Written by: Stacy Mosel, L.M.S.W.
Edited by: Amelia Sharp
Jul 14, 2022
Learn why college students abuse drugs, the types of drugs they abuse, and what types of treatment options are available for them.
What you will learn:
Understand the effects of study drugs, binge drinking, and drinking games.
What are colleges and universities doing to help students and learn what programs are offered to students.
Information about treatment options and help for college students.
Substance abuse is (unfortunately) common among college students and can result in a range of academic, physical, mental, and social problems. One study found that nearly half of participating college students met the criteria for at least one substance use disorder (SUD), while the 2019 Monitoring the Future survey found the highest rates of marijuana and some illicit drug use, particularly amphetamines, cocaine, hallucinogens, and MDMA, among those of typical college age (early to mid-20s).1,2
Alcohol and drug use in college can interfere with your academic performance, decrease the chances of obtaining post-college employment, and cause many additional consequences.1,2 Continue reading to learn more about substance abuse in the college student population, and what you can do to seek help if you or someone you know is struggling with drug use in college.
Take Our Substance Abuse Self-Assessment
Are you concerned that you, a friend, or a family member who is in college may have a substance abuse problem? Take our free, 5-minute substance abuse self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with substance abuse. The evaluation consists of 11 yes or no questions that are intended to be used as an informational tool to assess the severity and probability of a substance use disorder. The test is free, confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result.
Reasons and Causes of Substance Abuse Among College Students
College is intended to be an era of self-discovery, unbridled potential complemented by lifelong friendships, independence, and experiencing what the world has to offer. But for tens of thousands of students, the weight of unforgiving expectations placed on them by parents, teachers, other students, society, and even themselves, sometimes worsens in college.
College students are forced to adapt to a new lifestyle, with arguably less structure than that of their childhood, while being pulled in various directions. All these factors coming together can create a perfect storm for substance abuse issues. Alcohol flows quite freely on college campuses, and people sometimes exchange drugs in dorm rooms and classrooms, either as a way to escape from all the stress, or to boost academic performance (at the risk of developing an addiction).
What Drugs Do College Students Abuse Most?
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) explains that college students frequently use and abuse alcohol, with many students seeing alcohol use as a ritualistic part of college. However, many students also come to campus with pre-existing drinking habits as well.5
The drugs most commonly abused by college students include:1,2,6
- Marijuana.Past-year and past-month abuse of marijuana are highest among people aged 21-22. Vaping marijuana is highest among people in their early 20’s.
- MDMA (ecstasy), LSD, and other psychedelic or hallucinogenic drugs. These drugs have gained popularity in recent years, with many students using them out of curiosity, to have the overall psychedelic experience, or to escape. Micro-dosing, the act of using small doses of hallucinogens to achieve a slight effect, has also increased among college students in recent years.
- Stimulant medications, such as dextroamphetamine (Adderall), that are often called “study drugs”. Students may use study drugs to help them stay awake or in an effort to enhance their ability to focus and study for exams. Adderall use in college can be very detrimental and eventually lead to dependence or addiction.
- Cocaine. One study showed that more than 20% of college students were exposed to opportunities to use cocaine in the past year.
- Painkillers and opioids. A high percentage of young adults between the ages of 18-25 suffer from prescription painkiller abuse, or prescription opioid abuse, in college; this is also a significant cause of unintentional death and injury among people in this age range.
Does Insurance Cover Rehab for College Students?
Yes, insurance typically covers rehab for college students. Many college students who are under the age of 25 are still eligible to be covered for treatment under their parent’s insurance policy. However, the extent to which your rehab stay will be covered depends on your insurance policy, copay, and deductible. AAC is in-network with many insurance companies. Discover whether your treatment may be fully or partially covered by using our online SSVOB form below.
The Long and Short Term Impacts of Substance Use in College Students
Substance abuse can cause many consequences for college students that are not limited to their academic life. Some of the short- and long-term impacts of drug and alcohol abuse in college students can include:5,7,8
- Decreased academic performance. Substance abuse can lead to a lower GPA, less time spent studying, missing class, getting behind on assignments, dropping out, or being expelled.
- Risky or dangerous behaviors. This can include doing things you normally wouldn’t do, like driving under the influence, being involved in assault (either as a victim or perpetrator), getting into fights, stealing, or engaging in risky sexual behaviors or date rape. Many of these behaviors can be potentially lethal.
- Poor health. You can suffer from many physical health consequences, including hangovers, nausea, injury, negative effects on your immune system, and risk of overdose or death. You may also experience poor mental health, decreased cognitive performance, short-term memory loss, addiction, or increased risk of suicide.
