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The Comprehensive Guide to Alcohol and Drug Abuse on College Campuses

If you are currently in college, or you are just about to join, the guide below will help you navigate the messy life of alcohol, drugs, and other illicit substances others have fallen prey to. By reading it, you will be better able to understand the dangers attached to drug and alcohol abuse in college, and eventually avoid them.

Further, this guide will serve as the ideal resource in case you (or your friends) have been struggling with addiction and other disorders commonly attached to substance and alcohol abuse.

The guide also contains statistics released by several national bodies on the issue of drug and alcohol taking in campuses. These statistics paint a clear picture of the reasons behind this behavior, as well as the causes and effects of addiction.

Read on to learn more:

The supply of and demand for alcohol and drugs changes. At one point in our national history, most addictive substances (including cocaine, opium, and marijuana) were legal - so much so that they were readily available as well known commercial products.

However, time and experience have taught us differently. Today, drug laws and research have advanced to a point when the general public views addiction in a new light. As a direct result, most people know about the harmful effects of alcohol and drug abuse.

One of the core base points where the use of drugs and other associated addictive substances starts is in college. These substances reach students even before the general public understands their dangers.

With each generation, new substances come on the market - starting in college campuses. In the 1950s, for instance, Beatniks embraced the counterculture of the time and played a crucial role in the introduction of weed in universities across the US.

Their rejection of commonly understood social norms seeped through into the 60s. It was during this time that collegiate level students took drug experimentation to another level with such psychoactive substances as mushrooms and LSD.

Cocaine did not find its way into college popularity until the 80s when many social cliques adopted the drug - and with it the addiction. These included both athletes and straight-A students.

Over the 2000s, the popularity of prescription pills took root. As a result, university students with prescription medications started selling them to their peers - triggering a wave of unrest in several colleges over their widespread use. It was also during this time that the use and subsequent abuse of party drugs and painkillers saw a rise.

Over the past few years, the non-medical abuse of such prescription amphetamines as Ritalin and Adderall has surged. According to a 2015 survey by Monitoring the Future, the use of these drugs went from 2.9% in 00 to 4.2% in 2015.

In the survey, you can also see that the use of illicit drugs (marijuana aside) among the college students interviewed increased from a paltry 6.9% in 2000 to a shocking 9.2% in 2015. Of the students surveyed, 23% agreed to have used one illicit drug or the other.

In these studies, alcohol abuse has not been left behind. One of the commonly accepted facts of college life is that the culture certainly encourages drinking to the point of intoxication. What most college students are not aware of is that such behavior often leads to death, traffic accidents, and ER visits - in no particular order.

According to a fact sheet released by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, collegiate drinking is a ritual most students see as part and parcel of their experience with higher education. As such, many students enroll with established drinking habits. The college environment does not resolve the problem - it only exacerbates it.

In the earlier mentioned survey by Monitoring the Future, these assertions are quite right. This is to such an extent that 31.9% of the college students interviewed reported to binge drinking alcohol in the weeks before the survey. Further, over 38% of the students agreed that they had drunk to the point of intoxication in the month right before the survey.

What isn't clear among college students is that the abuse of drugs and other substances often leads to addiction. In 2015, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration carried out a National Survey on Drug Use and Health. In it, 10.9% of the college students surveyed met the basic criteria for alcohol use disorders.

The Most Commonly Abused Substances In College

So, what leads to this situation? Which drugs and substances do you need to avoid for a fulfilling college and post-graduation career and social life? Well, although college is certainly fun and enjoyable, the responsibility of balancing your life and remaining a student can lead to stress.

One of the reasons given by most college students is that they drink heavily and/or use drugs to reduce this stress. When you combine this motivation with the fact that students have such easy access to the substances they wish to abuse, it is easy to see why most end up developing serious drug dependencies.

Although you might not be able to tell what you will come across, the substances listed below are the most common on college campuses:


The most common of all substances used and abused in college, alcohol has formed part and parcel of university culture over the years. Readily available, it is usually found at social events such as competitive sports, birthday celebrations, and parties.

