Substance abuse is (unfortunately) common among college students and can result in a range of academic, physical, mental, and social problems. One study found that nearly half of participating college students met the criteria for at least one substance use disorder (SUD), while the 2019 Monitoring the Future survey found the highest rates of marijuana and some illicit drug use, particularly amphetamines, cocaine, hallucinogens, and MDMA, among those of typical college age (early to mid-20s).1,2
Alcohol and drug use in college can interfere with your academic performance, decrease the chances of obtaining post-college employment, and cause many additional consequences.1,2 Continue reading to learn more about substance abuse in the college student population, and what you can do to seek help if you or someone you know is struggling with drug use in college.
Reasons and Causes of Substance Abuse Among College Students
College is intended to be an era of self-discovery, unbridled potential complemented by lifelong friendships, independence, and experiencing what the world has to offer. But for tens of thousands of students, the weight of unforgiving expectations placed on them by parents, teachers, other students, society, and even themselves, sometimes worsens in college.
College students are forced to adapt to a new lifestyle, with arguably less structure than that of their childhood, while being pulled in various directions. All these factors coming together can create a perfect storm for substance abuse issues. Alcohol flows quite freely on college campuses, and people sometimes exchange drugs in dorm rooms and classrooms, either as a way to escape from all the stress, or to boost academic performance (at the risk of developing an addiction).
What Drugs Do College Students Abuse Most?
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) explains that college students frequently use and abuse alcohol, with many students seeing alcohol use as a ritualistic part of college. However, many students also come to campus with pre-existing drinking habits as well.5
The drugs most commonly abused by college students include:1,2,6
- Marijuana.Past-year and past-month abuse of marijuana are highest among people aged 21-22. Vaping marijuana is highest among people in their early 20’s.
- MDMA (ecstasy), LSD, and other psychedelic or hallucinogenic drugs. These drugs have gained popularity in recent years, with many students using them out of curiosity, to have the overall psychedelic experience, or to escape. Micro-dosing, the act of using small doses of hallucinogens to achieve a slight effect, has also increased among college students in recent years.
- Stimulant medications, such as dextroamphetamine (Adderall), that are often called “study drugs”. Students may use study drugs to help them stay awake or in an effort to enhance their ability to focus and study for exams. Adderall use in college can be very detrimental and eventually lead to dependence or addiction.
- Cocaine. One study showed that more than 20% of college students were exposed to opportunities to use cocaine in the past year.
- Painkillers and opioids. A high percentage of young adults between the ages of 18-25 suffer from prescription painkiller abuse, or prescription opioid abuse, in college; this is also a significant cause of unintentional death and injury among people in this age range.
Does Insurance Cover Rehab for College Students?
Yes, insurance typically covers rehab for college students. Many college students who are under the age of 25 are still eligible to be covered for treatment under their parent’s insurance policy. However, the extent to which your rehab stay will be covered depends on your insurance policy, copay, and deductible. AAC is in-network with many insurance companies. Discover whether your treatment may be fully or partially covered by using our online SSVOB form below.
The Long and Short Term Impacts of Substance Use in College Students
Substance abuse can cause many consequences for college students that are not limited to their academic life. Some of the short- and long-term impacts of drug and alcohol abuse in college students can include:5,7,8
- Decreased academic performance. Substance abuse can lead to a lower GPA, less time spent studying, missing class, getting behind on assignments, dropping out, or being expelled.
- Risky or dangerous behaviors. This can include doing things you normally wouldn’t do, like driving under the influence, being involved in assault (either as a victim or perpetrator), getting into fights, stealing, or engaging in risky sexual behaviors or date rape. Many of these behaviors can be potentially lethal.
- Poor health. You can suffer from many physical health consequences, including hangovers, nausea, injury, negative effects on your immune system, and risk of overdose or death. You may also experience poor mental health, decreased cognitive performance, short-term memory loss, addiction, or increased risk of suicide.
- Social consequences. You can lose friendships and important relationships due to substance use. You may be more socially isolated if you spend much of your time using alcohol or drugs.
What Are Colleges Doing About Drug & Alcohol Abuse?
