Cheap Thrills: Substance Abuse on Campus

5 Benefits of Taking a Gap Year

Find your perfect value college is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Young adults are particularly vulnerable to addiction. The part of the brain that controls impulsive behavior has not fully formed, yet they are producing more dopamine, the feel-good hormone than they were when they were younger. Since many commonly abused substances affect dopamine production and poor impulse control encourages students to consume them this is a bad combination. College also provides the perfect opportunity for students to abuse drugs and alcohol. College students are experiencing the perfect storm of stress, a heavy academic workload, newfound freedom, peer pressure, and the ready availability of drugs and alcohol.

  • Stress – the demands of academic pressure, jobs, social obligations and relationships make it tempting for students to turn to drugs and alcohol to relax or to speed up in order to keep up
  • Herd mentality – drugs and alcohol are normalized by their prevalence, because they are everywhere, they start to seem completely normal
  • Freedom – being surrounded by peers and not parents tends to lower inhibitions and increase risk taking behavior leading to experimentation and more deviant behavior
  • Easy access – drugs and alcohol are readily available so the temptation is always there, since you don’t have to seek them, they are presented to you, you are more likely to try them

It is considered normal and part of the college experience for many students to “party.”  Partying by definition involves some sort of drug or alcoholic beverage. Most students only party on the weekends but even that can be too often. Experimentation with drugs and college parties is not without risk. Young adults are already at greater risk of slipping into addiction than any other age group but when you add in the risk factors associated with college students the numbers skyrocket. Students who are enrolled in a full-time college or university program are 50% more likely to have a substance abuse problem than a non-student. That is an alarming statistic and one that is increasing rather than decreasing each year.

Featured Programs

Alcohol is the most common drug on any campus in America. 4 out of 5 college students drink. 40% of college students binge drink. Becoming a member of a sorority or fraternity is 26% more likely to binge drink. Drinking on campus is so normalized that you see it depicted on t-shirts, in movies, and on television. People tend to forget that most college students are too young to drink legally and are not only prone to binging but also committing a crime. Nearly a million students a year are assaulted physically or sexually in alcohol-related incidents on college campuses. 25% percent of college students report academic consequences due to their drinking including missing class, getting behind or failing. Alcohol is a pervasive part of campus culture but not a positive part.

Students who are enrolled in a full time college or university program are 50% more likely to have a substance abuse problem than a non-student.

Daily marijuana use is on the rise on campuses all over the country. The statistics are affected by the fact that smoking marijuana is currently legal in Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, of course. But it is almost as popular in states where it is illegal on college campuses. More students smoke marijuana daily than smoke cigarettes as of 2014.  These numbers include e-cigs vaping and other forms of electronic tobacco products. Tobacco usage is down and marijuana usage is way up on campuses across the nation.

Ecstasy, also known as Molly and MDMA is also on the rise. 15% of college-age students have used it.  It is primarily a rave drug and taken for all-night dance parties. Since it is completely unregulated and illegal, users don’t actually know what they are taking when they think they are taking ecstasy. Pills are often laced with all sorts of other drugs and contain no MDMA at all. Overdoses and strange side effects are therefore not uncommon. It is viewed as a very dangerous drug.

More students smoke marijuana daily than smoke cigarettes as of 2014.

ADHD medication is frequently abused by college students and the numbers are only expected to grow. In fact, recent studies indicate that one out of every six college students is abusing ADHD medication.  Many students believe it helps them study or concentrate. Some students take it for weight loss and some students take it to get high. Students who take it to get high might take it in really high doses, snort it or inject it. Research shows that the more competitive a college’s admission standards, the higher the rate of stimulant abuse is on campus. Many students feel that it is safe to take since it is a pharmaceutical and regulated by the FDA rather than a “street drug”.  Many students also feel justified in taking it because they “need” it to get through finals or other stressful times at school and they are not taking it to get high. It is safe if taken for a legitimate condition and used as directed. But if you abuse it, it is highly addictive.

