College can be stressful. Yesterday you were living at home, thinking about prom, and picking your college of choice. Today, you’re on your own and the rest of your life is on the line. At least, that may be the mindset of many students. With that pressure mixed with the cultural notion that college is a time to let loose and experiment with all of the things you couldn’t be a part of back home, many students turn to drugs and alcohol to unwind.

However, the price is high for this experimentation and stress release. Studies show that, despite efforts to curb issues like college drinking, the percentage of binge-drinking college students has remained above 40 percent for decades and more than 1,800 students die every year from alcohol-related causes.

In this infographic by Ocean Breeze Recovery, you can see the prevalence of college drinking and drug use on college campuses, the reason drug abuse is so common in schools, and how to recognize the signs of addiction in students. If you’re a college student struggling with addiction, there is a way out of substance abuse.

College Students and Drug Statistics: Knowing When You Have a Problem

While biological, environmental, and circumstantial factors can be very influential in the development of addiction, it all starts with a choice. On a college campus, your environment and circumstance might be pushing you to make the choice to try addictive substances in some form. It’s difficult to see addiction coming. No one got addicted after just one time, right?

What about two times?

The line between recreational use and abuse is often blurred. After a few times of heavy use, it will require higher and higher amounts of the substance to achieve the same effects.

This often leads to trying other, more powerful substances, like switching from marijuana to prescription painkillers to heroin. Unfortunately, the pattern described here is fairly common and the first step might happen on college campuses.

Even though just about anyone can become an addict under certain circumstances, there are some demographics that are more susceptible to experimentation with recreational intoxication, such as college-aged students. Although it’s common for adolescents and teens to experiment with alcohol and drugs, the freedom given to the college student can lead to reckless abandon. Attending the occasional college party can turn into a nightly ritual of binge drinking and the consumption of drugs. American campuses have begun showing high rates of substance abuse and dependency according to numerous surveys and studies.

Rates of College Drinking and Drug Abuse on College Campuses

Going to college gives individuals the opportunity to learn more about the world, spreading their wings in their newfound independence as they acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to pursue careers in their field of choice. However, college is also synonymous with partying.

For example, although the Greek system is intended to be an avenue for social and scholastic fellowship, Greek houses (sororities and fraternities) are notorious for their wild parties, underage college drinking, and the availability and use of illicit substances. Substance abuse and chemical dependency have become major issues on college campuses for several decades, prompting many to wonder how to curb these high rates of alcohol and drug abuse.

According to a study published in 2007, the number of students that admitted to frequent binge-drinking rose by 16 percent between 1993 and 2001, while the number of students who abused prescription painkillers—oxycodone, hydrocodone, etc.—rose by an astounding 343 percent by 2005. For marijuana, rates of daily use more than doubled and the rate of abuse of hard street drugs like cocaine and heroin increased by 52 percent between 1993 and 2005.

In recent years, the trend and rate of substance abuse on college campuses have shown continued growth, particularly as opioids like prescription painkillers and heroin have led to a national epidemic. The prevalence of prescriptions for Attention-deficit/ hyperactive disorder (ADHD) such as Ritalin and Adderall has resulted in many individuals not only abusing them but distributing them to others in their social groups.

Why do College Students Abuse Alcohol and Drugs?

With rates of alcohol and drug abuse so exceptionally high among college students, many have wondered why these individuals are so chemically inclined. While part of the reason for the elevated substance abuse is due to their newfound freedom and lack of rules imposed by parents and guardians, there are many other reasons why college students report frequently abusing alcohol and drugs. In a survey that sampled 2,000 college students, some of the most common explanations of drug-seeking and consumption behavior include:

  • the need to relax and deal with stress
  • fitting in with a group of peers
  • having fun or for the experience
  • and as a way to forget their problems

Additionally, female students felt pressure from male students to drink alcohol, which can put them in dangerous situations as women tend to be more affected by the same amount of alcohol than what is drunk by their male counterparts. Plus, violent crimes and sexual assault on college campuses are closely tied to alcohol abuse, so much so that colleges are beginning to crack down on the presence of alcohol on campus.