While most people tend to associate drinking with bars, parties, and tailgating, your time in college might end up being spent drinking away. The sad thing is that most students don't even realize that heavy drinking is not good for them and that it can cause one to endanger themselves or others.

Further, alcohol will prevent you from thinking clearly. As such, when you overindulge in this addictive substance, you might end up in such risky behaviors as unprotected sex.

Excessive drinking is also linked to many health problems, including but not limited to alcohol poisoning, heart complications, and liver damage. All of these are fatal - which is why over 1,800 college-level students die from causes related to alcohol use/abuse every year according to a report released by The New York Times in 2014.

To this end, you need to consider your surroundings well before you take a sip of anything. If you do decide to drink, always understand your limits and stop when you approach them. Remember, drinking heavily over the long term might result in physical dependence and addiction.

Common Sources of Alcohol

In college, alcohol is usually found in sorority and fraternity houses, bars, restaurants, campus greens, student residences, and dorm rooms. The drug is also readily available at sporting events and parties.

Who Drinks Alcohol

Individuals of all backgrounds, leanings, and ages drink alcohol. However, students show that those who attend college tend to drink more than those who do not. The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 58% of all interviewees in the 18 to 22 age group who were not in college reported to drinking. In this age set, the drinking rates were found to be highest for 21-year-olds.

In college, the numbers are even more stacked up. This is to such an extent that the great majority of college students take alcohol at least once or twice a week. In most of the addictive cases, however, it is clear that alcohol forms part and parcel of the student's lifestyle -with some reporting to taking it as regularly as on a daily basis.

The reasons given for such widespread alcohol consumption range from the commonplace - such as the attendance of a social function on campus - to the irregular (such as coping with the stresses of college life).

The Effects of Alcohol

Studies show that alcohol affects the pancreas, liver, heart, and brain. Overindulging in it also weakens the immune system, thereby making the body susceptible to certain lifestyle diseases.

Some common side effects of drinking include:

  • Stomach distress
  • Reduced coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety

Last but not least, drinking heavily can put stops and pauses in your academic life. For instance, you are more likely to miss classes when you've been drinking the night before. If you still choose to attend, your ability to receive, process, and retain information could still be compromised.


Most students who smoke weed tend to do so to relieve stress and/or relax. Students usually smoke it in preparation for social events or at parties. Among surveyed college students, the rate of marijuana use went up from 30.2% in 2006 to over 38% in 2015 according to the survey by Monitoring the Future.

As legalization and decriminalization spread across the country, the drug has been making headlines and becoming even more popular in colleges. As a direct result, it is highly likely that students will continue blazing up especially because so many of them support the legalization of marijuana by the federal government.

Although weed has never been linked to toxicity fatalities or overdose, using it does carry some health consequences. Since it impairs motor function, the drug has been linked to numerous traffic accidents. Further, the prolonged use of marijuana is known to cause addiction, depression, lung problems, and a myriad of mental health problems.

Heavy marijuana use also carries social stigma - which might destroy your reputation among academic staff and your peers, as well as current and future employers. In fact, most employers test new candidates for drug use, which might cause you to fail in landing your dream job. Since the FBI doesn't accept applicants who've used marijuana heavily in the past, your best bet would be to kick the habit.

Common Sources of Marijuana

Marijuana is usually found in bars, campus greens, sorority and fraternity houses, student residences, and dorm rooms. You can also find it at parties.

Who Smokes Marijuana

College students of all caliber smoke weed. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 19.3% of all interviewed students aged between 18 and 22 reporting to using it in 2015. In fact, weed was the most commonly used of all illicit drugs among the surveyed students.

The Effects of Marijuana

So, how does marijuana affect you? The drug is known to cause many problems that might make your college life harder if not impossible. These quandaries include:

  • Breathing problems
  • Impaired body movement
  • Increased heart rate
  • Laziness
  • Paranoia

Smoking weed might also reduce your level of motivation - thereby causing you to miss class and/or fail to complete and submit your homework assignments in a timely manner. Further, the drug can result in psychological and memory problems, making it difficult for you to study.

