College-age drug usage affects students, parents, and faculty. The health effects of illicit drug usage, drinking, and smoking can hamper students’ ability to learn, and can potentially turn into addiction or serious abuse.
The following statistics come from a study performed by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Association in which 4000 students, advisers, and faculty in 200 schools took part.
22 percent of surveyed full-time college students ages 18 to 22 used illegal drugs in 2010. Those college-age students who were not attending college or were only enrolled part-time scored slightly higher at 23.5 percent. These numbers illustrate that the image of every college campus as totally drug-ridden is somewhat overblown, but almost a quarter of students is nevertheless a significant portion indeed.
Five different sources were reviewed to estimate recent levels of alcohol (and other drug) use among college students: the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study, the Core Institute, Monitoring the Future, the National College Health Risk Behavior Survey, and the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. Drs. Patrick M. O’Malley and Lloyd D. Johnston not surprisingly found very high rates of alcohol use among college students. Their work showed approximately two of five American college students were drinking two or more drinks several times a week.
From the SAMHSA study of 18- to 22-year-olds in 2010, among full-time college students 63.3 percent were current drinkers, 42.2 percent were binge drinkers, and 15.6 percent were heavy drinkers. The study went on to show that those graduating college tended to consume more alcohol than non-graduates. Alcohol by far seems to be the drug of choice on college campuses, and what should be cause for concern is the threat of short-term danger and long-term health effects represented by the prevalence of binge drinking in particular.
The SAMHSA study says “Cigarette use in the past month in 2010 was reported by 24.8 percent of full-time college students, less than the rate of 39.9 percent for those not enrolled full-time.” These rates are notably higher than the 21 percent of all Americans 18 or older who smoke reported by the CDC .
ADHD medications like Adderall and Ritalin are relatively easily available because of the increasing number of ADHD diagnoses among young people. Drugs like these are are used by students without ADHD because of the concentration-boosting effects the drugs have on them. These methamphetamines are the equivalent of brain steroids. Often they’re abused by high-performing students looking for a competitive edge. Students feel pressure to maintain scholarships and get excellent grades, and may not realize there are potentially lethal side effects to these drugs. Students may also not understand that possessing these pills without a prescription is a felony.
• Ninety percent of US-born residents who meet the criteria for being addicted began using drugs, smoking, or drinking before age 18.
• A quarter of US-born residents who began using drugs, alcohol, or smoking prior to age 18 developed an addiction, compared to one in 25 Americans who started using after age 21.
• One in five high school students meets the criteria for addiction and three quarters of all high school students have used addictive substances including tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, or cocaine.
Vulnerable Students and Risk Factors
Columbia’s study highlights certain events, situations, and predispositions that may put students at greater risk for serious complications from drug use. These are:
• Family history or exposure to someone who is addicted;
• Traumatic childhood events (rape, abuse, neglect, abandonment);
• Mental health and physical disorders;
• Low self-esteem;
• Difficulty learning, hearing, or seeing;
• Sexual identity issues;
• Eating disorders;
While students may enjoy the freedom of college life, they may also struggle with the responsibilities of attending classes, getting good grades, eating, taking care of their health, and finding time for simple chores. Additional social factors such as meeting new people, tension between roommates, or having difficult instructors or classes can also increase stress levels for students. Both that increased liberty and high stress can set the stage for drug use and abuse.
Reducing the Risks
There is no magic formula or medical marvel to undo the damage that can be done by abusing illicit or prescription drugs, drinking excessively, or smoking. While some actions and circumstances can certainly help prevent college students from making long-lasting mistakes, there are no guarantees.
• Parental involvement;
• Open communication;
• Positive role models;
• Vision and goals for the future;
• Athletic, extracurricular, or community involvement.
Parents, faculty, and students should recognize the warning signs of addiction or abuse. The following are majors signs, but this list is by no means exhaustive:
• Missed classes;
• Sudden change in demeanor;
• Lost concern about hygiene;
• Abrupt change in friends.
Substance abuse can lead to other high-risk behaviors , some of which represent real harm to abusers and others. Students who abuse drugs and alcohol often simply don’t consider the very real and very serious consequences of out-of-control substance abuse
• Murder, rape, robbery, other assaults;
• HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases;
• Burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft;
• Burns, drowning, and suicide;
• Unplanned pregnancy, child abuse, and neglect.
Long-Term Effects of Drug Abuse
According to Columbia’s CASA, those who begin using illegal drugs, smoking, abusing prescription drugs, or drinking before age 18 have a one in five chance of becoming addicted and facing related lifelong hardships:
• Inability to secure and maintain employment;
• Inability to maintain relationships;
• Financial hardships related to damages, illness, treatment, and lost work time;
• Incarceration or probation and related fines;
• Losing children due to negligence or abuse;
• Health problems including heart, liver, and lung diseases;
• AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases;
• Loss of driving license and other civil privileges;
• Loss of life.
With a culture that promotes sex, drugs, and rock and roll and seemingly glamorizes risky behavior, it’s easy to see how students at this critical age can succumb to curiosity and experimentation. Understanding the short- and long-term risks of drug and alcohol abuse can help curb overindulgence and encourage personal responsibility.
If you or someone you know is starting to exhibit any of the warning signs or risky behaviors above, it may be time to take a serious look at the reasons for drinking or using drugs in the first place. Help is available in a multitude of places including school health offices, local city clinics, and various organizations online. If you think there is a problem, chances are there is one. It’s never too late to change direction and get help for substance abuse including alcohol, prescription or illicit drugs, or even simply smoking. Be educated, responsible, and understand the risks of college drug use and the effects it can have on your health.
Marina Salsbury planned on becoming a teacher since high school, but found her way instead into online writing after college. She writes for Online College Classes and other sites about everything from education to exercise.