Its well known that high school students are more likely to be influenced by social pressures and engage in risky behaviors like drinking and driving. By the time young students reach their senior year of high school, almost 70 percent have tried alcohol and 50 percent have taken an illegal drug. This means that by the time they’re in college, a large percentage of students are already comfortable using drugs and alcohol.
If you have a child entering college, or if you are a college student yourself, it’s important to understand the dangers of substance abuse. The lines are often blurred at this age because many young people experiment with drugs and alcohol. However, some college students are unable to stop and end up progressing to full-blown addiction.
Below you’ll find more information about why college students are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and how to prevent long-term substance abuse, or seek treatment if that’s what’s called for.
Why are College Students Prone to Addiction?
College students face many unique pressures in their lives. While addiction can occur at various times in a person’s life, it’s the college years that can be most damaging. Here are some of the reasons why.
- Decrease in parental involvement. Kids are less likely to use drugs and alcohol when their parents are closely involved. However, when kids get to college, there is a decrease in parental monitoring.
- Peer influence. Peer influence starts at a much younger age, but in college, students are away from their parents. Not only is the college environment accepting of drugs and alcohol, but also these substances are readily available.
- Stress. College is stressful! Students must balance their classes, personal relationships and social life. In addition, some students have untreated mental health disorders that make it difficult to manage stress.
- Rise in study aids. Illicit drugs and alcohol aren’t the only substances that college students abuse. Study aids are stimulants that students sometimes abuse to focus and stay up longer.
- Fraternities and sororities. Students who join fraternities and sororities are especially prone to drug and alcohol use. Parties and risky behavior are often a part of the Greek culture.
Considerations for Co-occurring Mental Illness
It’s important to give attention to mental illness because of its prevalence in young adults and its strong link with addiction. Half of all mental illnesses start before the age of 14, and 75 percent start before the age of 24. Mental illness can contribute to substance abuse, and substance abuse can worsen the symptoms. This is why a proper diagnosis and holistic treatment are crucial.
So, how many people in college have a mental health disorder? According to one study, one in three college students say they suffer from mental illness in the years leading up to college. Another study found that 39 percent of college students struggle with at least one mental disorder. The same study reported that suicide jumped from 6-8 percent to 11 percent in recent years.
The most common mental illnesses that affect college students are:
- Eating disorders
- Attention deficit disorder
What are the Effects of Addiction on a Growing Brain?
Research shows that drugs and alcohol make chemical changes in the brain. When this is coupled with an underdeveloped frontal lobe, college students have an especially hard time making good decisions, controlling impulses, managing emotions and avoiding high-risk situations.
The brain is not fully developed until age 25 or so. Using drugs and alcohol before this age can lead to many problems such as:
- Drop in grades
- Difficulties at school
- Strain on family relationships
- Lack of interest in activities
- Involvement in high-risk behaviors
- Mental health issues
Additionally, substance abuse at a young age increases the risk for addiction. All addictive substances affect the reward pathway in the brain, which motivates people to use again. But, in the case of college students, there is still more brain development to go.
For example, the neurons in a teen brain are not yet fully protected with myelin, an insulator that helps brain messages travel from neuron to neuron. As a result, teen brain cells send “louder” messages than adult brain cells. Therefore, drugs and alcohol feel more pleasurable to teens than they do to adults.
How to Reduce and Prevent Substance Abuse in College
Knowing that addiction is a problem for college students, it’s important to be proactive. Fortunately, there are effective strategies for reducing substance abuse in the college environment. Below are a few examples.
- Education. Informing students of the negative health effects of drug and alcohol abuse can help them make better choices.
- Rule enforcement. There are already laws that limit underage drinking and drug use. College campuses should enforce these laws, as well as have their own policies and consequences.
- NCAA testing. Student athletes should receive drug tests for recreational and performance-enhancing drugs.
- Stress reduction. A key reason why college students abuse drugs and alcohol is because of stress. Colleges can work with external resources to offer group therapy, support groups and stress management classes.
- Mental health treatment. Colleges can also provide guidance and treatment on or near campus for students with mental illness.
It’s not easy to stop substance abuse among college students, especially because of a culture that promotes it. However, it’s important to connect with students who have stress or mental illness as they’re more prone to developing an addiction. Too often, schools wait for students to come to them, and by this time, it could be too late. The best programs are proactive and aimed at improving all areas of a student’s life.
Getting Help for an Addiction
Because addiction in college students is complex, it’s important that they receive the right care. Continuum Recovery Center is a holistic outpatient treatment rehab agency that helps recovering addicts heal while staying in school. Our intensive day treatment, IOP, OP, and MAT programs are flexible and can fit within the demands of students or working professionals while still delivering exceptional care. Our programs also include yoga, mindfulness, acupuncture nutritional guidance, physical fitness, group and individual therapy and more. Let us help you or a loved one heal from your addiction while staying on track with your academic or professional goals.