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College is a life-changing experience for many students. Being independent can be an exciting thing, but college life with its social and academic challenges can be stressful, causing many to turn to alcohol or drugs for relief. Prolonged substance abuse can ultimately lead to addiction, requiring treatment at addiction recovery centers. This guide details the causes of addiction and drugs that students are using and offers treatment options.

The Numbers

A 2017 study published by individuals at the University of Maryland focused on the prevalence and incidence of drug use among college students. The study revealed marijuana to be the most commonly used drug (47% of students used in the past year), followed by prescription stimulants (21%), prescription analgesics (11%), cocaine (8%), and hallucinogens (0%).1

The 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that 54.9% of college students admitted to having drunk alcohol in the past month, and 36.9% participated in binge drinking in the past month. It also revealed that 9.6% of students admitted to engaging in heavy alcohol use in the past month.2

Why Do College Students Use?

College students use and abuse substances for a wide variety of reasons.

They May Be Stressed Out

There are a lot of stressors in college. Classes are more challenging, and there is a lot more coursework assigned and expected to be completed in and out of class, as well as exams. Along with meeting their academic obligations, many students must also work part-time.

The social aspect of college can be stressful for many students, causing them to turn to substance use to relax. Students may also be dealing with any number of situations individually and with their families.

They May Want to Fit In

Because they are just forming their personalities when they enter college, many students are unsure of who they are. This can create a strong urge to fit in with a specific group, such as a fraternity. Fraternities and groups like them may advocate a lifestyle where drinking and drug use are commonplace, causing students to either want to start using or feel pressured into doing so.

They May Be Socially Anxious

College life can be exciting for some students but frightening for others who are more reserved. A high number of students start misusing drugs or alcohol to help keep themselves calm or bring out a more boisterous side of their personality.

They May Be Curious

Going to college means living a completely different life and living away from family for the first time. Many students are curious about trying new things, and so they will tend to experiment with drugs and alcohol.

They May Want to Be More Focused

Students who feel like they need extra concentration and motivation often turn to drugs to reach academic goals. Adderall is one such drug, and many swear by its ability to enhance performance in class or at exam time. Concerta and Ritalin are other popular “study drugs.”

A 2018 study by Ohio State University revealed that 62.9% of students admitted to having misused prescription stimulants for non-prescription use.3

In addition to the reasons students use, drugs and alcohol both tend to be far more readily available in the college setting, significantly raising the risk of misuse and addiction.

Effects of Alcohol and Drug Misuse

Dependence on or addiction to drugs and alcohol can result in many effects. It can interfere with relationships with family and friends, cause failure to meet academic and work obligations, and result in many legal issues.

Many substances can cause the user to become more ambivalent and even violent toward others. They can cause a person to feel invincible, causing them to engage in activity that is dangerous, life-threatening, or worse.

Some substances increase focus or provide a feeling of euphoria. Unfortunately, these incredibly high highs are followed by an inevitable “crash,” which may be characterized by intense depression, suicidal thoughts, and cravings.

In order to feel relief, more of the substance is used. However, as use continues over the long term, more of these substances are needed in order to achieve the intensity of the original high. Soon, a person may find themselves using just to get through the day.

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

There are several signs that a person is becoming addicted to a substance. They may:

  • Always need to have a supply of a substance on hand.
  • Continue using, despite the harm it causes to relationships and themselves.
  • Have tried to stop using on more than one occasion and failed.
  • Experience intense cravings for the substance that dominates other thoughts.
  • Take larger amounts of a substance than they initially intended.
  • Stop participating in activities they used to enjoy so they can use.
  • Invest a lot of time in obtaining, using, or recovering from substances.
  • Become secretive and defensive about their activities when asked.
  • Start borrowing or stealing money in order to purchase a substance.
  • Experience an intense physical reaction like chills, anxiety, or seizures when they try to curb their usage.

You may identify with one or more of the scenarios above. If you do, it’s time to seek help from a drug addiction treatment center.


Available Treatment Options

Students who are struggling with substance use disorders can receive medical attention on and off campus.

On-Campus Options

On-campus physicians can provide immediate treatment when recovery from substance overuse is needed. Counseling is another option that is offered on college campuses, and it is good to explore, as it costs considerably less than private sessions.

Off-Campus Options

Toll-free hotlines for drug abuse offer a confidential way to receive answers about substance abuse, as well as treatment options, 24 hours a day. A support group like Alcoholics Anonymous can provide needed support and advice from others who are recovering.

Rehab centers are another option, and they administer treatment in three main ways. The first is detox, and it helps release a client from their physical and psychological dependence on a substance. The detox process is overseen by an experienced medical team and may take up to a few weeks to complete, depending on how much of a substance has been used and for how long.

Inpatient rehab sees clients living on-site at the treatment center with others who are recovering. Living at a residence allows for dedicated treatment to occur. As well, regular assessments of clients and adjustments to their treatment plans can be made in this setting.

Finally, an intensive outpatient program, or IOP, sees clients living outside the treatment center. This level of treatment allows clients to attend work or school as they receive addiction treatment. Treatment centers can be the best choice when other on- and off-campus options have been ineffective.

Choosing the Best Treatment Center

All treatment centers are focused on helping their clients free themselves from addiction and live a healthy life. However, the paths to success can vary widely, making it difficult to know which offers you the most benefit. Some of the characteristics that indicate the experience and effectiveness of a treatment center include:

  • Use of evidence-based approaches
  • A team of leading specialists and clinicians
  • Treatment that’s focused on the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of addiction
  • Treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders, as well as addiction
  • Detox and inpatient and outpatient services, as well as continued support through aftercare programs

If you are a student attending college who is battling drug or alcohol addiction near South Carolina, contact BriteLife Recovery Centers. We offer specialized treatment programs with a range of options that focus on your success and help you create a healthy and addiction-free life. When you’re ready to begin your journey, call BriteLife today.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5638668/
  2. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/time-for-parents-discuss-risks-college-drinking
  3. https://www.campusdrugprevention.gov/sites/default/files/2018%20College%20Prescription%20Drug%20Study.pdf

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