Changing the Culture of Drug Abuse on College Campuses

When you think about substance abuse in college students, binge drinking is probably one of the first things that come to mind. Cultural concepts of frat parties and college-town bars give the impression that college students are spending a lot of time drinking.

Alcohol abuse definitely is a major concern on college campuses, but alcohol isn’t the only drug for which students are at risk of developing an addiction.

Whether students are relying on drugs for recreation, to stay up late studying, or as a way of coping with mental health issues, drug abuse among college students is a matter of public health concern.

Are you wondering what you should know about addiction among college-age adults? Let’s take a look at the facts.

Facts and Figures About Substance Abuse in College Students

Alcohol abuse has been steadily present in colleges and universities around the country for decades. However, the frequency and type of substances abused other than alcohol has varied over time.

A number of factors can lead to the different trends in substance abuse on campuses.

Factors that lead to substance abuse at college include:

When it comes to alcohol use, the percentage of college students that have reported having symptoms of alcohol abuse is staggeringly high at 31%. 80% of college students in the US also say that they have abused alcohol.

Every year, there are about 110,000 students arrested for violations that are related to alcohol.

Other noteworthy statistics related to drug abuse among college students include:

Studies have also suggested that about one out of every ten college students has experimented with ecstasy.

Addiction in College Students: Commonly Misused Substances

There are a number of drugs that are commonly present on college campuses. The culture of a school or groups that students participate in might encourage the use of certain substances over others. Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly misused drugs on campus.


It likely doesn’t come as much of a surprise that alcohol is the most abused drug on college campuses. Alcohol consumption is widely accepted as a social pastime, and college is culturally known as a time of raucous, drink-fuelled debauchery.

Alcohol is legal for people 21 years and up, but alcohol is often widely available to students who aren’t of legal drinking age. Most parties at colleges serve alcohol, and many college towns have bars that cater to students. Binge drinking is a major concern on campuses, as it can lead to alcohol poisoning and other dangerous consequences.

If you’re concerned that you might have a substance use disorder, take a look at this SUD guide and self-test.


The list of states where cannabis is legal recreationally is growing, but there are still many states where it is illegal. This is the second most popular drug in the U.S. and on college campuses. While marijuana is largely viewed as less harmless than other drugs, horrific consequences can result from lack of judgment or driving under the influence.

Prescription Pills

College has a reputation as being a demanding and high-caliber academic experience. Drugs like Adderall and Ritalin are commonly abused on college campuses both to help people study and to be used in recreational contexts. While these drugs are legal with a prescription, the consequences of selling these pills can result in a 10 year jail sentence and up to a $10,000 fine.

There is a common misconception that prescribed medications are safer than illicit drugs. While this might be true in some circumstances, the risk of addiction and abuse for amphetamines like Adderall is very high.

People who use Adderall habitually build up a tolerance. This can leave them unable to function normally without the drug.

If you’re worried that you or someone you love has developed an addiction, it can be helpful to learn as much as you can about substance dependency. Check out this article to learn about the seven stages of addiction you need to know.


Ecstasy is the most popular drug on the festival and rave scene. It is increasingly common for college students to use ecstasy. This drug provokes the brain to release tons of dopamine, leaving users with immense and extreme feelings of happiness.

However, when the effects of the drug start to wear off, users can feel extremely sad and unwell. Ecstasy essentially frontloads the release of your body’s feel-good chemicals, leaving you feeling a sense of extreme depression in the following days. These feelings can be so intense that self-harm and suicide become legitimate risks.

This drug actually has been found to show some promise as a treatment for PTSD. However, using ecstasy in a clinical setting is quite different than abusing the drug as a part of a partying habit.


Cocaine is both illegal in the United States and highly addictive. However, that doesn’t stop college students from abusing the drug. This is an expensive substance that is often used to help add to the party atmosphere.

This drug can wreak havoc on the brain and causes one in four users to become addicted. While cocaine use gives users intense feelings of euphoria and energy, it can also cause strain on the heart and land you in the hospital or even cause death.

Which College Students Are at a Higher Risk For Addiction?

No one is immune to drug abuse, so it’s important to understand that addiction can occur regardless of a person’s age, gender, socio-economic class, grades, or race.

However, there are certain demographics that are common on college campuses that put students at a higher risk for both encountering and abusing drugs.

Those at higher risk include:

Research has suggested that men and boys are more likely to abuse drugs than women and girls. That being said, anyone can struggle with addiction.

Signs of Drug Abuse Among College Students

The substance that is being abused will impact which signs and symptoms make themselves known in a college-aged student, or anyone suffering from drug misuse, for that matter. However, there are certain psychological patterns that are common for people who are struggling with a substance.

There are some common signs you can look out for in a college student if you suspect drug misuse.

Signs of drug misuse in college include:

Many of these signs could have explanations other than drug use. However, dramatic shifts and personality changes can indicate that something is wrong, whether it is drug misuse or a mental health issue.

College Students and Mental Health Issues

According to the American Psychological Association, mental health is a growing concern on college campuses. A National Survey of College Counseling Centers from 2014 found that there had been an increase in clinical depression, anxiety disorders, and crises requiring an immediate response in the last five years. A survey from 2016 found that more than half of students reported feelings of hopelessness and nearly 40% reported feeling so depressed during the past year that it was difficult to function.

You can learn more about the relationship between depression and addiction here.

It is very common for individuals who develop substance use disorders to also be diagnosed with mental health conditions. The same is true the other way around. Mental health issues can drive people to use drugs and alcohol, and drug and alcohol problems can create mental health concerns.

Support Options for College-Age Adults

There is help available for college-age adults or anyone who is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse. Substance abuse in college students is often too easily shirked to the side as a phase, but it’s important to take it seriously if you believe you’ve developed an addiction. If you are currently on campus, consider visiting your mental health center for guidance on the next steps to take.

At Safe & Sound Treatment, we are here to help people begin their journey to recovery. If it’s time for you to get your life back, contact us today.