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Drug Use In College Students

College students use their time at school as a way to find themselves and enjoy newfound freedoms they didn’t have while living under their parents’ roof. Often, these new freedoms include experimenting with drugs and alcohol. There are many reasons that college students choose to use drugs and alcohol, including stress, social pressures and anxiety. On the other hand, some college students experiment with substances simply because they’re curious. Unfortunately, if not controlled appropriately, drug and alcohol use can quickly lead college students down a path of addiction and suicide.

Drugs Commonly Used By College Students


Between spring break, frat parties and tailgating traditions, the opportunity to drink alcohol is continuously available to college-aged kids, even if they’re underaged. While students could easily say no, many see experimenting with drugs and alcohol during their college years as a rite of passage. For these reasons, alcohol has been deeply ingrained in campus culture for decades and is the most commonly used drug among college students. According to a national survey performed by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), almost 60 percent of college students ages 18–22 drank alcohol in the past month, and nearly 2 out of 3 of them engaged in binge drinking during that same timeframe. Since so many college students are drinking alcohol regularly, they often don’t see a problem with it. It’s becoming socially acceptable for college students to get drunk while out with friends, and since many aren’t doing it every night, they don’t see the harm in it. Unfortunately, college students that frequently drink are more likely to experience:

  • Trouble at school
  • Legal problems
  • Higher risk of suicide
  • Higher risk of assault
  • Changes in brain development
  • Increased chance of alcohol addiction
  • Memory problems
  • Alcohol poisoning

Perhaps most frightening among the list of side effects alcohol use by this age group is that about 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes, each year. While drinking alcohol may help college students fit in and relate to their peers, it can come with significant risks. [middle-callout]

Adderall And Other Study Drugs

Study drugs refer to prescription stimulant medications that are used to increase concentration, energy and physical stamina. This group of drugs includes Ritalin, Concerta and the most popular stimulant, Adderall. The amphetamine in Adderall causes hyperstimulation throughout the brain and body which makes users feel stronger, more self-assured and energized. The extra confidence and energy allow those who use Adderall to accomplish more than they usually would without the drug. Due to this, it has become increasingly popular for college students looking to boost mental and physical performance. It has even earned the nickname “college crack.” While increased stamina and energy is partial to blame for Adderall’s rise in popularity among college students, the stimulant is also remarkably easy to get without a prescription. According to the Partnership For Drug-Free Kids, around 20 percent of college-aged kids said that they used prescription stimulants, like Adderall. Additionally, 74 percent of college students said they got their stimulant not from a doctor, but from a friend. Unfortunately, a generation of college-aged kids who are increasingly reliant on stimulants has started to graduate and enter the workforce, bringing their Adderall addiction with them. Researchers believe this is why the United States is currently seeing an increase in Adderall prescriptions being written for adults, especially those between the ages of 26 and 34-years-old.

Ecstasy And MDMA Drugs

Known as the party drug, ecstasy is extremely popular on college campuses. The rate of college students using this designer drug has doubled in the past decade, and its prevalence is still growing. In its purest form, ecstasy is known by the name Molly. However, ecstasy is frequently mixed with other drugs, like amphetamines, alcohol or caffeine to produce a stronger high. Ecstasy and MDMA drugs like it are known for to produce a boost of energy and euphoric high. However, they’re also highly addictive and can cause:

  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Increased body temperature
  • Increase heart rate
  • Dehydration

These side effects can be unusually severe when ecstasy is mixed with another substance. While only a small number of deaths have been reported due to MDMA drugs, the popularity of the drug among college students have school administrators stepping up their efforts to educate students on the dangers of abusing ecstasy.

Why Do College Students Use Drugs?

While the statistics on drug and alcohol use might seem disproportionally stacked against college students, there are many reasons that it is so heavily concentrated in this age group.

  • Experimentation: College is often the first time students get a taste of freedom. They are out of their parents’ house and among people their own age who are also experimenting with drugs and alcohol. It’s not enough to just see others trying substances- college students want to experience drugs and alcohol for themselves.
  • Stress: While social and mass media might have new students believing that college is all about meeting new friends and going to parties, there is a lot of actual work involved. College students have to juggle exams, homework, extracurricular activities, personal obligations and part-time jobs all while attending classes. These stressors are compounded by the understanding that how well they do in college could dictate the rest of their lives. The high demands of college often push students towards drugs and alcohol in order to cope with stress and manage their responsibilities.
  • Peer Pressure: Students entering college are just starting to get to know themselves and develop their character. The desire to fit into a particular crowd makes new college students extremely susceptible to peer pressure. When students are constantly surrounded by others abusing alcohol and performance-enhancing drugs, it may lead them to try the drugs for themselves.
  • Social Anxiety: Making connections in a new environment can be daunting, especially for those who are naturally more reserved. Drugs and alcohol can temporarily calm the nerves and bring out the more “fun” side of a person. Using drugs or alcohol has a short-term fix for social anxiety can help college students make friends, but can quickly turn into an addiction.

Substance use can be attributed to any one of these factors, but more often than not, it will be a combination of the above reasons that lead college students to use drugs and alcohol.

Drug Use And Suicide Among College Students

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, and it accounts for approximately 1,100 student deaths annually. According to a working paper published in the National Bureau of Economic Research, alcohol and drug use has contributed to the growing number of suicides among college students. Researchers found the students that engage in regular use of drugs and alcohol are more likely to experience:

  • Social isolation
  • Low self-esteem
  • Loss of work or school
  • Estrangement from friends and family

These factors often lead to the development of suicidal tendencies. Additionally, substance use is known to increase a person’s impulsiveness while decreasing their inhibitions. This combination increases the likelihood that someone will act on their suicidal thoughts and ideations. While the connection between suicide and drug use is still being uncovered, new evidence indicates that as many as 45 percent of deaths ruled overdoses could actually be suicides. If true, the rate of suicides among college students who use drugs could drastically increase. — According to the NIAAA, about a quarter of college students report that they’ve suffered academic consequences because of their drinking, and use of amphetamines like Adderall nearly doubled on college campuses between 2008 and 2013. With so much as stake for college students, they need to be better educated about how the risks their taking with drugs and alcohol could impact their future.