Many colleges and government institutions are taking action to help prevent or manage substance abuse and drug addiction in students. For example, the Collegiate Recovery Programs (CRPs) or Collegiate Recovery Communities (CRCs) are college-based programs designed to help promote recovery in students through drug- and alcohol-free opportunities to socialize, substance-free housing, crisis support, and more.1
The NIAAA collaborated with college alcohol researchers and staff to develop the College Alcohol Intervention Matrix (CollegeAIM), which is a comprehensive and easy-to-use booklet and website that help colleges identify specific individualized interventions and both prevent and deal with alcohol abuse on campus.9 These interventions can include education and awareness programs, cognitive-behavioral skills educations, motivational approaches, and behavioral interventions offered by healthcare professionals.5
Research has shown that other initiatives can also meet the needs of college students struggling with addiction. These include offering campus-based 12-step or other support meetings such as Students for Recovery, offering substance abuse counseling by trained professionals, providing campus education to reduce the stigma of accessing help, scheduling classes on Fridays to reduce alcohol-related partying on Thursdays, monitoring fraternities and sororities, and having longer opening hours for recreational facilities and libraries.10,11
Signs to Look Out For and How to Talk About Treatment
Some of the signs of substance abuse in college students can include:14,15
- Skipping classes, declining academic performance, dropping out, or recent disciplinary action.
- Poor personal appearance.
- Avoiding friends or family.
- No longer participating in activities they once enjoyed.
- Lying about drug or alcohol use.
- Spending a lot of time using and recovering from the effects of drugs or drinking.
- Needing to drink or use drugs to relax or have a good time.
- Mood changes, such as being depressed, irritable, or angry.
- Physical or mental problems, like bloodshot eyes, poor concentration, or memory issues.
- Withdrawal symptoms (like headaches, cravings, or depression).
- Continuing substance use despite the negative consequences.
- Legal troubles, like arrests, accidents, or DWIs.
- Using substances in hazardous situations (like while driving).
- Risky behavior while high or drunk, like starting fights or having unprotected sex.
Talking to someone about their substance use may not be easy, especially if they don’t think they have a problem. You can’t force someone to get help, but you can show your concern. You may wish to talk to someone you trust about the problem (such as a professor or counselor) so you can practice the conversation. You can also make a list of resources where they can seek help (like campus counseling centers or off-campus rehabs).
When talking to your friend, explain that you are concerned about their health, wellbeing, and academic performance. Avoid criticizing or blaming them, and back off if they are resistant to hearing you; you can come back to the issue at a later moment. Focus on specifics, such as saying, “You stumbled into our room at 3 a.m., you threw up the whole night, and I am concerned about you.” Then let them know that you are available to talk if they want to. Check back in from time to time — you don’t have to have the conversation all at once, but you may want to give them the list of resources you compiled.15
Seeking help can involve different steps, such as having a consultation with the campus health center, talking to a counselor at your campus counseling center, or seeking treatment at a hospital or rehab center.15Getting treatment can help prevent the consequences of substance use on your health, academic career, and overall wellbeing.
American Addiction Centers offers customized treatment for people ages 18 and older. If you or someone you love is in college and struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, call our admissions navigators today at . We’ll help you figure out your next best steps.
How Long is Rehab? (Will I Have to Leave School?)
Rehab can vary in length, intensity, and structure depending on whether you decide to attend inpatient or outpatient rehab. Even if you need to leave school to attend rehab, there are always resources to help you during and after the process, such as counseling programs, medical leaves of absence, or transition plans that involve modified programs of study.10 If you are concerned about going to rehab for college students because of a fear that your grades will suffer or that you’ll fall behind in your program, consider what will happen if you don’t get help. Addiction usually gets worse if left untreated, so it’s a sign of strength that you’re willing to take control of your life before things spiral further out of control.16
A typical inpatient stay might last 3 weeks to 90 days, with some programs being longer. Outpatient treatment may also be an option, and you may be able to continue to attend some daytime classes and go to treatment in the evening. Many rehabs can work with you to help you find the best options for your needs.17
Even though it can seem scary or intimidating, know that attending rehab is confidential, so no one needs to know about it (not even your family) if you don’t want them to. Taking steps to get your life under control now can help pave the way for a happier, healthier, and brighter future.
Take Our Substance Abuse Self-Assessment
Are you concerned that you, a friend, or a family member who is in college may have a substance abuse problem? Take our free, 5-minute substance abuse self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with substance abuse. The evaluation consists of 11 yes or no questions that are intended to be used as an informational tool to assess the severity and probability of a substance use disorder. The test is free, confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result.
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.