- Social consequences. You can lose friendships and important relationships due to substance use. You may be more socially isolated if you spend much of your time using alcohol or drugs.
What Are Colleges Doing About Drug & Alcohol Abuse?
Many colleges and government institutions are taking action to help prevent or manage substance abuse and drug addiction in students. For example, the Collegiate Recovery Programs (CRPs) or Collegiate Recovery Communities (CRCs) are college-based programs designed to help promote recovery in students through drug- and alcohol-free opportunities to socialize, substance-free housing, crisis support, and more.1
The NIAAA collaborated with college alcohol researchers and staff to develop the College Alcohol Intervention Matrix (CollegeAIM), which is a comprehensive and easy-to-use booklet and website that help colleges identify specific individualized interventions and both prevent and deal with alcohol abuse on campus.9 These interventions can include education and awareness programs, cognitive-behavioral skills educations, motivational approaches, and behavioral interventions offered by healthcare professionals.5
Research has shown that other initiatives can also meet the needs of college students struggling with addiction. These include offering campus-based 12-step or other support meetings such as Students for Recovery, offering substance abuse counseling by trained professionals, providing campus education to reduce the stigma of accessing help, scheduling classes on Fridays to reduce alcohol-related partying on Thursdays, monitoring fraternities and sororities, and having longer opening hours for recreational facilities and libraries.10,11
Signs to Look Out For and How to Talk About Treatment
Some of the signs of substance abuse in college students can include:14,15
- Skipping classes, declining academic performance, dropping out, or recent disciplinary action.
- Poor personal appearance.
- Avoiding friends or family.
- No longer participating in activities they once enjoyed.
- Lying about drug or alcohol use.
- Spending a lot of time using and recovering from the effects of drugs or drinking.
- Needing to drink or use drugs to relax or have a good time.
- Mood changes, such as being depressed, irritable, or angry.
- Physical or mental problems, like bloodshot eyes, poor concentration, or memory issues.
- Withdrawal symptoms (like headaches, cravings, or depression).
- Continuing substance use despite the negative consequences.
- Legal troubles, like arrests, accidents, or DWIs.
- Using substances in hazardous situations (like while driving).
- Risky behavior while high or drunk, like starting fights or having unprotected sex.
Talking to someone about their substance use may not be easy, especially if they don’t think they have a problem. You can’t force someone to get help, but you can show your concern. You may wish to talk to someone you trust about the problem (such as a professor or counselor) so you can practice the conversation. You can also make a list of resources where they can seek help (like campus counseling centers or off-campus rehabs).
When talking to your friend, explain that you are concerned about their health, wellbeing, and academic performance. Avoid criticizing or blaming them, and back off if they are resistant to hearing you; you can come back to the issue at a later moment. Focus on specifics, such as saying, “You stumbled into our room at 3 a.m., you threw up the whole night, and I am concerned about you.” Then let them know that you are available to talk if they want to. Check back in from time to time — you don’t have to have the conversation all at once, but you may want to give them the list of resources you compiled.15
Seeking help can involve different steps, such as having a consultation with the campus health center, talking to a counselor at your campus counseling center, or seeking treatment at a hospital or rehab center.15Getting treatment can help prevent the consequences of substance use on your health, academic career, and overall wellbeing.
American Addiction Centers offers customized treatment for people ages 18 and older. If you or someone you love is in college and struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, call our admissions navigators today at . We’ll help you figure out your next best steps.
How Long is Rehab? (Will I Have to Leave School?)
Rehab can vary in length, intensity, and structure depending on whether you decide to attend inpatient or outpatient rehab. Even if you need to leave school to attend rehab, there are always resources to help you during and after the process, such as counseling programs, medical leaves of absence, or transition plans that involve modified programs of study.10 If you are concerned about going to rehab for college students because of a fear that your grades will suffer or that you’ll fall behind in your program, consider what will happen if you don’t get help. Addiction usually gets worse if left untreated, so it’s a sign of strength that you’re willing to take control of your life before things spiral further out of control.16
A typical inpatient stay might last 3 weeks to 90 days, with some programs being longer. Outpatient treatment may also be an option, and you may be able to continue to attend some daytime classes and go to treatment in the evening. Many rehabs can work with you to help you find the best options for your needs.17
Even though it can seem scary or intimidating, know that attending rehab is confidential, so no one needs to know about it (not even your family) if you don’t want them to. Taking steps to get your life under control now can help pave the way for a happier, healthier, and brighter future.