Curbing Rates of Chemical Dependence and Substance Abuse on College Campuses

Surprisingly, it has been found that most presidents, deans, and other administrators of colleges and institutions of education accept that college drinking is part of the college experience. Critics are starting to point out that college substance abuse isn’t a problem because of a lack of information, but because of a lack of enforcement.

With addiction a nationwide problem, there’s a pervasive culture of tolerance when it comes to substance abuse, persisting even on college campuses. However, it’s clear that much of the potential for instituting changes that would either stop the increase of substance abuse rates on college campuses or curb rates of chemical dependency depends on each institution’s administration.

College Students and Adderall Addiction

young-college-student-drinks-alcohol-while-doing-homeworkOver the years, there have been countless trends that have come and gone in the community of recreational substance abusers. During Prohibition in the early-twentieth century, alcohol was the drug of choice for many. In the mid-twentieth century, marijuana and hallucinogens, or “psychedelics,” had become increasingly popular, especially among the youth subculture. However, more recently there have been national and even global spikes in the abuse prescription opioids like oxycodone, fentanyl, and heroin.

However, in the scholastic enclave of higher education, there is another drug that has gained popularity and the goal isn’t necessarily to get high, but to get ahead. Stimulants like Ritalin and particularly Adderall are used beyond their clinical application to treat ADD and ADHD. When you are pulling all-nighters, juggling classes and your job, and your grade and scholarships are on the line, you may feel the need for an extra boost.

What is Adderall?

There are a number of medications that are commonly prescribed to individuals who struggle with Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), some of which have stimulating properties while others do not. Adderall is a psychostimulant that is prescribed for ADHD that increases the activity of neurotransmitters releasing dopamine and norepinephrine the brain. The active ingredients in Adderall share many molecular and pharmacological similarities with specific neurotransmitters in the brain that are implicated in cognitive functioning and mood.

Although it’s not uncommon for Adderall to be prescribed for certain conditions like narcolepsy, it’s most commonly prescribed for ADHD and has been shown to improve the development and functioning, and even nerve growth in the brain of individuals who struggle with ADHD.

Abuse of Adderall Among College Students

There have been several studies conducted on the effects of Adderall, taken at therapeutic and higher-than-therapeutic doses, with individuals who do not actually have the illness. Adderall has shown to be a cognitive enhancer, improving both working and episodic memory, adaptive response, increasing wakefulness and alertness, promoting goal-oriented behavior, focusing attention on acute tasks, and even increasing the motivation to perform tasks.

Due to these specific effects, Adderall is seen not as a recreational drug, but rather as a performance or “study enhancer” that allows college students to be more attentive and successful in their coursework. In fact, studies have indicated that 90 percent of the college students who abuse Adderall are using it for the purpose of improving their ability to do their schoolwork rather than abusing it recreationally. As such, Adderall is seen as being much less dangerous than drugs and, consequently, is why non-prescription use and abuse of Adderall has skyrocketed on college campuses.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, college students are twice as likely to take Adderall without a prescription as a performance enhancement than individuals of the same age range who aren’t attending college. While the percentage of college students that use stimulants like Adderall for such purposes is estimated between five and 35 percent from one campus to another, some researchers estimate that 30 percent of college students nationwide are using Adderall non-medically. Plus, the percentage of those who are using Adderall as a study enhancer is higher among upperclassmen than lower classmen.

In a recent study, most students find the use of Adderall as a performance enhancer to be perfectly acceptable and not dangerous at all with a small percentage feeling there was only a very “slight danger.”

However, despite this misconception, Adderall does pose a threat. Adderall, when taken excessively or by those who aren’t taking it to treat a medical condition, is known to cause difficulty sleeping, shortness of breath, racing heartbeat, irritability, depression, nervousness, loss of appetite, and changes in sex drive. There are also long-term effects to take into consideration like dependence on the drug and difficulty concentrating.

Treating Drug and Alcohol Addicted College Students

For students, the risks of addiction are high. There is pressure to succeed coming from parents and professors, and pressure to fit in stemming from their peers. And all this is happening when 18 and 19-year-olds are on their own for the first time, without an established support system close by.

