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Common Types of Drug Abuse on College Campuses

Many red party cups with blurred celebrating people in the background.

The transition to college life often brings with it a myriad of challenges and new experiences. For many students, this includes being exposed to, and in some cases, experimenting with drugs.

Understanding the landscape of drug abuse on college campuses is crucial, not just for students, but also for parents, educators, and health professionals.

This awareness helps in fostering a supportive environment that encourages healthy choices and provides necessary assistance.

1. Alcohol

Alcohol’s presence on college campuses is both prominent and culturally embedded.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shares that the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that 49.3% of full-time college students ages 18 to 22 drank alcohol in the past month. They also found that 27.4% of those students participated in binge drinking in the past month.1

It’s often a central feature of social gatherings, sports events, and parties, making it not only accessible but also socially endorsed in many circles. This normalization, however, obscures the potential for abuse and the serious consequences that can follow.

Excessive consumption can lead to immediate dangers like alcohol poisoning, accidents, and encourages high risk behaviors including unsafe sexual practices and aggressive conduct. Chronic use poses a threat to academic performance, as it can impair cognitive functions and lead to absenteeism.

Additionally, the pattern of heavy alcohol consumption established during college years can set the stage for long-term health issues, including addiction, liver diseases, and increased risk of certain cancers. The social and emotional impacts are also significant, potentially exacerbating underlying mental health issues and hindering the development of healthy coping mechanisms.

2. Marijuana

Marijuana use among college students has been rising, partially influenced by changing legal status and perceptions of its safety. Often viewed as a ‘less harmful’ drug, its widespread use masks potential risks.

Regular marijuana use, especially in high quantities, can impact cognitive functions—including memory, attention, and learning abilities. This is particularly concerning given the academic demands of college.

There’s also evidence suggesting that heavy, long-term marijuana use during young adulthood can lead to mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, and can exacerbate existing conditions.

Moreover, dependency can develop, challenging the misconception that marijuana is not addictive. Socially, marijuana use can affect relationships and daily activities, and its illegal status in many areas can lead to legal troubles, further impacting a student’s academic and future career paths.

3. Prescription Stimulants (e.g., Adderall, Ritalin)

Prescription drug stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin are frequently misused in college settings, primarily due to their perceived benefits in enhancing focus and stamina for studying. This misuse often stems from the competitive academic environment and the pressure to excel.

However, substance abuse can lead to significant health risks. Short-term effects include increased heart rate and blood pressure, insomnia, and heightened anxiety, which can be particularly detrimental during stressful periods like exams.

Long-term misuse can lead to addiction, cardiovascular complications, and mental health issues such as depression. Additionally, reliance on these drugs can create a dependency that diminishes a student’s natural ability to concentrate and manage time effectively, ultimately impacting academic performance and personal well-being.

4. Prescription Painkillers (e.g., OxyContin, Vicodin)

The abuse among college students of prescription painkillers, such as OxyContin and Vicodin, is a critical issue on college campuses. Initially prescribed for pain relief, these opioids can be highly addictive and are often misused for their euphoric effects. The ease of obtaining these drugs, either through prescriptions or illicitly, contributes to their misuse. The consequences of this abuse are severe.

Physically, students risk developing a tolerance and dependency, leading to higher doses to achieve the same effects and increasing the risk of overdose. This misuse can also impair cognitive functions and academic performance.

Socially, students may find themselves in a cycle of substance abuse that affects relationships and participation in college activities, such as fraternities and sororities, and can also lead to legal issues.

The transition from prescription painkiller misuse to other forms of substance use disorders, including heroin, is also a significant concern.

5. Party Drugs (e.g., MDMA, Ecstasy, Cocaine)

Party drugs like MDMA (Ecstasy), cocaine, and others are particularly popular in social settings, such as nightclubs and college parties, where they are used for their euphoric and energy-boosting effects.

However, their use carries significant risks. MDMA can lead to severe dehydration, hyperthermia, and electrolyte imbalances, potentially resulting in life-threatening conditions.

Cocaine use increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes, even in young, healthy individuals. Chronic use of these substances can lead to long-term cognitive deficits, including memory and attention problems, as well as mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

Furthermore, the fact that these are illicit drugs means that purity is often compromised, increasing the risk of adverse reactions and overdose. The social implications are also noteworthy, as the use of party drugs can lead to impaired judgment, risky behaviors, and legal consequences.

6. Nicotine and Vaping Products

Students relaxing at home, showing to eachother their phones and vaping

The rise in popularity of vaping products has led to increased nicotine use among college students. Vaping is often perceived as a safer alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes, which has contributed to its acceptance among young adults.

However, nicotine is a highly addictive substance, and its use can lead to long-term health issues, including lung disease, cardiovascular problems, and a potential increase in the risk of various cancers.

The aerosols in vape juice can also contain harmful substances, including heavy metals and chemical flavorings, which might pose additional health risks.

The social aspect of vaping, combined with aggressive marketing and the availability of appealing flavors, has contributed to its popularity on college campuses. This trend is concerning, as it can lead to long-term nicotine addiction and may serve as a gateway to other forms of tobacco use.

Address Substance Abuse on College Campuses With Lumina Recovery

Our exploration of the commonly abused substances on college campuses—alcohol, marijuana, prescription stimulants, prescription painkillers, party drugs, and nicotine/vaping products—reveals a complex and concerning landscape.

Each of these substances, though varied in their effects and contexts of use, pose significant risks to the health, well-being, and academic success of college students.

Lumina Recovery offers specialized programs for college students for an array of addiction types to help you or a loved one understand and fight addiction.

Contact us today to learn more about our programs and opportunities for substance-free life.



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