Drug and Alcohol Rehab for College Students Near You
- Rhode Island
- New Jersey
Ways to Get in Contact With Us
If you believe you or someone you love may be struggling with addiction, let us hear your story and help you determine a path to treatment.
There are a variety of confidential, free, and no obligation ways to get in contact with us to learn more about rehab programs for college students.
- Call us at
- Verify Your Insurance Coverage for Treatment
- Welsh, J. W., Shentu, Y., & Sarvey, D. B. (2019). Substance Use Among College Students. Focus, 17(2), 117–127.
- Schulenberg, J. E., Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Miech, R. A. & Patrick, M. E. (2020). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2019: Volume II, College students and adults ages 19–60. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.
- Kaiser, A. J., Milich, R., Lynam, D. R., & Charnigo, R. J. (2012). Negative urgency, distress tolerance, and substance abuse among college students. Addictive behaviors, 37(10), 1075–1083.
- Lipari, R., Ahrnsbrak, R., Pemberton, M., & Porter, J. (2017). Risk and Protective Factors and Estimates of Substance Use Initiation: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. CBHSQ Data Review. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021). College Drinking.
- Hudgins, J. D., Porter, J. J., Monuteaux, M. C., & Bourgeois, F. T. (2019). Prescription opioid use and misuse among adolescents and young adults in the United States: A national survey study. PLoS medicine, 16(11), e1002922.
- McAlaney, J., Dempsey, R. C., Helmer, S. M., Van Hal, G., Bewick, B. M… & Zeeb, H. (2021). Negative Consequences of Substance Use in European University Students: Results from Project SNIPE. European addiction research, 27(1), 75–82.
- Palmer, R. S., McMahon, T. J., Moreggi, D. I., Rounsaville, B. J., & Ball, S. A. (2012). College Student Drug Use: Patterns, Concerns, Consequences, and Interest in Intervention. Journal of college student development, 53(1), 10.1353/csd.2012.0014.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. CollegeAIM: Overview.
- Perron, B. E., Grahovac, I. D., Uppal, J. S., Granillo, M. T., Shutter, J., & Porter, C. A. (2011). Supporting Students in Recovery on College Campuses: Opportunities for Student Affairs Professionals. Journal of student affairs research and practice, 48(1), 47–64.
- S. Department of Education. (2008). Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention on College Campuses: Model Programs.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). News Release: Marijuana use at historic highs among college-age adults.
- Laudet, A. B., Harris, K., Kimball, T., Winters, K. C., & Moberg, D. P. (2015). Characteristics of students participating in collegiate recovery programs: a national survey. Journal of substance abuse treatment, 51, 38–46.
- University of Rochester: University Counseling Center. The Student Suspected of Substance Abuse/Addiction.
- Campus Drug Prevention. How to Help a Friend.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction: Drug Misuse and Addiction.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition): Types of Treatment Programs
Nearly 2.0 million full-time college students (22.2 percent) used an illicit drug in the past month.
An estimated 43 percent of all people who go to drug rehab successfully complete their treatment programs, while another 16 percent are transferred to other rehab centers for additional treatment. Rehab success rates for those who complete drug and alcohol detoxification are a combined 68 percent.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, "Relapse rates for addiction resemble those of other chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma."1 In numbers, the statistics indicate that anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of people with addiction will experience a relapse.
Believe it or not, many people fail to remain sober after rehab. In most cases, they haven't reached out for the proper support before falling for triggers. In fact, 85 percent of individuals relapse within a year of treatment, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Alcohol. Alcohol is easily the most used and abused drug among college students.
- Family History. ...
- Mental Health Concerns. ...
- Unresolved Trauma. ...
- Metabolism. ...
- College Environment and Peer Influence. ...
- Academic Pressure and Performance. ...
- Failure to Thrive.
Addiction specialists cite success rates slightly higher, between 8% and 12%. A New York Times article stated that AA claims that up to 75% of its members stay abstinent. Alcoholics Anonymous' Big Book touts about a 50% success rate, stating that another 25% remain sober after some relapses.
3. Effective Treatment Attends to Multiple Needs of the Individual, not just his or her drug use: To be effective, treatment must address the individual's drug use and any associated medical, psychological, social, vocational, and legal problems.
In the United States, more than 14,500 specialized drug treatment facilities provide counseling, behavioral therapy, medication, case management, and other types of services to persons with substance use disorders.
- Relapse rates for heroin use disorders were estimated to be 78.2 percent.
- Relapse rates for alcohol use disorders were estimated to be 68.4 percent.
- Relapse rates for cocaine use disorders were estimated to be 61.9 percent.
