Drug Abuse And College Campuses

Substance abuse among college students is hardly a new trend. From the 1970s on, rates of alcohol consumption and binge drinking have remained fairly constant. College students have always represented a large portion of the population abusing drugs and alcohol on a regular basis.

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Changes In Drug Abuse Trends In College

Although alcohol abuse has maintained a steady presence on college campuses, the type and frequency of abuse of other substances has varied throughout the years.

Some researchers suggest that drug abuse is cyclical. As concern over one drug rises, so do prevention efforts. As use falls for that drug, so does the effort to reduce its use. This can then lead to an ensuing lack of education and a resurgence in abuse of that drug.

Some of the things that impact which drugs are abused, especially on college campuses, include:

  • Shifts in public perception of drugs
  • The price of acquiring a given drug in a specific locality
  • Changes in legislation that make penalties more or less severe
  • The availability of certain drugs, especially prescription medications

Signs Of Substance Abuse In College Students

Substance abuse occurs when someone uses a drug outside of how it was intended or prescribed. This can include taking Adderall without a prescription to increase concentration or smoking Marijuana in order to relax. Drinking is considered abuse when its effects negatively impact the drinker’s social or professional life or health. Learn about the difference between abuse and addiction in college students here.

Featured Centers Offering Treatment For College Students

Although the signs and symptoms of drug or alcohol abuse vary based on the substance, there are often psychological patterns that emerge in those who are consistently abusing. While some personality changes can be attributed to other stressors, dramatic shifts that are otherwise unexplained may signal that something is wrong. Some ways to tell if a college student is abusing drugs or alcohol include:

  • Decreased interest in classes and extracurricular activities
  • Drastic change in grades or academic performance
  • Shifts in sleeping patterns or fluctuations in weight
  • Time spent in new social circles, especially among those who have a reputation for drug abuse
  • Unexplained changes in behavior or personality
  • Uncharacteristic mood swings, depression, or irritability

College Students At Higher Risk

Substance abuse does not discriminate. No one, regardless of whether they come from a good family or have a high GPA, is immune to drug abuse.

There is no ‘type’ of drug addict, as substance abuse can affect anyone.

When factoring in social pressures, expectations, and the availability of certain drugs, however, there are some demographics on college campuses that may be at a higher risk of encountering and abusing drugs. These include:

  • Fraternity members
  • Sorority members
  • Campus athletes
  • Students with mental health concerns
  • Residents of on-campus housing and dorms
  • Students facing extreme amounts of stress

Additionally, research has shown that boys and men are more likely than women and girls to both abuse drugs and face severe consequences for it.

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Statistics Of Substance Abuse Among College Students



Approximately 31% of US college students report symptoms of alcohol abuse.



Approximately 80% of US college students have abused alcohol.



Between 1993 and 2005, the proportion of students who abused Tranquilizers like Xanax and Valium increased by 450%.



An estimated 110,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are arrested every year for an alcohol-related violation such as public drunkenness or driving under the influence.

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Get Help For College Drug Abuse

If you or someone you know is struggling with abuse of drugs or alcohol, help is available. Regardless of your substance or situation, you can reach out to a treatment provider to learn more.



Jeffrey Juergens

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  • Jeffrey Juergens earned his Bachelor’s and Juris Doctor from the University of Florida. Jeffrey’s desire to help others led him to focus on economic and social development and policy making. After graduation, he decided to pursue his passion of writing and editing. Jeffrey’s mission is to educate and inform the public on addiction issues and help those in need of treatment find the best option for them.

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David Hampton

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  • David embarked on his journey into sobriety in June of 2005, which led him to his current career path as a Certified Professional Addiction Recovery Coach in private practice in Greater Nashville. David is also a public speaker and the author of two books. David is cohost of the weekly Positive Sobriety Podcast, as well as being a frequent contributor to various articles and recovery based materials. As a member of the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC), David works closely with area treatment centers, recovery orientated nonprofit organizations, as well as being a keynote speaker for various recovery-focused events.

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