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Preventing Substance Abuse in College

Many college students struggle with an addiction to drugs and alcohol. It is important to determine what can be done to prevent addiction rather than just treat it.

The Impact of Substance Abuse in College

College students who abuse drugs or alcohol are more likely to develop an addiction than those who don’t use these substances or only use them moderately. Addiction can not only cause significant difficulties for the addicted person, it also has widespread negative consequences for society as a whole.

Drug abuse and addiction cost taxpayers nearly $534 billion in preventable health care, law enforcement, crime and other expenses every year.

This doesn’t even account for the pain and suffering endured by the addicts and their families, which can’t easily be measured.

Why Prevention Matters

As with any health issue, prevention of addiction is far more effective and financially beneficial than treatment. Keeping college students informed of the potential consequences of substance abuse can ensure they are able to make the best decisions for their future.

Prevention Strategies for Substance Abuse in College

Because prevention is so important, it is frequently discussed and researched. Data on success rates can be hard to confirm, so many colleges will take multiple preventative measures to see what works. Some of the most popular forms of prevention include:

  • Education. Informing students of the negative health effects of drinking and substance abuse can help them make educated decisions regarding their alcohol consumption. By understanding what excessive alcohol can do to their bodies, college students may choose to limit how much they drink.
  • Law and rule enforcement. Many laws already exist to limit underage drinking and dangerous substance abuse. Enforcing the legal drinking age has shown to be one of the most effective ways to reduce alcohol-related problems. Retailers and school administrators can help cut down on the amount of alcohol- and substance-related problems by enforcing these federal laws and campus rules consistently.
  • Restrictions on bars. One way to reduce excessive and underage drinking is through limiting the proximity of bars and liquor stores to each other and to campus. Studies have shown that alcohol-related incidents are more common in areas where drink specials are highly advertised, especially when targeting college students.
  • Challenging student understanding of substance effects. Many college students drink or do drugs because they believe it will make them more social or sexually desirable. When they realize that this is not only untrue, but may in fact have the opposite effect, many college students reduce their use of these substances.

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The Importance of Social Interaction in Prevention

Perhaps the most underrated method of preventing abuse and addiction is simply talking it out. College students are especially vulnerable to the academic and social pressures that can spur substance abuse. In many cases, struggling students could benefit greatly from a compassionate friend and a listening ear.

Regardless of whether you are a friend, family member, classmate, neighbor or acquaintance of someone who is hurting, you can make a difference in their life. Some warning signs that something may be wrong with someone you know include:

  • Isolation from friends
  • Withdrawing from activities that were once enjoyed
  • Sudden spikes in substance abuse
  • Increased alcohol consumption
  • Substance abuse while alone

Help Someone You Know With an Addiction

If you know a college student who is struggling with an addiction and you’re not sure what to do, we can help you through it. Our certified addiction specialists are on call to talk and find a treatment center or counselor who understands their needs. Get in touch with our specialists today.

Sources & Author Last Edited: November 25, 2015

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2007). Topics in Brief: Drug Abuse Prevention. Retrieved on August 15, 2014, from:
  2. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2014). Preventing Drug Abuse and Excessive Alcohol Use. Retrieved on August 14, 2014, from:
  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2007). Four Tiers of College Drinking Prevention. Retrieved on August 15, 2014, from:
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