The number of people aged 19-28 using illicit drugs increased from 32% in 2006 to 44% in 2019. Around 43% of college students used marijuana in 2018, which represents a 7% increase over the previous 5 years.How does substance abuse among college students affect their performance and behavior? ›
Substance use among college students is associated with numerous negative outcomes including lower academic performance, a higher probability of unemployment after graduation, and an increased risk of committing and experiencing sexual assault.What is the most commonly abused drug among college students? ›
- Alcohol. A large number of college students are introduced to drinking at campus parties. ...
- Marijuana. Second to alcohol, marijuana is the most commonly abused drug. ...
- Opioids. ...
- Stimulants. ...
About 15% of the people in the United States are problem drinkers. About 5 to 10% of male and 3 to 5% of female drinkers would be diagnosed as alcohol dependent. Of college students, 19% meet the criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence (alcoholism).What percentage of college students are addicted to alcohol? ›
College Drinking Statistics
Roughly 20% of college students meet the criteria for having an alcohol use disorder (AUD).
About 1 in 13 college students in a new study from three U.S. campuses report having been drugged, or suspect that they were drugged.How many college students have been drugged? ›
Still, Swan points to other studies done in U.S. college students and young adults that found anywhere from 6 to 8.5 percent reported being drugged by someone else. An Australian study of 805 people aged 18-35 found that 25 percent had experienced drink spiking.How many college students are addicted to opioids? ›
Data support that college students use drugs and misuse prescription opioids. For example, 7% of college students enrolled at 119 colleges in the United States reported prescription opioid misuse in the past year, and 12% reported lifetime prescription opioid misuse (McCabe, Teter, Boyd, Knight, et al., 2005).What factors influence college students substance use behaviors? ›
- Family History. ...
- Mental Health Concerns. ...
- Unresolved Trauma. ...
- Metabolism. ...
- College Environment and Peer Influence. ...
- Academic Pressure and Performance. ...
- Failure to Thrive.
- Family history of substance use.
- Favorable parental attitudes towards the behavior.
- Poor parental monitoring.
- Parental substance use.
- Family rejection of sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Association with delinquent or substance using peers.
- Lack of school connectedness.
- Peer Pressure. One of the main causes of teen drug use is the pressure they feel from friends and even family members.
- Social Media. Many friends and family members show pictures of using substances on social media. ...
- The Influence of Culture and Society. ...
- Curiosity. ...
- The Desire to be Themselves.
Schedule I drugs have the greatest potential for abuse and have no known medical value. These substances are not approved for medical use by the federal government and no prescriptions may be written for their use. Schedule II have more potential for dependence than schedule V substances.What is the number one drug college students use? ›
|Drug||Percentage of College Students Who Have Reported Using Drug|
Overall, 31.4 percent of dropouts use illicit drugs, compared with 18.2 percent of older teens enrolled in school. The report found 27.3 percent of dropouts use marijuana, compared with 15.3 percent of those in school. Among dropouts, 41.6 percent use alcohol, compared with 35.3 percent of their peers still in school.What college consumes the most alcohol? ›
1) Providence College (Providence, Rhode Island)
Monthly alcohol use. Marijuana use. Illicit drug use.
High risk drinking among college students is a growing problem, with an estimated 20% of students engaging in this behavior. This type of drinking is defined as the consumption of five or more drinks in a row for men, and four or more drinks in a row for women, within a two-hour period.Which college student is most likely to drink alcohol? ›
Students involved in specific social organizations, especially fraternities or sororities, are more likely to drink alcohol and binge drink compared to their peers.Why do students binge drink in college? ›
College students are more likely to binge drink for several reasons. These factors include a wide availability of alcohol on campus, increased social pressure to drink, and academic-related stress. Students who join fraternities or sororities are more likely to drink alcohol and binge drink compared with their peers.What is the most common negative consequence that binge drinking college students create for themselves? ›
Although part of the college experience, binge drinking has been consistently associated with higher incidences of unplanned sexual activity, sexual and physical assaults, date rape, injuries, trouble with campus and local police, and alcohol-related driving injuries and fatalities.