The use of cannabis has also been known to fracture relationships between college students and their families, friends, and significant others. That said, the drug often leads to impaired memory, mood changes, and hallucinations. Prolonged use also causes temporary hallucinations and the worsening of schizophrenic symptoms.


Designed for people with hyperactivity and attention deficit disorders, Adderall is a popular prescription pill. In colleges across the country, students use it when they need to stay up late studying or writing. Others count on it while at sporting events and parties for a kick.

The drug works well for university students because it allows them to remain focused and stay away for lengthy periods of time. As a result, they pop the pills to meet their academic demands and power their study sessions.

However, most Adderall users don't understand that it is a habit forming drug. Fewer still know that heavy use causes a strong addiction and severe withdrawal symptoms. Apart from this, the drug also leads to such side effects as extreme weight loss, headaches, nausea, and sleep disturbances.

The National Institute of Health reports that Adderall also poses a grave risk to overall health and wellness. Some users experience hallucinations, seizures, chest pain, shortness of breath, and rapid heartbeat. If you've taken the drug and you experience any of these symptoms, you need to seek immediate medical attention.

Sources of Adderall

Adderall is mostly commonly found and used in classrooms, sorority and fraternity houses, libraries, student residences, and dorm rooms.

Who Pops Adderall

Doctors prescribe this drug to students having a hard time concentrating and paying attention. However, even most students get their hand on the drug and abuse it - including those looking to gain a competitive edge in sports, or who simply need to stay up longer than usual.

The Effects of Adderall

Taking Adderall is linked to poor mental and physical effects. Here are the side effects you should watch out before you even consider using this drug or continuing to abuse it:

  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness

The drug might also lead to sleeplessness and a loss of appetite - two serious side effects that might negatively affect your social life and academic and future professional success.

When taken in large doses, Adderall also carries seriously dangerous and lethal side effects. These include but are not limited to heart attacks, strokes, psychotic conditions, and hallucinations.

In the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 12.1% of the interviewed students between ages 18 and 25 reported that they had used this drug or a similar amphetamine in 2015.


Ritalin is popular among college students because it allows them to increase their focus. As a direct result, they get to go through a gruesome week of tests or dive in books late into the night.

Like Adderall, this drug was initially used as a prescription for individuals with attention deficit disorders. However, time made it even more easily prescribed and - as a direct result - more available to college populations.

Today, students continue using this stimulant for the euphoric effects it causes. Most of them do so at parties, in dormitories, and some other social events.

Sources of Ritalin

Not unlike Adderall, students usually store away and use Ritalin in sorority and fraternity houses, classrooms, student residences, and dorm rooms.

Who Pops Ritalin

Ritalin has been prescribed since the 1950s to treat the common symptoms of depression, hyperactivity, and attention deficit disorder. In 2013, doctors prescribed it to around 6 million Americans according to the University of Utah's Genetic Science Learning Center.

Like cocaine, Ritalin tends to produce euphoric effects. As a result, most students use it for the recreational value it provides for them.

Effects of Ritalin

Working to stimulate the central nervous system, Ritalin still comes with many side effects:

  • Anxiety
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Numbness
  • Skin rash
  • Vision problems

One of the common side effects linked to stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin is insomnia. If affected, this could severely damage your concentration. Further, students with various heart conditions who end up using the drug might experience serious cardiac arrest and/or hallucinations.


Otherwise referred to as alprazolam, Xanax is a prescription pill designed to reduce stress, manage panic attacks, and slow brain activity. Among college students, it is prescribed for dealing with depression and/or anxiety.

However, this drug is always used widely given that it is so easy to obtain illicitly. Most students even go so far as to buy it from dealers or friends with the right prescriptions.

