College Students & Addiction


Understand why college students abuse drugs & alcohol and how to seek treatment help.

College students are one of the groups most in danger of turning to substance abuse. Sadly, this time in an individual’s life does cause quite a vulnerability toward addiction: the stress of working hard and late to prepare for finals and write papers, the pressure from other students to use, the desire to look and feel cool in front of friends or potential partners. All of these factors can lead someone in college to substance abuse.

College Students and Addiction: How and Why It Happens

College students are some of the individuals in the most danger of substance abuse. One of the reasons for this is that drugs and alcohol are often very easy to obtain on college campuses, in some ways, easier than they are to get anywhere else. There is also a strong belief among individuals in this group that drug use is safe, even normal.

Full-time college students are almost always more likely to use drugs and alcohol than part-time students. This is partly because drugs are so widely available on college campuses.

  • According to a 2016 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, on an average day in the past year, 1.2 million of the 9.0 million full-time students drank alcohol while only 239,212 of the 2.0 million part-time students drank alcohol, a difference of 13.3 percent and 11.9 percent, respectively.
  • In a 2009 study, SAMHSA found that full-time students were twice as likely as part-time students to use Adderall (a prescription stimulant) non-medically at 6.4 and 3.0 percent, respectively.
  • Full-time students were more likely in 2016 than other young adults of the same age to believe they could easily obtain drugs like marijuana or LSD (SAMHSA). They were also less likely to perceive there would be a great risk of harm from the monthly abuse of cocaine, using heroin once or twice, or using LSD once or twice.
  • Marijuana is one of the only drugs of abuse in which non-college students are more likely to engage.
  • In 2016, 4.9 percent of college students aged 19 to 22 years old used marijuana daily, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  • 12.8 percent of non-college students of the same age group participated in this same type of use.

A mixture of availability, ambivalence to possible dangers, and the pressures of both school and social situations help lead to these problems in college students. As stated by the NIDA, there is a belief that certain drugs, like prescription stimulants, will help you study harder and longer as well as improve your grades in school. The truth is those who misuse these drugs have actually been proven to experience lower grades over time. This is because these drugs do not actually enhance learning or cognitive abilities when they are not taken as prescribed.

In addition, those who use stimulants and other substances to ease social interactions often see a similar backlash. Drugs like Adderall, when abused, can cause a person to become sociable, excited, and talkative, but they also cause a crash period where the individual becomes depressed, exhausted, and anxious.

As a result, many college students use drugs and alcohol simply because the option is available to them and because they are under the wrong impression about the effects of these substances. This abuse, just like consistent substance abuse at any other age, can potentially lead to addiction.

Recognizing Addiction in College Students

Being able to recognize addiction in someone else or in yourself is paramount when you are a college student (or you have a loved one who is). There are many different signs of addiction, some of which are even particular to those in college, that can help you determine if this has become a problem in your life.

You can recognize addiction in a college student by the following signs.

  • They are no longer going to class, taking school seriously, or putting school first.
  • They are using drugs like Adderall, Concerta, or Dexedrine without a prescription, in larger doses than prescribed, or in a way other than prescribed (ex. crushing and snorting the drug).
  • Their eating and/or sleeping habits are changing drastically to the point of a health concern.
  • They are behaving secretively, lying about their whereabouts, etc.
  • They have given up on activities that once mattered to them because they would rather use drugs.
  • They become hostile if someone questions their substance abuse (National Library of Medicine).
  • They begin to neglect their responsibilities in order to use more drugs.
  • They make excuses to use such as “I need to use Adderall to finish this paper” or “I’m not comfortable at parties unless I have a beer in my hand.”
  • They have to use drugs or alcohol every day in order to function.
  • They have a serious lack of control over their substance abuse to the point where they cannot stop using, even if they know it is causing problems in their life.

If you or someone you know begins to exhibit any of these signs, it is likely that addiction has already taken hold. At this point, it is extremely important to be able to recognize this problem and to seek help. Without proper treatment, it will be dangerous to go through recovery, especially if you are dependent on the substance(s) you are abusing.

What Treatment Options Are Available for College Students Addicted to Drugs and Alcohol?

One of the hardest things to do when you realize you are struggling with addiction is to ask for help. Luckily for college students, there are often intervention options they can find through their campus.

  • According to the Journal of College Student Development, many individuals who were studied to determine the best interventions for college students struggling with addiction said they preferred the option of talking to a trusted individual like a teacher or administrator. Doing this can ensure that you will be able to find out all the options that your campus offers for recovery.
  • Some students prefer to go to a counseling session through their campus. These sessions are often free and will allow the individual to learn more about the resources available on campus. Also, counseling itself is one of the most often used treatment options for recovery.

However, even if you talk to someone on campus, it is still important that you receive professional addiction treatment. Seeking treatment is absolutely paramount to recovery, as addiction is a disease that can potentially cause a relapse if the individual does not receive the proper care. The NIDA compares it to diabetes, asthma, and other chronically relapsing diseases in order to help people understand that treatment is necessary to recovery.

Addiction treatment normally begins with detox. Detox is a medically supervised withdrawal program that will allow you to put your dependence behind you. Usually, detox involves the use of medications and behavioral therapies in order to safely navigate any withdrawal symptoms associated with your substance use disorder. After detox, though, you will need to attend rehab, as detox alone is not a treatment for addiction.

  • Detox for a college-aged individual might take place in an inpatient center, depending on the severity of their substance abuse. If you would prefer to continue your classes and you have a less intensive dependency, you may be able to choose outpatient care, although this will depend highly on your situation. Remember, many college students turn to drug abuse as a result of school-related stress, so it may actually be a more effective choice for you to seek inpatient detox.
  • Rehab will occur after you have stabilized from detox and you are no longer experiencing withdrawal symptoms. You will need to choose the best rehab program for your needs, which can include choosing between inpatient and outpatient care, determining a length of stay with your doctor, and other variables.
  • Once rehab has ended, it is often effective to seek an aftercare program that can help ease your transition into a life of recovery. This could include anything from a 12-step group to a sober living home to a less intensive treatment facility.

Seeking treatment can be overwhelming, but it is necessary to remember that you will require professional care in order to recover safely. If you are ready to begin your recovery from substance abuse, or to look for treatment for someone you love, call today.


  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The CBHSQ Report. (2016). A Day in the Life of College Students Aged 18 to 22: Substance Use Facts.
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2009). Nonmedical Use of Adderall among Full-Time College Students.
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The CBHSQ Report. (2016). Trends in Perception of Risk and Availability of Substance Use Among Full-Time College Students. 
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Drug and Alcohol Use in College-Age Adults in 2016.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Prescription Stimulants.
  6. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2018). Substance Use Disorder.
  7. Journal of College Student Development. (2012). College Student Drug Use: Patterns, Concerns, Consequences, and Interest in Intervention. 
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)- How Effective is Drug Addiction Treatment? 
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