Female students tend to consume 4 drinks per week versus male students, who drink more than double the amount at 9 drinks a week. Persons become at-risk drinkers, or those most likely to become alcoholic, when the number of drinks per week climb.What percent of US college students drink? ›
Since 2011, the annual percentage of college students who use alcohol has stayed about the same, between 75-79%, according to the 2020 Monitoring the Future National Survey Results on Drug Use.How many college students take stimulants? ›
Estimates are that up to 20% of college students abuse prescription stimulants, most often by ingesting medications not prescribed to them.How many college students are assaulted each year? ›
13% of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation (among all graduate and undergraduate students). Among graduate and professional students, 9.7% of females and 2.5% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.What percentage of college students are medicated? ›
24.5% of college students are taking some form of antidepressants, anti-anxiety and mood stabilizers, such as Prozac, Zoloft or Lamotrigine. 95% of college counselors report that mental health concern is growing on their campus.How much do college students spend on drugs? ›
The Cost of Drugs for College Students
According to the College Board, a student at an in-state public college can expect to spend nearly $25,000 per year, while a student at a private college might spend nearly $50,000.
75 percent of women and men in substance abuse treatment report histories of abuse and trauma. 97 percent of homeless women with mental illness report severe physical or sexual abuse. 12-34 percent of individuals in substance abuse treatment have PTSD.What percent of the US population is addicted to opioids? ›
Five percent of U.S. adults say they have abused or been addicted to opioids or prescription painkillers, up from 1 percent in 2017, possibly reflecting a greater awareness and willingness to talk about the problem.How does the opioid crisis affect college students? ›
It has been found that college students who engage in nonmedical use of prescription opiates are more likely to use other drugs, engage in other risky behaviors, and put themselves at risk for unintentional overdose.Which type of prescription drug is used the most on college campuses? ›
Adderall and Ritalin are very commonly sold and abused drugs on college campuses. These drugs are designed to block out the distractions in your surroundings and in your head, making it easier to concentrate and retain knowledge.
- Family History. ...
- Parental Substance Use. ...
- Poor Parental Monitoring. ...
- Rejection of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity. ...
- Guilty by Association. ...
- Low Academic Achievement. ...
- Mental Health. ...
- Abusive History.
Behavioral therapy is perhaps the most commonly utilized types of treatment for addiction that is frequently used during substance rehabilitation. A general behavioral therapeutic approach has been adapted into a variety of effective techniques.What are 8 factors that contribute to substance abuse? ›
Early aggressive behavior, lack of parental supervision, academic problems, undiagnosed mental health problems, peer substance use, drug availability, poverty, peer rejection, and child abuse or neglect are risk factors associated with increased likelihood of youth substance use and abuse.What are the 3 social factors that contribute to substance abuse? ›
Social Risk Factors. Social factors that contribute to increased risk for adolescent substance use include deviant peer relationships, popularity, bullying, and association with gangs. Social influences and familial influences are often present simultaneously.What are the 5 factors influencing substance use and abuse? ›
- Family history of addiction. Drug addiction is more common in some families and likely involves an increased risk based on genes. ...
- Mental health disorder. ...
- Peer pressure. ...
- Lack of family involvement. ...
- Early use. ...
- Taking a highly addictive drug.
Variable risk factors include income level, peer group, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), and employment status. Individual-level risk factors may include a person's genetic predisposition to addiction or exposure to alcohol prenatally.What is the best solution to prevent drug addiction? ›
- avoiding places where you know drugs and alcohol will be available.
- surrounding yourself with friends who don't use drugs.
- knowing how to resist temptation.
- learning how to cope with stress and relax without drugs.
- distracting yourself with activities like exercise or listening to music.
21.3% of 8th graders have tried illicit drugs at least once. By the time they're in 12th grade, 46.6% of teens have tried illicit drugs. 11.89 million 18- to 25-year-olds used drugs in the last month. 4,777 Americans aged 15 to 24 years old died of an overdose of illicit drugs in one year.What is the causes of drug addiction among street children? ›
This study elicited that there are considerable number of causes like lack of basic needs, social isolation, depression, easy accessibility of drug, peer, and others adult's influence, no parental care, step parental abuse, distress in the home environment, releasing grief, stress, hunger and working for long hours, no ...Which schedule of drugs has the lowest potential for abuse? ›
As the drug schedule changes-- Schedule II, Schedule III, etc., so does the abuse potential-- Schedule V drugs represents the least potential for abuse.
