Helping College Students Kick Substance Abuse
Starting college is thrilling, especially for students who are new to living independently away from home. College is also a time for some students to experiment with drugs and alcohol, and some of them end up abusing these substances. With professional help, support from family and friends, and essential resources, college students can kick substance abuse.
Last Updated: 11/05/2020
Substance abuse at any age can be a serious problem, but it’s a critical issue for those in college. At that point in someone’s life, experimentation with many things can take center stage. One good buzz from a few drinks can lead to experimenting with ecstasy which can then lead to considering harder drugs – and before you know it, a downward spiral into substance abuse and addiction begins.
College students can face serious consequences from these actions. They can wind up with poor grades (and potentially lose any scholarships they might have), dropping out of school, a criminal record (which then means they can’t get student loans), and/or the deterioration of their own health and safety.
It’s important to remember that substance abuse can take many different forms. What looks like substance abuse for one type of drug might look entirely different than another. Even individuals might handle the situation differently; for instance, one person might be able to handle several shots and feel buzzed, while another takes a few shots and feels drunk. But this guide takes that into account and provides a broad overview of substance abuse, the dangers of each different type, the warning signs, and how to get help if you need it.
Substances Commonly Used in College
College is a time of learning about yourself and planning for your future. It’s a time for new friends, great experiences, and some experimentation with things you haven’t tried before. But for some students, that experimentation might also come along with the temptation to use and abuse various substances, from opioids to alcohol.
Though some of the substances are legal, such as alcohol – and in some places, marijuana – and others are available via prescription, there are plenty of illegal substances available. Almost all of them can be found on college campuses. We’ll take a look at what you might encounter, what using or abusing them is like, the warning signs, resources on where to get help if you have a problem, and more. Let’s take a look at the more dangerous side of experimentation while on your college campus.
Opioids are a growing problem across the United States – one look at the headlines about massive increases in usage and overdoses makes that abundantly clear. On college campuses, opioids are a growing problem, so much so that some schools are quickly taking action. For instance, Maryland requires all its institutions of higher learning to educate students on opioids. Some examples of opioids include:
These drugs might also be called OC, oxy, oxycontin, vikes, percs, or happy pills.
Keep in mind that some of these are prescription drugs, while some are illegal drugs. It’s just as easy to get hooked on prescription drugs as illegal ones, so it is very important to use prescription opioids exactly as directed and only under the supervision of a physician.
Also known as “study drugs,” stimulants are drugs that keep a person awake or give them a great deal of energy while on a “high.” While some stimulants, such as Ritalin or Adderall, are prescribed for legitimate conditions, the problem arises when students choose to take more than directed, or share the medications with friends. Other examples of stimulants you might find on campus include:
When prescribed for legitimate reasons, the legal forms of these medications can help students a great deal, especially those who suffer from ADHD and similar conditions. But many students will pass them around as a study aid, helping their friends stay up late for exams, giving them bursts of energy and alertness, and a “rush” that goes along with those typical symptoms.
Depressants or sedatives are often prescription medications meant to relax an individual in some way. For instance, Xanax or Valium might be prescribed for panic attacks or anxiety disorders. However, when they are used at a dosage higher than directed, shared with others, or somehow obtained illegally, there could be some serious substance issues happening.
Students might have the prescriptions for quite legitimate reasons, but choose to share with friends or abuse them for the relaxing effect. Some are not legal in the United States to possess or use. Some examples of common depressants or sedatives include:
Alcohol is all around us, and that might be especially true on college campuses, where it’s rare to not find alcohol at a college party. Alcohol runs the gamut from spritzers and low-alcohol-content beers or cocktails to harder liquors and grain alcohols, which have a high proof that can easily inebriate someone with only a drink or two. Since alcohol is so ubiquitous in our society, it’s no wonder that it’s so common on campus. In fact, a 2013 survey found that almost 60% of college students between the ages of 18 and 22 drank alcohol within the prior month.
Binge drinking is also a problem. This is defined as an individual drinking enough to raise their blood alcohol level very quickly. It usually takes four drinks for women or five drinks for men, over the span of two hours. In the above referenced survey, two out of three respondents said they had engaged in binge drinking during that prior month.
Marijuana is the dried leaves, flowers, stems and seeds of Cannabis plants. These plants contain THC, a mind-altering chemical that can impart a relaxing effect. After alcohol, marijuana is the most commonly used psychotropic drug in the United States, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. The drug is usually smoked in a pipe or in rolled form, similar to a cigarette or cigar. It can also be eaten in foods, such as brownies, known as “edibles.”
Marijuana has many nicknames – perhaps hundreds of them – but the most common include:
- Mary Jane
The use of marijuana is rising, especially among college students. A 2019 study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that about 43% of college students used marijuana in the previous year, a seven percent increase over five years, which puts the use at a historic high.
Morphine is a natural substance taken from the seed pop of certain opium poppy plants. Morphine is commonly used in a hospital setting and can be very helpful for patients with severe pain. Heroin is made from morphine mixed with additives. Heroin is injected, snorted, sniffed, or smoked. No matter the route, it gets into the brain very quickly and affects the receptors that control pain, pleasure, heart rate, sleeping, and breathing.
Heroin can look like a white or brown powder; black tar heroin is a type of heroin that is black and sticky. Heroin has many street names, including smack or hell dust. There are some other drugs that react similarly to heroin in the body, including:
These prescriptions drugs can sometimes serve as a “gateway” to heroin use, especially if a person becomes addicted to them and builds up a tolerance, thus looking for more drugs to increase the high. And it doesn’t stop there; nearly all heroin users use at least one other drug, according to the CDC.
A hallucinogen is a drug that can alter a person’s perception of his or her environment as well as alter the person’s feelings or thoughts. However, its recreational use in college has been overshadowed by the abuse of other drugs, such as opioids or stimulants. Despite this fact, use of hallucinogens among college students is still a major problem.
According to a 2006 study, the use of a hallucinogen, such as ecstasy, was relatively low compared to other drugs, such as marijuana. However, users of ecstasy were far more likely to have tried other illicit drugs than those who had just used marijuana. Besides ecstasy, other common hallucinogens include:
Insight from the Expert
A’nna Jurich, MS., LCPC., CRADC, is the Executive Director of the Gateway Foundation in Carbondale, Illinois.