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Substance Use In College Students – Helpful Tips On How To Overcome Your Addiction

If you’re a college student in recovery, then you already know how hard it is to stay in recovery with triggers everywhere. 

In 2017, substance use stats in American college students included

  • 7 million students reported binge drinking
  • 8 million students reported using illegal drugs
  • 733,000 students had an alcohol use disorder
  • 487,000 students had a substance use disorder involving illegal drugs 

Did you know that 64% of college students who drop out do so because of their mental health, including substance use disorders? 

Even though drug use is so common on college campuses, there’s a heavy stigma associated with recovery. You may feel weak or like your peers are judging your choice to abstain. 

Still, there’s support for college students in recovery if you know where to look. Over 840,000 college students were in recovery in 2019. 

That number’s expected to keep going up, so you can expect to see schools put more resources in place for students living with a substance use disorder (SUD). 

Don’t let it get to a point where you’re choosing between relapsing and dropping out. The more you know about your substance use disorder, the better you can manage it in college. 

Read on to learn about substance use on college campuses and what you can do to cope: 

How Do Substance Use Disorders Affect College Students?

College is a common time to develop a substance use disorder. Between 18 and 22, most people are developing a sense of self and learning to fit into new peer groups. 

Many of those peer groups center around substance use. Even if you don’t become part of Greek life or party culture, the normal pressures of college can be enough to spark a SUD if you’re at risk… or a relapse if you’re in recovery. 

Greek Culture

Greek life is a big part of most college campuses. But with the networking opportunities comes the pressure to drink. Many frat and sorority events are alcohol-centric and may include the use of other drugs. 

Party Culture

Party culture includes the use of alcohol and illicit drugs. Many universities have on-campus nightclubs that hold raves. 

While illegal drug use isn’t technically allowed, it’s common for students to pregame with substances like ecstasy or molly. Alcohol is available on-site, which can lead to mixing substances. 

The Pressure To Perfrom

Academic stress can lead to stimulant abuse for better performance. Adderall and Ritalin are commonly-abused “study drugs” in college. 

Normal Stressors Of College Life

As a college student, you’re exploring the world from a new perspective. That can be stressful even under the best conditions!

The stressors you may experience include: 

  • Challenging and exploring your sense of self 
  • Living with a roommate for the first time
  • Living independently for the first time
  • More goal-directed work, such as planning ahead for graduate school
  • The pressure to have it all together when you’re a young adult still learning to navigate the world 

All of that pressure requires a coping mechanism to let it out. College campuses are full of substances, so it’s very common for students to turn to drugs in a moment of stress. 

What Drugs Are Most Commonly Abused By College Students?

Alcohol gets the most attention for causing SUD in college students. However, prescription drugs, meth, cocaine, and heroin all have a presence on college campuses. 

Alcohol Addiction In College Students

In 2018, 54.9% of college students drank alcohol in the past month. 

Even worse: 

  • 36.9% reported binge drinking at least once in the past month (drinking at least 4 drinks in one session)
  • 9.6% reported binge drinking at least 5 days in the past month

Binge drinking is not harmless. It can cause severe damage to yourself and others.

For example: 

  • Over 1,500 students die from alcohol abuse every year
  • Nearly 700,000 students are assaulted by another student who was drinking alcohol each year 
  • Nearly 100,000 students are raped by a student who was drinking alcohol each year

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse says that the first 6 weeks of freshman year are the weeks when you’re most vulnerable to alcohol abuse. 

Prescription Drug Addiction In College Students

Prescription drugs are a problem on college campuses. Stimulants and opioids are the most abused prescription drugs among college students. 

Often, SUD with prescription drugs begins with a legitimate health problem. You may get a Ritalin prescription to treat your ADHD or a tramadol script to deal with a sports injury. 

However, 25% of college-aged people have abused their prescriptions. Abusing opioids or stimulants is twice as likely in college students compared to other age groups. 

Meth Addiction In College Students

Meth used to be rare in college students but that’s not the case anymore. College students use more drugs of every kind than other age groups do. That includes methamphetamine.