Finally, the DEA labels the least addictive substances under Schedule V. Most Schedule V substances involve preparing the drug with a small quantity of some narcotic.What type of controlled substance has the highest risk of abuse potential? ›
Schedule I drugs possess the highest potential for use disorder and misuse. They have no medical use and are illicit or "street" drugs. Examples of Schedule I drugs include heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide, mescaline, methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), and methaqualone.What is the most used study drug? ›
Ritalin and Adderall are the two most commonly misused stimulants. In addition to stimulants, some students may use anti-anxiety medications, like Xanax, without a prescription or not as prescribed.How does substance abuse affect college students? ›
Some of the short- and long-term impacts of drug and alcohol abuse in college students can include: Decreased academic performance. Substance abuse can lead to a lower GPA, less time spent studying, missing class, getting behind on assignments, dropping out, or being expelled. Risky or dangerous behaviors.What drugs do college students take to focus? ›
- Adderall (amphetamine/dextroamphetamine)
- Ritalin (methylphenidate)
- Concerta (methylphenidate hydrochloride)
- Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine)
- Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine)
- Provigil (modafinil)
Based on six years of data, men have an average dropout rate four percentage points higher than women. American Indian/Alaska Native, Black, and Pacific Islander first-year students have higher dropout rates than their Hispanic, white, and Asian peers.How many college students misuse opioids? ›
National survey studies conducted in the United States indicate an overall prevalence of about 12% for lifetime nonmedical use of prescription opioids among college students and about 7% for past-year misuse (McCabe, Teter, Boyd, Knight, & Wechsler, 2005).What percent of students struggle in college? ›
During the spring 2022 term, approximately 51% of surveyed students said that over the last 12 months they had problems or challenges with their academics. 89% of students who reported this issue also said these challenges caused them moderate or high levels of distress.
Data Summary. In 2022, approximately 42% of undergraduate students reported using cannabis in their life. 33.1% of undergraduate students reported using tobacco or nicotine in their lifetime. 3.1% of undergraduate students reported misusing prescription stimulants in their lifetime.What percentage of college students struggle with mental health? ›
During the 2020–2021 school year, more than 60% of college students met the criteria for at least one mental health problem, according to the Healthy Minds Study, which collects data from 373 campuses nationwide (Lipson, S. K., et al., Journal of Affective Disorders, Vol. 306, 2022).
You might be surprised to know that only 11% of incoming students are frequent heavy drinkers.What are the 5 most stressors for college students? ›
- Academic Stress. Attending classes, completing the readings, writing papers, managing projects, and preparing for exams all put a heavy burden on students. ...
- Personal Stress. ...
- Family Stress. ...
- Financial Stress. ...
- Future Stress.
- Social anxiety, general anxiety, test anxiety, or panic attacks.
- Family expectations or problems.
- Depression, lack of energy or motivation, hopelessness, being overwhelmed, low self-esteem, homesickness, loneliness.
- Relationship difficulties (emotional and physical aspects of intimate relationships)
Concerns about academic performance are one of the most common trigger points of stress for college students.What percentage of college students use opioids? ›
National survey studies conducted in the United States indicate an overall prevalence of about 12% for lifetime nonmedical use of prescription opioids among college students and about 7% for past-year misuse (McCabe, Teter, Boyd, Knight, & Wechsler, 2005).What is the #1 mental health issue impacting college students? ›
On the American College Health Association 2015 survey, college students identified the following mental health issues as negatively impacting their academic performance within the last 12 months: Stress (30% of students) Anxiety (22%) Sleep difficulties (20%)What is the most common mental illness among college students? ›
Many college students experience symptoms of a serious mental health condition. Depression and anxiety are common mental health conditions among students. Resources are available to help students improve their mental health.Are college students at higher risk for mental health issues? ›
Mental health disorders are common among students, with a higher incidence than in the general population. Statistically, more than half of the students in American public universities suffer from depression and anxiety (18).What percentage of college students are heavy drinkers? ›
Prevalence of Binge Drinking: According to the 2021 NSDUH, 27.4% of full-time college students ages 18–22 reported binge drinking in the past month. Prevalence of Heavy Alcohol Use: According to the 2021 NSDUH, 7.3% of full-time college students ages 18–22 reported heavy alcohol use in the past month.What percentage of college students are binge drinkers? ›
However, the percentage of college students who reported binge drinking has decreased in the past five years, from 31.3% to 28%.
- Social drinking. To date, nearly all the research on drinking motives has been done on teens and young adults. ...
- Drinking to conform. ...
- Drinking for enhancement. ...
- Drinking to cope.