The Popularity Of Drugs On College Campuses

College is one of the most common places drugs are found, sold, and abused. For many students, college opens up the world of opportunity to try new things and have new experiences without the supervision of parents. Unfortunately, this includes engaging in risky behavior without fear of the real consequences. The rates of abuse of drugs on college campuses have more than tripled for some substances, leading to increased tolerance and possible addiction later on.

49% of full-time college students drink and/or abuse drugs (illegal and prescription).

Besides studying and planning for the future, college is undeniably about partying and testing your limits for many students. A majority of the students who did not drink in high school will take their first sip while in college, and many will experiment with harder drugs like hallucinogens and so-called party drugs, risking chemical dependence in their brain.

Although many drugs are frequently used by college students, here are the 5 most commonly abused drugs on college campuses.

Paid Advertising. We receive advertising fees from purchases through BetterHelp links.

Online Addiction Counseling

Get professional help from an online addiction and mental health counselor from BetterHelp.

Get Matched
Begin Therapy
  • Personalized Matching Process
  • Easy Online Scheduling
  • 30,000+ Licensed Therapists


1 – Alcohol

9.9% of full-time college students aged 18 to 22 drank alcohol for the first time in the past year.

It’s no surprise alcohol is the number one abused drug on campus, simply because it is so widely accepted to consume. You constantly hear reckless stories about college kids getting wasted and causing havoc. Most college parties serve alcohol and even bars close to campus are coined as “college bars.” Alcohol is a legal activity for older college students; however, the typical freshmen is 18 years old, far below the legal drinking age.

Binge drinking has also become a popular habit on college campuses included in sporting events, celebrations, and in many cases of hazing. Binge drinking can be very dangerous and lead to alcohol poisoning which can then lead to death.

2 – Marijuana

Nearly 50% of college students have tried Marijuana at least once.

Although still illegal in many states, Marijuana has been the most popular drug in the United States other than alcohol for several decades. Mary Jane, bud, grass, and weed are just a few nicknames echoed around campus. Strains of weed have also gathered their share of names and are portrayed as fun party drugs across college-aged-targeted movies such as “Pineapple Express.” Marijuana is widely and falsely considered a harmless drug, which is why it is so popular among college students.

Commonly used to relax or to mix in with the party scene, Marijuana does have significant effects on the body. Negligence caused by the high of the drug, such as driving while under the influence or injury from lack of judgement, has taken a toll on college students and could result in severe injury even if it is not possible to overdose on the drug. Relaxing the nerves and putting one in a sleep-like state is also common, leaving responsibilities of homework and studying a priority for another day.

3 – Prescription Pills

One study found that more than 60% of students with a valid prescription from ADHD medication were diverting it to other students without prescriptions.

College-level work gets harder for many as they move up a grade level, making it harder to focus in class and complete assignments. Adderall and Ritalin are very commonly sold and abused drugs on college campuses. These drugs are designed to block out the distractions in your surroundings and in your head, making it easier to concentrate and retain knowledge. Exam week is a popular time in which students scramble to find these pills that will supposedly help them study. Friends sell to friends until the word gets out, turning prescriptions into profitable sales.

Selling Adderall or Ritalin is illegal and can result in a fine up to $10,000 on top of 10 years in jail. Demand for Adderall keeps rising, and at an average of $3-$15 per pill, college students can make a hefty chunk of change that beats their minimum wage job despite the many legal risks.

4 – Ecstasy

Emergency room visits due to ecstasy have increased by more than 1,200% since ecstasy became the “club drug” of choice at all-night raves.

As raves and festivals grow in popularity, so does the use of “rave drugs,” with Ecstasy being the most popular. Alcohol is the go-to party drug for house parties and normal outings at clubs, but ecstasy is the most common choice at many music festivals and raves. Users claim the music helps intensify the feelings manifesting from the drug. In the college atmosphere, it has become as normal to take ecstasy at a festival as it has to drink alcohol at a bar. The downsides of the drug; however, can be pretty intense as well.

When users feel ecstasy’s most intense sensations, referred to as “peaking,” their brain is exploding with the release of dopamine. It produces unreal and immense feelings of happiness. This of course goes downhill once the effects have worn off, influencing the user to take more to bring back these effects. Unfortunately, taking more of the drug will enhance the dependency of the drug once it leaves the system, leaving the body in a critical state of uncomfortable feelings and sickness until the withdrawal phase has passed. Ecstasy so completely drains the body of natural “feel good chemicals that many users experience extreme depression in the days after consumption. This depression is so severe that it can lead to self-harm. In fact, many ecstasy users refer to the Tuesday after a weekend of ecstasy use as “suicide Tuesday.”

5 – Cocaine

One study shows most users (69%) started using cocaine after college entry. From Year 1 to Year 4, lifetime prevalence of Cocaine use more than tripled, from 4% to 13%.

While the popularity and use of ecstasy has risen, Cocaine has followed closely in its path. Cocaine is highly addictive and illegal in the United States. It is derived from the coca plant in South America and is portrayed as the rich man’s drug from its expensive cost to its euphoric effects. Although it is very expensive, college students seem to want to get their hands on it as much as they can. It adds to the party atmosphere but can really damage the brain after use. One in four of those who try Cocaine will become addicted in their life, damaging their hopes and dreams along the way.

Help Is Out There

Too many college students unwittingly become dependent on drugs, leaving them with addictions that haunt them throughout their adult life. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be this way. If you or a loved one are looking for addiction treatment, there are many options available. Contact a treatment provider now to find out more.

If you liked this blog, check out The 5 Most Addictive Substances On Earth.

Last Updated:


Jasmine Bittar

Photo of Jasmine Bittar
  • Jasmine Bittar has a deep passion for writing, especially on topics that educate the audience and encourage action towards a healthy life. She hopes her words inspire those in need of help to take that first step in finding the best treatment for their addiction so they can live the life they deserve.

  • More from Jasmine Bittar