High Levels of Stress. One of the most common relapse triggers which lead to addiction, stress is something that most everyone who has committed to recovery has to deal with. Everyone deals with stress. And, before treatment, you may have dealt with yours through the use of drugs or alcohol.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), about 33% or “one-third of people who are treated for alcohol problems have no further symptoms 1 year later.” You can increase the odds of staying sober by finding support and a sober living community.
An estimated 22 million Americans — that includes the three of us — are in recovery from opioid and other addictions. We say “estimated” because states and the federal government don't track recovery like they track addiction rates or overdoses.
Drug abuse is a generic term for the abuse of any drug, including alcohol and cigarettes. Drug addiction is the inability to stop using the drug in spite of numerous attempts definitions so as to correctly identify problem.
- Stress. Stress is the top cause of relapse. ...
- People or Places Connected to the Addictive Behavior. ...
- Negative or Challenging Emotions. ...
- Seeing or Sensing the Object of Your Addiction. ...
- Times of Celebration.
One of the most common reasons people engage in drug and alcohol abuse is because of societal pressures. They feel they have to do what their friends are doing or risk losing those friends. Students, especially those who are new to campus, want to fit in and feel at home.
- Alcohol. A large number of college students are introduced to drinking at campus parties. ...
- Marijuana. Second to alcohol, marijuana is the most commonly abused drug. ...
- Opioids. ...
- Stimulants. ...
Alcohol and tobacco are the drugs most commonly abused by adolescents, followed by marijuana. The next most popular substances differ between age groups.
Nearly half a million college students identify as already in recovery from alcohol or drugs. Approximately 1 in 3 incoming college students report struggling with mental illness. Each year, we lose over 150,000 Americans to overdose, suicide, and addiction-related disease.
Substance-using students, compared with non-users, are at increased risk for academic failure, including dropout, especially when the use is frequent and heavy. Marijuana use negatively impacts academic outcomes (lower GPA and higher rates of dropout) somewhat more than does alcohol.
- Low grades or failure in school.
- Victim of bullying or cyberbullying.
- Low self esteem.
- Permissive parenting.
- Parent or older sibling drug/alcohol use.
- Living in a community with a high tolerance for smoking, drinking, or drug use among youth.
14 percent of AA members stay sober between 10 and 20 years. 22 percent of AA members stay sober 20 or more years. The average length of AA member sobriety is nearly 10 years.
About 85% of the people who go through Celebrate Recovery stay with the church, according to Saddleback Church. The program is offered in more than 37,000 churches across the globe.
Most of the studies that measured abstinence found AA was significantly better than other interventions or no intervention. In one study, it was found to be 60% more effective. None of the studies found AA to be less effective.
CBT is often rated as the most effective approach to treatment with a drug and alcohol population.
- behavioral counseling.
- medical devices and applications used to treat withdrawal symptoms or deliver skills training.
- evaluation and treatment for co-occurring mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
Most addicted individuals need at least three months in treatment to get sober and initiate a plan for continued recovery. Research shows that the best outcomes occur with longer durations of treatment. Lengthier treatment programs can seem intimidating at first, but they may end up bringing you the best results.
- Ashley Addiction Treatment, Maryland. ...
- Ascension Brighton Center For Recovery, Michigan. ...
- Bedrock Recovery Center, Massachusetts. ...
- The Behavioral Wellness Center At Girard, Pennsylvania. ...
- Cirque Lodge, Utah. ...
- Elevate Addiction Services, California. ...
- Harmony Foundation, Colorado.
Growing market demand for addiction treatment, driven by the opioid crisis and expanded insurance coverage, has attracted unprecedented private investment and a rapid influx of new providers motivated by profit over people. The specialized addiction treatment industry is now a $35 billion industry.
Drug and alcohol addiction rehab in the United States is big business — worth $42 billion this year. There are now 15,000+ private treatment facilities and growing. The combination of increased insurance coverage under the ACA and Medicaid, coupled with the opioid epidemic, is fueling demand for treatment.
Relapse is a gradual process that begins weeks and sometimes months before an individual picks up a drink or drug. There are three stages to relapse: emotional, mental, and physical. The common denominator of emotional relapse is poor self-care.
If you have high levels of stress and poor coping skills, you may turn to drugs and alcohol for relief. Negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, depression, and boredom, sometimes increase your risk for relapse. Work and marital stress, in particular, have been known to contribute to relapse.
A slip is a single unplanned use of alcohol or drugs. Relapse happens when a recovery plan is completely abandoned.
Addiction Relapse Vulnerability
For 1-year outcomes across alcohol, nicotine, weight, and illicit drug abuse, studies show that more than 85% of individuals relapse and return to drug use within 1 year of treatment .