Prescription opioid use has exploded on college campuses since the ’90s at an even faster rate than it has risen in the rest of the country. Pain killers containing opiates have been around for a long time but OxyContin was a game-changer.  Students often do not realize the life-altering effects OxyContin can have, or how rapidly they can become it. OxyContin can cause brain damage and impair their judgment. It has a reputation among students of giving a pleasant drunk feeling without the hang-over, calories, chance of a DUI, or voting. Some underage students report that it is easier to get OxyContin on campus than it is to get a six-pack of beer. It is the most abused prescription drug on college campuses and only marijuana is used more by students.

Over-the-counter drugs are also being abused on campus. It is estimated that 1 million students a year abuse OTC, primarily cough and cold medication. Students who drink a whole bottle of medication containing DXM, the active ingredient in Nyquil,  may hallucinate or have an out-of-body experience. Since the drug is cheap, legal, readily available and seems harmless since anyone can use it. However, drinking an entire bottle can lead to an overdose and on rare occasions even death.

Illegal street drugs like cocaine and heroin are not hard to find on-campus either. About 5% of students have used cocaine by the time they graduate.   The effects of cocaine when you snort, smoke, or inject it often appeal to college students, who want to stay up all night to study, party, or keep up with the demands of an overloaded schedule. Cocaine is highly addictive and the crash when the high wears off leaves students feeling awful and wanting more in order to perk up and feel better. Heroin use on campus is on the rise. Some recent studies attribute the surge in OxyContin addition to the upswing in heroin use but more research needs to be to solidify that claim.  In a  2012 National College Health Assessment, 19.2% of survey participants said the typical student at their university had tried heroin at least once. Those numbers are shocking, yet little is being done to educate students about the specific dangers of using heroin on campuses.

Alcohol abuse, binge drinking, drug abuse, and drug addiction are huge problems on college campuses across America. Colleges have awareness and prevention programs in place. Most of these programs focus on alcohol, the average college student’s drug of choice. But mounting evidence is showing the need for these programs to expand their breadth and scope to include a much larger variety of drugs, especially prescription drugs and opiates. Campus medical centers also need to improve their testing and treatment options. Since the signs of drug addiction can be hard to spot in a high functioning college student, campus medical personnel needs to be trained to look for the signs. Intervention is especially important for opiate users since the chance of overdosing is so high. Schools should also stock naloxone, which can be bought under the brand name Narcan. It is available as a nasal spray or a pre-loaded injectable shot and instantly reverses the effects of an opiate overdose. High schools across America are now required to keep them on hand and colleges should follow their lead. Treatments facility information should be readily available on campus for students with addictions and help should be available immediately when a student seeks assistance.

To effectively combat drugs and alcohol on campus there needs to be a cultural shift. College needs to be viewed as a place of academic and emotional growth rather than a place to escape from home and party for four years. The mindset needs to change so that students entering school are searching for growth rather than thrills.

Related Rankings: 

Featured Programs

Aya Andrews


Aya Andrews is a passionate educator and mother of two, with a diverse background that has shaped her approach to teaching and learning. Born in Metro Manila, she now calls San Diego home and is proud to be a Filipino-American. Aya earned her Masters degree in Education from San Diego State University, where she focused on developing innovative teaching methods to engage and inspire students.

Prior to her work in education, Aya spent several years as a continuing education consultant for KPMG, where she honed her skills in project management and client relations. She brings this same level of professionalism and expertise to her work as an educator, where she is committed to helping each of her students achieve their full potential.

In addition to her work as an educator, Aya is a devoted mother who is passionate about creating a nurturing and supportive home environment for her children. She is an active member of her community, volunteering her time and resources to support local schools and organizations. Aya is also an avid traveler, and loves to explore new cultures and cuisines with her family.

With a deep commitment to education and a passion for helping others succeed, Aya is a true inspiration to those around her. Her dedication to her craft, her community, and her family is a testament to her unwavering commitment to excellence in all aspects of her life.

Find your perfect value college is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Enter a search word or phrase