at a higher risk of encountering and abusing drugs. These include:

  • Sorority members

  • Fraternity members

  • Campus athletes

  • Students with mental health concerns

  • Residents of on-campus housing and dorms

  • Students facing extreme amounts of stress

Some Statistics Of Substance Abuse Among College Students

  • Approximately 31% of US college students report symptoms of alcohol abuse.

  • Approximately 80% of US college students have abused alcohol.

  • Between 1993 and 2005, the proportion of students who abused Tranquilizers like Xanax and Valium increased by 450%.

  • An estimated 110,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are arrested every year for an alcohol-related violation such as public drunkenness or driving under the influence.

Source: Addiction Center

Stimulants And Study Aids

Stimulants are drugs that cause increased alertness and brain function. Most prescription stimulants are prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and its effects. Speed and Cocaine are also classified as Stimulants although they provide more intense and shorter effects. A lot of students view Stimulants as way to help with studying, which causes a negative effect on mental health in the collegiate population.

The pressure to succeed academically is the most common reason college students give for using Stimulants. Designed to help those patients with ADHD focus, some prescription Stimulants can assist in a student's ability to continue working or study for long hours. Commonly abused prescription drugs include:

Students may also take these drugs to help with weight loss, as Stimulants often act as appetite suppressants as well. Also, student athletes have also been known to abuse Stimulants to give them more energy and focus during long games and practices.

Side Effects Of Stimulants

The majority of college students don’t fully recognize the negative side effects that Stimulants can cause. Some side effects can include:

  • Inability to sleep

  • Aggression

  • Anxiousness

  • Hallucinations

  • Depression

  • High blood pressure

The Impact Of Substance Abuse In College

College drug abuse can lead to addiction. Addiction can not only cause significant difficulties for the person who is addicted, it also has widespread negative consequences for us as a whole.

Drug abuse and addiction cost taxpayers nearly $534 billion in preventable health care, law enforcement, crime, and other expenses every year.

And that doesn't even take in account the pain and suffering endured by the addicts and their families, which can never be measured.

Prevention Strategies For Substance Abuse In College


Informing students of the negative health effects of drinking alcohol and using drugs can help them make better decisions regarding their consumption. After understanding what drugs can do to their bodies, college students may choose to limit, or avoid altogether, their substance intake.

Law And Rule Enforcement

Many laws exist to limit underage drinking and dangerous substance abuse. Enforcement of the legal drinking age has been one of the most effective ways to reduce alcohol-related problems. Retailers and school administrators can assist by enforcing laws and campus rules consistently.

Restrictions On Bars

Another way to reduce excessive and underage drinking is limiting the proximity of bars and liquor stores to campus. It has been shown that alcohol-related incidents are more common in areas where drink specials are highly advertised, especially when advertising targets college-aged students.

Challenging Student Understanding Of Substance Effects

Many college students drink or do drugs because they believe that they will become more sociable or sexually desirable as a result. When they realize that this is not only untrue, but that it may in fact be the opposite of the truth, many college students reduce their use of these substances.


bottom of page