Unfortunately relapse rates for individuals who enter recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction are quite high. Studies reflect that about 40-60% of individuals relapse within 30 days of leaving an inpatient drug and alcohol treatment center, and up to 85% relapse within the first year.
Breadcrumb. More than one-third (35.9 percent) of U.S. adults with alcohol dependence (alcoholism) that began more than one year ago are now in full recovery, according to an article in the current issue of Addiction.
|Bill Wilson, Alcoholics Anonymous|
|Born||William Griffith WilsonNovember 26, 1895 East Dorset, Vermont, U.S.|
|Died||January 24, 1971 (aged 75) Miami, Florida, U.S.|
|Resting place||East Dorset Cemetery, East Dorset, Vermont43.216638°N 73.015148°W|
“Supported” scientific evidence indicates that approximately 50 percent of adults who once met diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder—or about 25 million people—are currently in stable remission (1 year or longer).
22 million people suffer from active substance use disorders. 45 million people are directly impacted by addiction.
21 million Americans suffer from addiction. Just 3,000 physicians are specially trained to treat them. AAMC.
Peer pressure is a strong factor in starting to use and misuse drugs, particularly for young people. Lack of family involvement. Difficult family situations or lack of a bond with your parents or siblings may increase the risk of addiction, as can a lack of parental supervision.
There are certain factors that increase the risk of a person developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Genetics, family history, mental health, and the environment are some of the risk factors for addiction susceptibility.
- Unexplained change in personality or attitude.
- Sudden mood swings, irritability, spaced-out, or angry outbursts.
- Appears fearful, anxious, or paranoid, with no reason.
One of the worst fears that recovering addicts often face is that of relapse. It has been enough of a struggle to get through admitting to the problem, telling family and friends about it, going through detox, and getting treatment, and now there is no guarantee that they will be able to stay clear of drugs.
- Self-Care. Common post-acute withdrawal symptoms when recovering from addiction include insomnia and fatigue. ...
- HALT. ...
- Mindfulness Meditation. ...
- Know Your Triggers. ...
- Join a Support Group. ...
- Grounding Techniques. ...
- Deep Breathing. ...
- Make An Emergency Contact List.
The preoccupation/anticipation stage has long been hypothesised to be a key element of relapse in humans, and defines addiction as a chronic relapsing disorder.
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 regularly used an illegal drug or abused alcohol.
As many as one in ten of us are using so called 'Study Drugs' to improve memory and focus.
Over one quarter (28.1 percent) of college-aged young adults report having misused some type of prescription psychotherapeutic drug at least once in their lifetime.
One of the most common reasons people engage in drug and alcohol abuse is because of societal pressures. They feel they have to do what their friends are doing or risk losing those friends. Students, especially those who are new to campus, want to fit in and feel at home. They want to do what everyone else is doing.
Substance-using students, compared with non-users, are at increased risk for academic failure, including dropout, especially when the use is frequent and heavy. Marijuana use negatively impacts academic outcomes (lower GPA and higher rates of dropout) somewhat more than does alcohol.
Substance or drug abuse affects the academic life of university students resulting in inadequate attendance, poor academic performance, and conflict with others, among other issues. Its adverse effect on the physical and mental health, and sexual practices of university students cannot be overemphasised.
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD): Roughly 9 percent of college students meet the criteria for AUD. Academic Consequences: About 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.
Estimates are that up to 20% of college students abuse prescription stimulants for recreational or academic purposes (e.g., being able to study for longer periods of time; Benson et al., 2015), most often by obtaining the medications from peers who hold prescriptions for the drugs.
Prescription stimulants used as study drugs include: amphetamines like Adderall, Dexedrine, or Vyvanse. methylphenidates like Ritalin or Concerta.
Ritalin and Adderall are the two mostly commonly misused study drugs. In addition to study drugs, some students may also use anti-anxiety medications like Xanax.
People often overestimate the percentage of college students who drink and underestimate the percentage who don't drink (thinking "Everyone is doing it"): Nationwide, about 65 percent of traditional-age college students (late teens to early 20s) report they drank alcohol in the past month, and about 20 percent say they ...
Data support that college students use drugs and misuse prescription opioids. For example, 7% of college students enrolled at 119 colleges in the United States reported prescription opioid misuse in the past year, and 12% reported lifetime prescription opioid misuse (McCabe, Teter, Boyd, Knight, et al., 2005).
1 in 5 teens has abused prescription medications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Approximately 21% of high school seniors have reported using Marijuana in the past month, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.