Facts and Statistics of College Drug Abuse

Drug abuse trends may change over time, but the unique pressures college students face make drug and alcohol abuse a constant on college campuses. Some students are at higher risk for drug abuse than others.

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    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.

    Changes in Drug Abuse Trends in College

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

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

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

    • Shifts in public perception of drugs
    • Changes in legislation that make penalties more or less severe
    • Availability of certain drugs, especially prescriptions

    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.

    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 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 of abuse
    • Withdrawing from friends or acting secretive
    • 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.

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

    • Fraternity and 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 males are more likely than females to both abuse drugs and face severe consequences for it, including: arrest, injury and even death.

    Statistics of Substance Abuse among College Students



    Approximately 31 percent of U.S. college students report symptoms of alcohol abuse.



    Approximately 80 percent of U.S. college students have abused alcohol.



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



    An estimated 110,000 students between the ages of 18-24 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

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