To prevent the college-aged from succumbing to lifelong addiction, it’s important to know how and where college students can find addiction treatments that will allow them to overcome physical and psychological dependence. Consider the following information on how to find treatment for a college student struggling with alcohol or drug addiction.

Assess the Student’s Treatment Needs

When a student progresses from the willful abuse of alcohol or drugs to being chemically or psychologically dependent, it’s important to consider their reasons for abusing mind-altering substances while determining the appropriate course of treatment. There are also other considerations, including:

  • the length of time spent in active addiction
  • the substance or substances abused
  • family history
  • and if this is a case of dual-diagnosis

In cases where the student’s addiction is more severe, they will require a more intensive form of treatment. More advanced forms of addiction treatment will require finding a treatment facility that is ideal for their needs. While many offer basic interventions in campus health centers or support groups for students, colleges and universities don’t typically offer intensive addiction treatments on campus.

Inpatient or Outpatient Treatment for Alcohol And Drug Addiction?

Once the particular treatment needs of the addicted student have been identified, they can be directed to the most appropriate type of recovery program. While there are several different types of addiction treatment programs, most of them will fall into one of two classifications: inpatient or outpatient. In the case of inpatient care, the college student will relocate to the rehab or treatment center for the duration of treatment, which can be as short as a month or up to as much as a year. During this time, the individual will receive individualized care and continuous medical supervision while participating in daily therapies and treatments.

The alternative to an inpatient program is outpatient treatment, which would allow a college student to continue with their coursework and remain in college while participating in addiction treatments at a less intensive frequency. While more flexible, outpatient treatment is less comprehensive than inpatient treatment and should be reserved for cases in which an individual’s addiction isn’t very severe.

Support Groups for Addicted College Students

In addition to inpatient and outpatient addiction treatments, support groups are often available for addicted college students who want help dealing with triggers and cravings associated with addiction. Support groups are versatile, accessible, and free, allowing college students to incorporate them into their existing schedules and benefit from the ability to develop relationships with individuals who encourage and support sobriety.

Managing College and Recovery

Addiction has been stigmatized throughout history; however, today, we know that alcohol and drug addiction is a complex brain disease and psychological disorder. The current and much more enlightened view of addiction has led to the development of treatments that offer an effective means of overcoming chemical dependency and achieving lasting recovery.

Managing college while taking on the challenge of recovery may seem daunting but there are programs and organizations available to help college students along the way. Here are a few groups that are great for college students managing recovery:

What Exactly is Addiction?

Because of the general acceptance of alcoholism and drug abuse on campus, college students are often unclear as to the criteria for addiction and substance abuse disorders. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot to a college student who feels their college drinking or drug abuse merely indicates active participation in collegiate life. In practice, addiction is present when an individual is unable to stop drinking alcohol or doing drugs on their own no matter how much they may want to.

When addicts try to stop, they experience withdrawal symptoms that include feelings of anxiety, restlessness, nausea, cold sweats, chills, diarrhea, insomnia, and other unpleasant symptoms that persist until the individual consumes their substance of choice. Some substances can come with dangerous withdrawal symptoms. For instance, someone experiencing alcohol withdrawals may have a seizure which can be deadly.

Recovery Options for College Students

When you are struggling with chemical dependency, there are certain factors to consider when deciding on the ideal addiction treatments. If you want to continue with coursework while receiving treatment for addiction, you will need a certain amount of flexibility when it comes to the scheduling of addiction treatments and therapies. However, if you take time off from school while overcoming chemical dependency, you can pursue more intensive and effective treatments.

Most colleges and universities have some type of on-campus service or support group for students who are struggling with substance abuse. College students who find themselves struggling with substance abuse and chemical dependency could start at the student health center on campus, which may either offer helpful options that are available on campus or point you to off-campus resources.

Upon completing an addiction treatment program, it’s essential for the newly sober college students to surround themselves with supportive family members and friends who encourage their continuing recovery efforts. What’s more, the student health center can often direct individuals to on-campus and nearby 12-step support groups, which have shown to be instrumental when incorporated into one’s aftercare regimen.

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