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Addiction in College

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Substance abuse is prevalent among college students, according to the 2015 Monitoring the Future national survey (a comprehensive evaluation of substance use among young people and adults in the United States).

Many college students have access to illicit substances, such as stimulants, marijuana or alcohol. These drugs can be found in dorm rooms, off-campus apartments and fraternity houses.

While prescription opioid abuse has declined since 2006, marijuana and heroin use have increased. The 2015 Monitoring the Future national survey indicates that stimulant misuse is on the rise. Alcohol abuse remains an issue for today’s college students.

As a parent, if you suspect your student may have a drug problem, you can help. Providing support and helping your college-aged child find treatment can be instrumental to overcoming addiction.

First, it helps to understand more about some of the substances that are out there, and the signs of addiction.

Popular Substances of Abuse


Heroin use has more than doubled among college-aged adults in the last decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Forty-five percent of people who used heroin were addicted to prescription opioids first.

According to the latest Monitoring the Future national survey, 70 to 75 percent of young adults aged 19 to 30 viewed the experimental use of heroin as involving great risk; however, the report also found that about one-fifth of people aged 18 to 26 said they could get heroin fairly or very easily.

The Recovery Village Columbus recently shared information with us about a dangerous new opioid known as "gray death." Learn more about this deadly concoction of fentanyl,carfentanil, heroin and synthetic opioids by clicking here.


Adderall, a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, can be found in backpacks and libraries on college campuses across the United States. The drug is used to treat people with ADD and ADHD. However, many college students misuse the drug to stay up all night.

According to the Monitoring the Future national survey, 10.7 percent of surveyed college students reported Adderall use in 2015. The survey showed higher nonmedical use of this drug among college students than that of Ritalin, an amphetamine that was once a highly abused substance among students.

Adderall abuse can be identified. Look for some of the following symptoms:

  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Panic attacks
  • Fatigue
  • Unhappiness
  • Depression

Spotting Adderall bottles in students' rooms can also be a telltale sign of their misuse of the drug.


Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. The drug made headlines in November 2016, when voters in eight states approved the recreational or medical use of marijuana.

Today, 28 states and the District of Columbia allow for the medical or recreational use of cannabis. However, marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

In 2014, 20.8 percent of college-aged students reported using marijuana in the past 30 days, according to the 2014 Monitoring the Future national survey.

This trend worsened in 2015.

The 2015 Monitoring the Future national survey showed that annual marijuana use increased among respondents aged 19 to 24. Also, 37.9 percent of surveyed college students said they had used marijuana or hashish in the prior 12 months, a 3.5 percent increase from the previous year. Daily use of the drug has also increased in recent years and, with legalization, in many places marijuana is available in a greater variety of forms (including edibles and beverages) and potencies.

You can spot marijuana use in college-aged children. Cannabis users may exhibit:

  • Paranoia
  • Problems with balance or coordination
  • Breathing problems
  • Mood swings
  • Drowsiness or relaxation
  • Slowed reaction time

Long-term marijuana use impacts brain development. Using cannabis for an extended period of time could permanently affect thinking, memory and learning functions.


People drink alcohol to socialize, celebrate and relax. Many college students drink to get drunk or to fit in with their peers.

Alcohol is the most used substance among college students, according to the 2015 Monitoring the Future national survey. Seventy-nine percent of surveyed college students reported using alcohol in the past 12 months. Sixty-three percent of this group reported using in the past 30 days.

Alcohol use is higher among college students than adults of a similar age who aren’t in college, the survey found. College students also report more heavy drinking — five or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks — than non-college students. Thirty-eight percent of college students reported having been drunk in the past 30 days.

Heavy drinking could lead to an alcohol use disorder, a chronic brain disease that creates compulsive activity despite knowing the harmful consequences. An alcohol use disorder can be mild, moderate or severe.

