Substance Abuse in College Students

Substance abuse can negatively affect college students. Learn more about substance abuse in college students and resources that can help.

Table of Contents

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Common Addictions in Young People

Many common drugs may be misused or abused by young people. To recognize addiction, it’s essential to understand common drugs that cause substance abuse in students and how they can affect their behavior and well-being.

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Excessive drinking is common amongst college-aged young people. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 53% of full-time college students drank alcohol in the past month. About 33% of college students engaged in excessive drinking (consuming five or more drinks for men or four or more drinks for women) in the past month.1

Over drinking is dangerous and can have many adverse effects on someone’s short-term decision-making and long-term health if it continues over a long period.


Abuse of marijuana is also common amongst college students. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana abuse by college students has been increasing over the years. In 2018, 43% of college students used marijuana, a 7% increase over the previous five years.2

Frequently getting high on marijuana can impact college students in many ways by affecting their study habits and mental health over time.

Prescription Stimulants

Prescription stimulants are also a common cause of substance abuse in students. College students will abuse prescription stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin as a “study drug” that facilitates late-night studying or managing a big workload. This can be caused by college students feeling overwhelmed or stressed by taking on too much work. Prescription stimulants may also be abused recreationally as a party drug.


Cocaine addiction is also common amongst students. Cocaine addiction in students is commonly caused by recreational use at parties or other social events. Recreational use of cocaine is very dangerous because it is a powerful drug.

Due to the strength of cocaine, it can commonly cause a cocaine overdose to occur. Cocaine overdose is dangerous and can potentially be fatal. While less common, crack cocaine abuse may also occur amongst college students. Crack cocaine can have more powerful effects since it is usually smoked, which causes more intense effects on the body.


Due to the sedative effects of benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Valium, college students may abuse them recreationally. College students commonly take benzodiazepines as a party drug, which is likely to be combined with excessive drinking. Heavy drinking combined with benzodiazepine abuse is very dangerous and can lead to an overdose or other major health complications.


Ecstasy (MDMA) is another commonly abused party drug amongst college students. Research has shown that MDMA use amongst college students more than doubled from 2004 to 2016 and is likely still increasing. Getting high on ecstasy can have many impairing effects that lead to poor decision-making and other negative actions. It can also cause addiction and mental health issues with long-term use.3

Why do Students Turn to Drugs?

There are many reasons why students may turn to drugs. Understanding the cause of substance abuse in students is key to recognizing a problem and finding ways to get students the help that is needed to recover.


Stress is a common contributing factor to heavy drinking or drug abuse in students. Many students may feel overworked, so they may turn to stimulant drugs like Adderall or cocaine for an energy boost, or they may turn to depressants like alcohol, marijuana, or benzodiazepines to try to relax or let off some steam. While drinking or drug use might make someone feel better in the moment, it will only worsen the problem and can lead to additional issues over time.

Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is also a common cause of overdrinking or drug abuse in college students. Peer pressure can influence someone to use drugs they otherwise wouldn’t have and can make someone more susceptible to developing an addiction if it continually occurs.


Substance abuse in students may also be caused by curiosity and experimenting with addictive substances. Experimentation with drugs or alcohol is common amongst young people. However, recreational use of these substances is very dangerous as it can lead to health complications or addictions if drug use continues.

Academic Pressure

Academic pressure can lead to poor mental well-being or students feeling overwhelmed. This can lead to substance abuse to cope. However, using addictive substances as a coping mechanism to unwind or help facilitate studying will worsen the problem. Therefore, paying attention to students’ mental health and well-being is essential.

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

Common signs and symptoms of addiction can be used to recognize substance abuse in students. Understanding the common signs and symptoms will give you a better chance of identifying an addiction to get someone the necessary help and treatment.

Physical Changes

Common physical changes that occur due to addiction in students are:

Mental/Behavioral Changes

Common mental or behavioral changes that occur due to substance abuse in students are:

Dangers of Drug Use in Students

Drug use in students can have many dangerous effects. Understanding the dangers of drug use is important as it can help influence someone struggling to get the necessary help needed to recover.

Risks of substance misuse include:

What is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is a common risk amongst college-aged students. This can make students more susceptible to risky behaviors, alcoholism, or becoming dependent on alcohol.


Binge drinking is excessive consumption of alcohol during a short period. The CDC defines binge drinking as consuming five or more drinks for men or four or more drinks for women during an occasion.5

Who Binge Drinks?

Anyone of any age can struggle with binge drinking. However, certain demographics are more likely to binge drink. It is most common amongst younger adults between 18-34. College-aged adults are amongst those who are most susceptible to binge drinking. Men are also nearly twice as likely to binge drink compared to women.

What are the Risks?

Many risks can occur when someone binge drinks. Common risks of binge drinking are:

Getting Back on Track

There are many ways for college students who struggle with substance abuse to get back on track. Seeking professional help for addiction and paying attention to mental health and well-being are essential steps to take during recovery from addiction.

Seek Professional Help

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, seeking professional help is an important first step to getting back on track. Often, this means talking to a doctor or contacting a treatment center to get more information about treatment options for addiction. For students, there may also be resources available on campus that can help provide therapy or resources for addiction treatment.

Going to a treatment center is a good idea to keep you safe during addiction withdrawal treatment. Drug and alcohol withdrawal can have many negative side effects that require medical attention. Treatment centers help keep you safe by providing safe detox practices and medical attention.

Mental Health Awareness

Mental health awareness is also key for college students who struggle with substance abuse. Paying attention to mental health can help recognize a problem or will help someone manage their recovery. Common ways to stay on top of your mental health are:

Get Help for Substance Abuse in Students at Soledad House

Soledad House can help treat substance abuse in college students. Soledad house is a recovery program for women in San Diego, California. Our treatment programs emphasize relapse prevention techniques, faith-based rehab programs, and several addiction treatment therapies. Our treatment methods are evidence-based and have been proven to be successful.

Contact us today for more information about how we can help you.