Drug Use in College Students

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Substance abuse is a common issue on college campuses, with many students facing increased stress and the pressure to fit in. This often leads them to try drugs and alcohol. Drug use on college campuses is a serious problem, and if you or someone you know is dealing with it, read on to learn more about the issue and discover how to connect with evidence-based addiction treatment in California.

College Students and Drug Use

College is envisioned as a period of self-discovery, boundless potential, lifelong friendships, independence, and exploration. However, for tens of thousands of students, the weight of expectations from parents, teachers, peers, society, and self sometimes intensifies during this phase.

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Adapting to a new, potentially less structured lifestyle than childhood, college students find themselves pulled in multiple directions. These factors can converge, creating an environment conducive to substance abuse. Alcohol freely flows on college campuses, and the exchange of drugs in dorm rooms or classrooms becomes a coping mechanism for stress or an attempt to enhance academic performance, albeit at the risk of developing addiction.

Several reasons contribute to the high prevalence of drug use in college students, including:

  • Academic stress: College students grapple with high levels of stress related to academic performance, social dynamics, family concerns, and more. Substance use becomes a coping mechanism for managing negative emotions.
  • Social influences: Drinking or drug use is often normalized in social settings. Some students turn to substances to alleviate tension, social anxiety, or to feel more at ease in social situations.
  • Family history: Individuals with a family history of substance use disorders face an increased risk of addiction.
  • Perceptions of substance use: Some college students perceive substance abuse as acceptable or normal, influenced by the idea that it’s a part of the college experience or due to peer pressure.
  • Fraternity or sorority membership: Studies indicate that members of Greek life have higher rates of binge drinking, substance abuse, and cigarette smoking.
  • Academic performance: Poor academic performance can both cause and result from substance use.
  • Transition period: College serves as a transition from childhood to adulthood, often marking the first time without parental supervision.
  • Easy access: The easy availability of drugs on college campuses increases the risk of substance abuse, as various substances become ubiquitous and accessible.

Most Commonly Used Drugs by College Students

 college students depicting a typical campus where drug use in college students is prevalent

Traditionally, alcohol has been the go-to substance for college students due to its affordability and accessibility. However, the drug landscape on campuses now extends beyond alcohol. Drug use among college students commonly involves marijuana, cocaine, psychedelics, stimulants, and opioid painkillers.

Marijuana takes the lead as the most popular drug, experiencing a 7% increase among college students in the past five years. Studies show that 44% of students used marijuana in 2020. The legalization of marijuana in several states, such as California, has played a significant role in this surge. Access to marijuana has become remarkably easy, with students legally obtaining it from local dispensaries. The cultural perspective on marijuana has shifted, aligning it with alcohol in the eyes of college students, and its calming properties are seen as an appealing solution for stressed individuals.

Vaping has notably contributed to the rise in marijuana use, with marijuana vaping doubling among college students from 2017 to 2018. Concurrently, nicotine vaping also saw a twofold increase during the same period.

Cocaine, despite its illegal status and associated risks, remains a popular drug on college campuses. College-aged individuals are identified as the most significant consumers of cocaine.

Psychedelics, including mushrooms and LSD, are experiencing a resurgence in popularity among college students. Hallucinogenic use has increased, possibly driven by a changing cultural perception that views these substances as alternative therapies for psychological issues.

Stimulants like Adderall, often referred to as study drugs, are commonly used by students to enhance focus and motivation. While legal and beneficial when prescribed for psychological disorders, misuse is prevalent among non-ADHD students, primarily males.

Despite a significant decline in opioid abuse, some college students still use opioids, commonly known as painkillers. Prescription opioids like OxyContin and Vicodin, when acquired legally, serve as pain relief options. However, illegally obtained opioids can lead to severe drug dependency.

The Dangers of Drug Addiction Beginning in College

College is often regarded as a time of newfound independence and exploration. While it offers abundant opportunities for personal and academic growth, it also presents a range of challenges, including exposure to substances that can lead to drug addiction. These are some of the main dangers of early initiation of substance abuse:

Academic implications

One of the immediate dangers of drug addiction during college is its impact on academic performance. Substance abuse can impair cognitive function, memory, and concentration, leading to a decline in grades. Persistent drug use may result in missed classes, incomplete assignments, and even academic probation or expulsion.

Health risks

Substance abuse poses significant health risks, especially when it becomes a pattern during the formative college years. The use of illicit drugs or the misuse of prescription medications can lead to physical and mental health issues. From respiratory problems to liver damage and mental health disorders, the consequences of drug addiction can be severe and lasting.

Social isolation

Engaging in drug abuse can alter social dynamics. Individuals struggling with addiction may distance themselves from friends and family who disapprove of their behavior. This social isolation can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and contribute to a cycle of substance abuse as individuals seek solace in drugs.

Legal consequences

The use of illegal substances can have serious legal repercussions. College campuses are not exempt from the law, and students caught in possession of illicit drugs may face legal consequences, including fines, probation, or even incarceration. These legal troubles can have long-lasting effects on one’s future opportunities.

Gateway to further addiction

What begins as recreational drug use in college can escalate into a more severe addiction. The young adult brain is still developing, and exposure to addictive substances during this critical period can increase the likelihood of developing a lifelong dependency on drugs.

Impact on future opportunities

Drug addiction can hinder future opportunities for employment and advancement. Employers often conduct background checks, and a history of substance abuse can be a red flag. Additionally, maintaining a productive and reliable work ethic becomes challenging for individuals struggling with addiction.

Recognizing the signs of addiction early on and seeking help is essential in mitigating the negative consequences that can arise from substance abuse during these formative years. Colleges and universities play a vital role in providing support systems and resources to help students make informed decisions about their well-being.

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FAQs

What begins as recreational drug use in college can escalate into a more severe addiction. The young adult brain is still developing, and exposure to addictive substances during this critical period can increase the likelihood of developing a lifelong dependency on drugs.
Drug addiction can hinder future opportunities for employment and advancement. Employers often conduct background checks, and a history of substance abuse can be a red flag. Additionally, maintaining a productive and reliable work ethic becomes challenging for individuals struggling with addiction.

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