4 Most Common Drugs Abused by College Students

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By Jacqueline L. Scheier, D.O.

Going away to college is an exciting time for young adults. It’s typically the first time they’ve been out of their parents’ house and have a new found sense of freedom. College is also a time of stress and pressure to excel and prove yourself. Between the demands of coursework, the freedom, and the desire or pressure to fit in, college students may turn to drugs and alcohol.

College students make up one of the largest groups of drug abusers nationwide. Worse, young people between the ages of 18 and 24 have a heightened risk of addiction.

These are the substances are most commonly abused on college campuses.

  1. Alcohol

It may come as no surprise that alcohol is the most abused substance on college campuses. Three out of four college students drink alcohol, which may not seem like a big deal until you consider that three-quarters of this population is under the age of the legal drinking age of 21.

It’s not just the fact that underage teens are drinking, but that half of college drinkers are binge drinking – they’re drinking a minimum of three or four drinks in one sitting to get drunk. Some reasons college students drink excessively include feeling the need to fit in, to relax, de-stress, lower inhibitions, reduce anxiety or depression, or because they’re responding to peer pressure.

  1. Marijuana

This is the most widely used drug among college students – studies have found that nearly 50 percent of college students have tried it once. These stats may increase as states continue to legalize it for medical and/or recreational use.

Marijuana, which is also often called reefer, Mary Jane, weed or pot, is often perceived as not being harmful or addictive, but the National Institute of Drug Abuse reports that 9 percent of users do become addicted.

  1. Prescription pills

Although not as popular as marijuana, prescriptions, including stimulants, narcotics, and central nervous system depressants, are also commonly abused by college students. Most commonly abused are painkillers like Percocet, OxyContin, and Vicodin. So-called “study drugs” like the stimulants Adderall and Ritalin are also widely abused by students, who are hoping they’ll help them study and complete course work.

Like alcohol, these pills are easy for college students to get – they can get them either through a valid prescription or from another student’s prescription. One study found that more than 60 percent of students with a valid prescription from ADHD medication were diverting it to other students without prescriptions.

  1. “Party” or “club” drugs

While they’re not as popular as marijuana or alcohol, these illegal drugs have still found a place on college campuses. Ecstasy, which became a popular drug in the 90s, has made a resurgence in recent years in its pure form, which is known as MDMA, or molly. Cocaine, heroin and LSD are also being abused by students.

Like other drugs, they carry some heavy short-term and long-term side effects and risks. Ecstasy is often abused to increase pleasure, but can lead to risky sexual behavior. Cocaine and heroin are both highly addictive and increase heart and blood pressure, which puts users at a high risk of a fatal overdose.

One of the big challenges with discovering that a college student is abusing or addicted to drugs or alcohol is that you likely don’t have as much contact with your child on a daily basis. When they go off to school, they may not come home to visit family until the holidays and summer break.

Some warning signs you can look for are:

  • Drastic changes in weight
  • Poor performance in school
  • Skipping classes
  • Isolation and withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Unidentified pill bottles
  • Trouble with the law and traffic accidents
  • Violent outbursts and agitation
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Decreased focus
  • Lack of motivation
  • High-risk sexual behavior
  • Forgetfulness
  • Depression

Keep in mind, these may be warning signs, but they can also be signals of typical adolescent behavior. The best thing you can do with your college student is keep the lines of communication open, learn about their new college life, their schedule and their friends. If you suspect drug abuse or addiction, treatment is crucial.

About the Author

Jacqueline L. Scheier, D.O.

Specializing in family medicine, Dr. Scheier strives to work with patients in obtaining their short-term and long-term health goals. She works to gain their trust through open and honest conversation in assisting them to achieve these goals.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Scheier, please call 484-446-3660.

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