For most teens and young adults, the college years are a time of transition. The relative freedom and increased responsibility of adulthood suddenly replace the watchful eyes of family members, highly structured routines and stringent regulations. Things that were once illegal or socially prohibited become more accessible. While juggling all their new freedoms, college students are expected to chart their path to a bright future and to excel in their studies while creating healthy social bonds with fellow students.
While most American youths are excited to go to college, the transition into full adulthood can be potentially treacherous for those who make drugs and alcohol part of their college experience.
Commonly Abused Drugs on College and University Campuses
Similar to American society at large, college and university students who abuse drugs and alcohol report using a variety of different substances. Alcohol and marijuana are the most commonly abused drugs at post-secondary schools. Ecstasy, cocaine and even over-the-counter drugs are among other substances that some students report abusing.
Prescription drug abuse is also common on campuses. In fact, college students are more likely than their non-student young adult peers to abuse certain prescription stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin. Three-fourths of prescription stimulant abusers are students. Prescription stimulants are more popular among students because these individuals attempt to leverage the drug to increase their ability to focus while studying or performing other tasks.
However, most college and university students who abuse other substances do so for a variety of reasons.
Lack of Information About Addiction
Most college students experience new independence that lends itself to many “firsts.” Students who do not have an accurate understanding of alcohol and substance abuse may be more inclined to experiment with substances without understanding the serious downsides. College and university campuses are sometimes the setting in which young adults first encounter drugs.
Others have seen or even used drugs and alcohol before but have less direct supervision and more liberty to abuse substances at greater frequencies and in larger quantities than before. With limited supervision and direct accountability, students may find that an activity they intended for fun on the weekend progresses into a destructive habit that derails their college ambitions.
To help college students avoid the pitfalls of drugs and alcohol, parents should learn the signs of substance abuse and regularly communicate with their students to maintain awareness of the students’ lifestyles while away at school. Parents should also aim to openly and factually convey the importance of avoiding substance abuse.
Substance Abuse in Social Settings
Most college students separate from their high school friends when then enroll in a new school in the fall. As a result, young adults join sororities, fraternities, sports teams and campus organizations to meet new people and socialize. While these groups may exist for legitimate purposes, parties and events like sporting competitions and concerts are also a common part of the landscape for college and university students.
Unfortunately, drug and alcohol consumption takes place at some college social events. Students who regularly become a part of these scenes and come to view drug and alcohol consumption as a normal part of the experience may eventually develop a substance abuse habit and physiological dependency. Some young adults who do not otherwise plan to abuse drugs or alcohol in social settings find themselves doing so as a result of encouragement from their peers and fear of not blending in.
Drug and Alcohol Abuse for Self-Medication
Some students experience anxiety and depression when they enter the college atmosphere. The pressure of remaining academically competitive, loss of relationships they developed in grade school and sometimes preexisting mental health conditions can make students more inclined to use drugs or alcohol to combat mental and emotional stress.
Parents should encourage their students to communicate openly about new experiences, anxiety and other struggles that sometimes occur when a teen or young adult goes to college. Helping students connect with on-campus resources and, if necessary, therapeutic support can deter students who have mental health conditions from abusing drugs or alcohol.
Dangers of Drug and Alcohol Use in College Settings
Most parents worry that drug or alcohol use may cause a decline in their student’s academic performance. However, substance abuse may cause hazards that extend beyond the classroom. Alcohol abuse often plays a central role in instances of sexual assault on college campuses. While the victim is not at fault for consuming alcohol, sexual predators leverage alcohol’s ability to distort perception and cause unconsciousness, impaired memory and disorientation.
According to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, heavy alcohol use was one of the strongest predictors of sexual assault in college. Some sexual predators target victims who are intoxicated as a result of using alcohol or another substance. Others secretly place a date-rape drug in a victim’s drink to cause further intoxication prior to committing the sexual assault.
College campuses and parents can play a critical role in minimizing the risk of sexual violence by informing students of the strong link between intoxication and sex crime victimization on college campuses.
Help for Students Who Struggle With Substance Abuse
Parents who learn that their college-age son or daughter abuses drugs or alcohol are often met with an onslaught of emotions. Some parents may immediately become angry and saddened while others may initially be in denial about the extent or even the existence of the student’s drug or alcohol problem. Nevertheless, rational thinking and sober-mindedness are best when it comes to confronting teens and young adults about drug and alcohol use.
