Substance Abuse Among College Students: What Do The Statistics Say?

College is often considered a time of growth, learning, and self-discovery for many. But it’s also a period when many individuals face the challenges of newfound independence and peer pressure. Unfortunately, one significant issue that continues to plague college campuses is substance abuse.

College is often considered a time of growth, learning, and self-discovery for many. But it’s also a period when many individuals face the challenges of newfound independence and peer pressure. Unfortunately, one significant issue that continues to plague college campuses is substance abuse.

The use of drugs and alcohol among college students has become a pressing concern, raising questions about the impact on academic performance and mental health. Sadder still is the number of young people who find themselves needing help from outpatient treatment centers. It raises a question as to the scale of the problem.

Here is an overview of some key statistics surrounding substance abuse among college students.

Image from Isabella Mendes

How common is substance abuse among students?

The statistics on substance abuse among college students are both alarming and illuminating. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), about 1 in 5 college students meets the criteria for a substance use disorder.

This encompasses a range of substances. Including alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs, and illicit drugs. Binge drinking, defined as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks in a short period, is a particularly prevalent issue, affecting an estimated 38% of college students.

Alcohol remains the most widely used substance on college campuses. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), nearly 60% of college students aged 18 to 22 reported drinking alcohol in the past month.

The consequences of excessive alcohol consumption include academic difficulties, poor decision-making, and an increased likelihood of developing alcohol-related problems later in life.

Drug abuse is another significant concern. A Monitoring the Future survey revealed that the use of illicit drugs among college students is on the rise. Marijuana, in particular, has seen an increase in use, with more than 43% of college students reporting use within the last year.

That’s not all. Abuse of prescription drugs, such as stimulants and opioids, remains a prevalent issue, contributing to a virtual epidemic of substance abuse problems on college campuses.

The consequences of substance abuse.

Beyond the immediate health risks, substance misuse has been linked to a significant decline in academic performance. Students who engage in heavy drinking or drug use are more likely to miss classes, fall behind on assignments, and experience a decrease in overall GPA.

This is due in part to how substances interact with the brain. They cause a decline in cognitive function and often lead to issues with concentration and memory.

Substance misuse can often lead to a higher risk of developing mental health disorders or exacerbating pre-existing ones. Specifically anxiety or depression. This is in part due to substances breaking havoc with our emotional wellbeing, and causing mood swings and increasing irritability.

In some cases, substances can even cause psychosis which can be detrimental to not only the person experiencing it but also those around them.

There are a range of physical health issues associated with substance abuse. These are largely to do with the liver, which is responsible for processing the toxins in our body. But substances can also impair the cardiovascular system, can cause respiratory problems, lower the immune system and even hinder our gastrointestinal health.

Not to mention the issues associated with ‘risky behaviours.’ This could refer to anything from unprotected sex to physical injuries often caused by impaired judgment.

Substance misuse can put a strain on the people we hold dear in life, such as our friends, family and even colleagues. Quite often trust can become broken due to various things such as erratic behaviour or emotional outbursts. For some, isolation becomes the only option which makes the problem worse.

Legal problems could arise in various situations, such as being caught with illegal substances or committing illegal acts while under the influence.

While often not talked about, those who are suffering from substance misuse may also be under financial strain. Perhaps money worries came first, or it’s a result of substance misuse. Either way, abusing substances can become expensive. Especially if you take into account missed time at work, medical bills and maybe even legal worries.

It goes without saying that long-term substance misuse has the potential to cause addiction. This in itself can be very difficult to recover from without the proper help and support from both professionals and those around us.

Addressing the issue of Substance Abuse.

Many universities and colleges are actively implementing preventive measures and support systems for their students. Educational programs on the dangers of substance use, accessible counselling services, and peer support groups are becoming increasingly common on campuses across the country.

Some institutions are even revising their alcohol policies and working to create a more inclusive and supportive community that fosters healthy choices.

While the statistics on substance misuse among college students are concerning, they also serve as a call to action for educational institutions, policymakers, and communities. Addressing this issue requires a comprehensive approach that combines prevention, intervention, and support services. Understanding the prevalence and consequences of substance use, allows everyone concerned to work towards creating a college environment that promotes health, well-being, and academic success for all students.

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One comment

  1. This is very concerning to read about, and something that is reflected in news stories I see regularly here in the U.S. with issues about hazing and how alcohol is involved—sadly, in some cases leading to death. I hope more policy changes are made and support services made available, but also a look into why this has escalated in this way. Thanks for sharing this.

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