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Addiction in College Students: An Alarming Problem

Binge drinking and experimenting with drugs are often seen as a natural part of the college experience. These things are also glorified in movies and other pop culture. But addiction is a serious problem among college students.

About 80% of college students have abused alcohol. Additionally, according to a 2007 report from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, 22.9% of people attending college at that time met the medical definition of drug addiction, compared to 8.5% of the general population. These numbers seem only to be increasing, as prescription drugs like Oxycotin, Xanax and others are even more widely available.

Why is Addiction so Prevalent for College Students?

There are a number of reasons why there are high percentages of addiction among college students.

Brain development

It’s common knowledge that teenagers and young adults have trouble with impulse control. There are biological reasons for this. According to Dr. Frances Jensen, author of The Teenage Brain, it could take up to a person’s late 20’s and beyond for their brain to fully mature. 

The brain connects regions to each other, and in order to signal quickly, these areas need to be insulated. This insulation, called myelin, takes years for the brain to build. The last areas in the brain to become insulated are the prefrontal and frontal cortex—areas associated with impulse control and executive functioning.

Alcohol and drugs already play a big part in the college experience, and many college students are at an age when they aren’t as able to weigh risks. This makes them more likely to partake in readily available substances.

Social pressure

On top of their brains being primed to act on impulses, college students face a lot of social pressure to drink and use. Fraternities and sororities are known for having a party culture, but even outside of Greek life, alcohol and drug use on colleges is rampant. Many students see binge drinking or using drugs as a “rite of passage.” Teenagers and young adults are also more likely to place weight on what their peers think of them; fitting in often means drinking or using.

College culture

According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), college students binge drink at a higher rate than peers who don’t attend college. This is likely because of the above-mentioned culture at colleges, which glorifies binge drinking and substance use. Many young people see college as the time to experiment and run wild. Students who live on campus face this culture daily.

Being away from home for the first time

Many college students are on their own for the first time in their lives, without the oversight of parents or guardians. They may revel in this new freedom by using drugs and alcohol. As mentioned earlier, many college students are at an age where they lack impulse control; the new ability to make all their own decisions may result in risk-taking behavior.

Stress

In addition to the stress of being on their own for the first time, college students face a lot of academic pressure. Classes may be more demanding or challenging than they are used to. They may be working a part-time job while enrolled full-time in college. 

Young people also face social pressures and the stress of new experiences, with many college students experiencing various life events for the first time. 

Students may use substances to try to relax or numb their feelings—or they may start abusing drugs like Adderall in an attempt to keep up with their studies.

Alcohol

According to a 2018 survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1 in 3 college students had recently engaged in binge drinking 

In addition to the above-mentioned risk factors, alcohol is widely available. College students who are over 21 can legally buy alcohol and share it with younger students. Many students can also easily obtain fake IDs.

If a college student is struggling with alcohol addiction, teachers, parents and other adults may be more likely to look the other way. Drinking alcohol is seen as so much a part of the college experience that it may be hard to tell when a student is having issues. People may also think that the student is just young and having fun.

Students may also not have much adult supervision in their life to begin with. Parents or guardians may only see their kids during semester breaks, and consequently be unaware of the problem.

The effects of alcohol abuse on college campuses are many and serious. 95% of violent crime on college campuses is alcohol-related. Binge drinking can lead to accidents, DWIs, alcohol poisoning, and in some cases death.

Adderall and Other ADHD Medication

Since Adderall is a prescription drug used to treat ADHD, people may think it isn’t possible to be addicted to it. However, many college students are abusing Adderall outside of its prescriptive uses. According to a study in the Journal of Addictive Diseases, 62% of a group of students with an ADHD medication prescription were distributing it to students without prescriptions.

College puts a lot of academic demands on students. These demands may come on top of jobs, social pressures, and other forms of stress. Students may abuse Adderall and other ADHD medication in an attempt to keep up.

There is often an emphasis during college on staying up late into the night. Students may take ADHD medication outside of its intended use in order to spend late nights studying, writing papers, or partying.

Marijuana

According to the DEA, 1 in 22 college students uses marijuana daily or near daily, and pot is the most widely used illicit drug amongst college students.  

Since you can’t overdose on pot, it is often seen as a harmless drug. However, college students may abuse it, impairing their overall functioning. When they are under the influence of marijuana, they are more likely to get into car accidents or sustain other injuries. If they are getting high every day, they are more likely to put off responsibilities like school work or jobs.

Other Drugs

While not as ubiquitous on college campuses as alcohol or marijuana, college students are also using other drugs like heroin, prescription pills, over-the-counter drugs like DXM-containing cough medicines, ecstasy, LSD, and others.

Teens and young adults will often use the slang term “Molly” for Ecstasy; this means molecular, referring to pure MDMA. However, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens, this is  “mostly a marketing gimmick,” as Molly often contains other ingredients. Some of the other substances that have been found in Molly are: cocaine, amphetamines, PCP, and synthetic cathinones, the chemicals in bath salts.

As mentioned earlier, college is often seen as a time for experimentation; that experimentation can lead to addiction, and has the potential to be dangerous. 

Warning Signs of Addiction in College Students

A few signs of addiction in college students are:

-Skipping classes

-Seeming lethargic

-Showing changes in appearance or grooming habits

-Making less contact with friends or family

-Failing classes, or receiving lower grades

-Exhibiting mood swings

-Showing weight changes

If you notice any of these signs in a friend or family member, if your loved one is behaving differently than before, or if you suspect a substance abuse problem for any other reason, it is important to intervene early.

Prevention, Early Intervention and Recovery

Studies have shown that early substance use increases the risk of later substance use disorders. This is why early intervention is crucial. It’s also important to take preventative measures, providing education to kids in high school or younger about the dangers of substance use.

At Amatus Recovery Centers, our certified drug counselors provide students at Baltimore County Public Schools with information and, if needed, early treatment; this increases the students’ chances of long-term recovery. We also provide the public with a number of educational resources, such as our “Straight Talk on Opiates” television show; host Mike Gimbel interviews drug experts, recovering addicts, health professionals, political leaders, and more. 

If you or someone you know is a college student struggling with an addiction, there is help available. On top of preventative education and early intervention programs, Amatus Recovery Centers across the country offer the full continuum of care for alcohol and substance abuse. At our treatment centers, we will help your loved one get well, so they can continue their education unimpeded by addiction.

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