Parents should calmly and openly communicate with the student to learn the frequency and quantity of drugs or alcohol the student consumes as well as circumstances in which the student became introduced to the substance. Parents should contact addiction specialists for additional help with communicating and to ultimately help the student obtain the treatment he or she needs to overcome his or her substance abuse habit.
It is important to realize that, ultimately, the student will only receive help when he or she has a real desire to get clean and remain on the path of recovery.
Green Mountain Treatment Center
Located near the majestic White Mountains and the tranquil Lakes Region, Green Mountain Treatment Center is an addiction treatment facility that’s part of the family of Granite Recovery Centers. Clients at the residential treatment center enjoy the crisp mountain air and relaxing landscape as a background to their recovery journey. A medical detox facility is located on the property. Therefore, new clients may elect to have the advantage of completing the initial detox phase in the same soothing surroundings as their residential treatment program.
Although Green Mountain Treatment Center is a coed treatment center, the facility’s programs are gender-segregated. Staff members and clinicians combine traditional therapies, like cognitive behavioral therapy and the 12-step curriculum, with holistic activities including exercise, meditation, experiential adventure therapy and gym work. An on-site chef prepares nutritious meals to support program participants’ wellness from the inside out. Green Mountain Treatment Center also treats clients with dual diagnoses by addressing the underlying mental health condition that may be triggering substance abuse.
Encouraging a Student to Seek Treatment
Sometimes, people who abuse alcohol or drugs may react negatively to family members who suggest they enter a treatment program. While it may be tempting to avoid conflict and ignore the student’s substance abuse, doing so is likely to only make matters worse. Students who are allowed to continue to abuse alcohol or drugs with the knowledge and approval of concerned family members often develop a deeper addiction while their relationship with their family becomes increasingly strained. The family members may begin to resent the addicted individual while simultaneously feeling compelled to continue the relationship as usual.
Parents who struggle with determining the best approach to relating to a college-age son or daughter who abuses drugs or alcohol should call an addiction specialist to learn about interventionist services as well as family counseling. A counselor can help parents find the right way to approach a son or daughter about seeking substance abuse treatment without further damaging the potentially fragile relationship.
Campus Resources for Students Who Have an Addiction
Colleges and universities are becoming increasingly aware of the need to discourage substance abuse and to provide support to those who encounter the pitfalls of drugs and alcohol use. Sometimes, students want to seek help for a drug or drinking problem without involving their parents. College students who are battling against a substance abuse habit should first contact or visit their school’s health center.
Campus health centers are especially focused on the health issues that young adults in college settings are more likely to experience. Substance abuse services are generally available through mental health resource centers. At some schools, students are able to access mental health services through their campus health center while other schools have a separate department that specifically provides counseling and assistance to students who require support for anxiety, stress, addiction and other mental health conditions. If a student requires more acute treatment, the university will be able to refer the student to a treatment center.
Receiving Treatment While Enrolled in College
Similar to working adults, college students who would like to receive treatment for substance abuse may wonder if they can complete a treatment program while attending classes. Depending on the nature of the student’s substance abuse habit, he or she may opt for inpatient or outpatient treatment.
Inpatient treatment is preferable for clients who require a very structured program that removes the individual from his or her daily setting to focus on healing. Individuals whose addictions are less severe and can be managed without as much supervision and structure may opt to enroll in outpatient treatment. Outpatient programs are also available to individuals who have important obligations that make it virtually impossible for the person to reside in the treatment setting for an extended period.
Some treatment centers also offer hybrid options to provide an appropriate mix of structure and flexibility. Addiction counselors will work closely with students and their families to find the right program and create a plan that is suited for the student’s individual circumstances.
Help Is a Phone Call Away
For college students and their families, the first step to getting effective treatment for substance abuse is to reach out and ask. At Granite Recovery Centers, our addiction specialists are available to work with students to determine the best approach to achieving a life of total recovery. Parents who are unsure of how to begin the conversation with their child may also call and receive guidance in communicating with the student. For college students who struggle with substance abuse, resources are just one phone call away.