Interestingly, heroin abuse is dropping in recent years while meth use is rising in college students. It could be that efforts to stop the opioid epidemic are making heroin harder to find in college towns. 

Cocaine Addiction In College Students

A 2011 study found that 36% of college students had been offered cocaine at least once and 13% had used it. 

Men and women in college have similar access to cocaine in their first year. However, men have more exposure to cocaine in college than women do after freshman year. 

Despite that, women tend to use cocaine more often and more heavily in college. 

Heroin Addiction In College Students

Heroin was a hidden issue on college campuses for years. However, the war on opioids has decreased heroin availability in recent years. It’s more common to find prescription opioid abuse than heroin abuse in college. 

Drug And Alcohol Treatment Resources For College Students

Congrats on recognizing that you have a problem and that you don’t have to struggle alone! There are resources on campus and off-campus to help you deal with SUD. 

University Counseling

Every college has an on-campus counseling center. Your center can match you with a counselor who can help you through SUD. Managing SUD and your college career at the same time can be tricky without help. 

In addition to counseling, your university can match you with local recovery resources and treatment options. 

Addiction Helplines

If you need help outside of counseling hours, you can call an addiction helpline for support. These helplines can help you through a non-emergency crisis. Contact us here if you need 24/7 addiction support.

Please don’t call a hotline if you’re suicidal or having an overdose! Call 911 in these emergency situations. 

Collegiate Recovery Programs

Some colleges have a Collegiate Recovery Program (or CRP). A CRP is an on-campus recovery organization that usually has: 

  • A safe physical space for meetings and solace
  • Drug-free housing
  • Substance use disorder education

How To Address A Substance Abuse Problem

It can be hard to know what to do next once you realize that you have a problem. Luckily, as a college student you have access to a built-in support system.

Here’s what you should do if you have a SUD problem in college: 

Step 1: Recognize That You Have a Problem

If you suspect that you have a substance use disorder, you’ve done half the work! Addiction can cause a powerful denial. 

If you’re not quite there, then look at your life and your challenges. How many of your challenges can you trace back to drug use? Is it time to start overcoming those challenges? 

Step 2: Go to Your School’s Counseling Center

Once you know that you want to take action, go to your school’s counseling center. Your school’s counseling staff will match you with an addiction-informed counselor. They can also help you find treatment resources locally. 

Step 3: Contact an Addiction Treatment Center 

Contact a treatment center for help overcoming your SUD. You’re much more likely to relapse without professional help. You may be able to take a leave of absence from school to attend treatment. 

Get Treatment For A Substance Use Disorder

It can be hard to know what to expect from rehab if you’ve never been there before. All rehabs have their own approach, but most have some common factors.

You can expect a combination of: 

Therapeutic Activities

You’ll learn to express your emotions in a safe, healthy way through activities such as trauma-informed yoga, art therapy, and equine therapy. 

Addiction Education

SUD is a lifelong disorder and you will need to learn how to manage it. You’ll learn about the mechanisms of addiction so you can manage your disorder better. 

Evidence-Based Treatment

The best treatment centers offer evidence-based treatments that are proven to work! They include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy: CBT is a type of therapy that teaches you to challenge your thoughts and modify your behaviors. 
  • Medication-assisted treatment: MAT works best together with CBT. This is the use of medications such as Suboxone to treat cravings. 

Great work deciding to get help for substance use disorder! Your next step is to call Recovering Champions for more information about treatment. 

Questions About Treatment?

Recovering Champions offers 100% confidential substance abuse assessment and treatment placement tailored to your individual needs. Achieve long-term recovery.


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Recovering Champions Is an accredited drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, that believes addiction treatment should not just address “how to stay sober” but needs to transform the life of the addict and empower him or her to create a more meaningful and positive life. We are dedicated to transforming the despair of addiction into a purposeful life of confidence, self-respect and happiness. We want to give recovering addicts the tools to return to the outside world completely substance-free and successful.

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