People suffering from alcohol addiction often exhibit symptoms that may include:

  • An inability to limit drinking
  • Failing to fulfill obligations at school, work or home
  • Spending a lot of time drinking, getting alcohol or recovering from alcohol use
  • Withdrawal symptoms, including nausea, sweating and shaking

Alcohol abuse puts a person’s health and safety at risk. It can result in liver disease, digestive issues, heart problems and diabetes complications. It can also increase the risk of cancer.

Providing Support

Learning of your child’s substance abuse can trigger shock, anger and heartbreak. However, families, friends, peers and teachers can help a college student overcome addiction through support. Young adults can conquer substance use disorders and go on to live healthy and productive lives. They have options.

Have a Conversation

College students, especially freshmen, are at higher risk than nearly any other population for alcohol-related problems. Alcohol and drugs are more available on college campuses. Plus, many students engage in substance abuse just to fit in.

Starting a conversation about drugs and alcohol can be difficult. Asking questions can get your student talking about the issue in a theoretical way. You can role play a bit, too.

  • How will you decide whether or not to drink or do drugs on campus?
  • What will you do if you find yourself at a party with only alcohol to drink?
  • What will you do if your roommate is really into drinking and partying? If they use drugs?
  • What will you do if you find a student passed out in the bathroom?
  • How will you handle it if you are asked to take care of a drunk friend?

It is also important to closely communicate with your student during the first six weeks of classes, when new college students may be introduced to drugs and alcohol. Breaks spent on or off campus (winter, spring) are other times when a lot of partying may happen. Let your student know that you expect sound academic performance. This may lead them to study more and spend less time partying.

In addition, with students under 21, explain the legal ramifications of underage drinking. Go over the illegality of using a fake ID, public intoxication and driving under the influence. Your student should understand the academic consequences of substance abuse on campus.

Intoxication is risky. It can lead to unruly behavior, legal penalties or even death. Talk to your child about the dangers of impairment.

Parents can find helpful information on the NIH (National Institute on Drug Abuse) website. Encourage your student in recovery to explore resources and download a free "Students in Recovery Guide" at

Campus Resources

College campuses around the United States have resources for students battling substance abuse problems. These resources may include counseling services, prevention literature and educational workshops.

For example, Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of Central Florida offers free comprehensive psychological services to its students. The school also provides crisis intervention, presentation services and counseling services.

Additionally, collegiate recovery communities exist on many campuses for students in recovery, and the programs are not limited to only those in recovery. If your student is interested in participating in substance-free activities and events, CRCs are a great place to start.

Ultimately, it is up to the individual to seek help. But families can encourage a student who is battling addiction to learn more about these options.

AA/NA Meetings and Treatment

Each day, countless 12-step meetings take place around the United States. These therapeutic gatherings help people deal with various addictions, including alcohol and drug use. Some of the more popular 12-step programs are Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

For anyone with a substance use disorder, treatment is critical. Many rehab centers across the United States provide a continuum of care, from detox to aftercare. These facilities can help college students overcome their substance abuse problems while continuing their education.

Matt Gonzales is a writer and researcher for He boasts several years of experience writing for a daily publication, multiple weekly journals, a quarterly magazine and various online platforms. He has a bachelor’s degree in communication, with a Journalism concentration, from East Carolina University.

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Johnson, L.D. et al. (2016, July). Monitoring the Future National Survey Results on Drug Use, 1975–2015. Retrieved from

Mayo Clinic. (2015, July 25). Alcohol use disorder: Complications. Retrieved from

Mayo Clinic. (2015, July 25). Alcohol use disorder: Symptoms. Retrieved from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, August). Commonly Abused Drug Charts. Retrieved from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, March). DrugFacts—Marijuana. Retrieved from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015, December). Drug and Alcohol Use in College-Age Adults in 2014. Retrieved from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015, December). DrugFacts—Understanding Drug Use and Addiction. Retrieved from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, January). How do I know if my teen or young adult has a substance use disorder? Retrieved from

Pietrangelo, A. (2016, July 29). Coping with the Comedown: Managing Adderall Crash. Retrieved from (n.d.). Home. Retrieved from

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