For many students, college is the first opportunity for independence. However, adjusting to a new environment, meeting new people, participating in activities and balancing school work may increase the risk of drug and alcohol abuse. The rate of substance abuse (both drugs and alcohol) among college students has risen steadily in recent years. A recent study found that 37% of college students have used an illegal drug and/or abused alcohol on a regular basis.
The prevalence of drinking among college students is staggering. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 54.9% of full-time college students between the ages of 18 and 22 drank alcohol in the past month, which is over 10% higher than non-college students of the same age. The study also discovered that each year:
- 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes.
- 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
- 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
- Approximately 1 in 4 college students report academic consequences from drinking, including missing class, falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers and receiving lower grades overall.
Studies by the Journal of the American Medical Association show that alcohol and substance abuse are closely linked with anxiety and depression. In fact, 37% of alcohol abusers and 53% of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness. While substance abuse and mental health disorders are not directly caused by one another, drugs and alcohol are often used to self-medicate and ease the symptoms of undiagnosed mental health issues. Symptoms related to mental health problems can also be worsened or trigger new symptoms with the use of drugs and alcohol. And when combined with medications like anti-anxiety pills, antidepressants and mood stabilizers, drugs and alcohol can make symptoms more difficult to manage.
Signs of drug and/or alcohol abuse in students include:
- Lack of interest in class and other activities
- Negative change in academic performance
- Weight fluctuations
- Withdrawing from friends or acting secretive
- Unexplained changes in behavior or personality
- Mood swings, depression or irritability
If you suspect that a university student may be abusing drugs or alcohol, steps can be taken to provide support. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) offers resources for peers, parents and educators to provide support for individuals struggling with drug and alcohol abuse. SAMHSA also has a 24/7/365 hotline to provide information. Support groups and counseling aid in recovery, identify triggers to avoid and develop action plans for these triggers.
On-campus healthcare resources can also support students who need help. And campuses with 24/7 telehealth services like TimelyMD may also have access to mental health support via virtual care. In any situation, it’s important to know what campus resources are available to support student success and engagement.