Powerfully addictive, Xanax makes it hard for users to stop its abuse. Addicts often tend to isolate themselves, using the drug to feel normal or for relaxation purposes. Its misuse leads to overdose, memory loss, fainting spells, and mood swings.

Sources of Xanax

In college, this drug is most commonly found in student residences and dorm rooms.

Who Pops Xanax

Students battling panic disorders, anxiety disorders, and anxiety resulting from depression use the drug. Others who feel overworked or highly stressed use it to reduce their anxiety.

Xanax producing intoxicating effects similar to alcohol, but without causing the user to gain weight. In 2015 a National Survey on Drug Use and Health discovered that 4.3% of individuals in the 18 to 25 age group misuse the drug. The same survey also reported that Xanax has the highest abuse rate of all benzodiazepine tranquilizers.

Effects of Xanax

Using Xanax leads to side effects like:

  • Appetite changes
  • Blurred vision
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Slurred speech

The drug might also result in poor academic performance. Prolonged misuse will negatively affect your motivation, memory, focus, and energy levels. As such, you might end up oversleeping and missing classes.


Financial and academic responsibilities are a source of stress for many college students. Some resort to antidepressants as their coping mechanics.

Doctors prescribe antidepressant medications to reduce the symptoms of depressive disorders. Zoloft and Prozac help students overcome their mental health conditions. However, the drugs often cause abuse and addiction.

Antidepressants also cause dependency, sexual dysfunction, irritability, and sleep problems. When mixed with alcohol, the symptoms worsen making you feel drowsier, more depressed, and anxious. Ultimately, the drug affects reaction time, judgment, and coordination.

Sources of Antidepressants

Antidepressants are common in student residences and dorms.

Who Pops Antidepressants

The drugs are ideal for students battling clinical depression. However, those facing difficulties with the norms of adult life also resort to antidepressants. Most young adults turn to these drugs while making future plans and establishing relationships.

The New York Times reported that the number of students receiving antidepressants from college counseling centers tripled during the 1994 to 2006 period.

The Effects of Antidepressants

Antidepressants are known to cause such side effects as:

  • Agitation
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Weight gain

Further, antidepressants will make it harder to interact naturally with your teachers and classmates. You will also feel irritable and have mood swings - affecting your relationships and ability to form meaningful friendships.


Created to stimulate male sex hormones, steroids deal with muscle loss, delayed puberty, and hormonal issues in men. However, the illicit use of these substances is attributed to the boosting of workouts, the gaining of a competitive edge, and the increase in muscle mass.

Otherwise referred to as performance enhancing drugs, they are taken orally or intravenously. The drugs help users become stronger, develop more muscle, and gain weight.

In college, most students take high doses of steroids. With time, users experience shrinking testicles, infertility, reduced sperm count, increased prostate cancer risk, and breast growth.

Among women, users experience baldness, deepened voices, clitoral enlargement, irregular menstrual cycles, and the growth of facial hair.

Sources of Steroids

Steroids are commonly found in athletic areas such as gym locker rooms.

Who Pops Steroids?

Fitness enthusiasts, bodybuilders, and student-athletes are the most commonly affected. They turn to the drugs to increase overall athletic performance, strength, and stamina. The drugs also help them build muscles and gain weight.

The 2015 Monitoring the Future survey reported that less than 1% of students at the collegiate level used steroids.

Effects of Steroids

Abusing steroids leads to such side effects as:

  • Kidney problems
  • Liver damage
  • Enlarged heart
  • High blood pressure
  • Changes to blood cholesterol

Taking steroids also makes students exhibit violent behavior, aggression, hostility, and irritability. This is a source of danger for roommates, friends, family members, and significant others. At times, the negative behavior leads to arrests and compromises the academic status of the affected student.


Cocaine is a powerful stimulant. After snorting it, students usually get a bust of energy and great euphoria. The drug is also referred to as powder, coke, or blow.

Although it peaked in the 80s, cocaine is still prevalent on most college campuses. In particular, it is popular among sororities, fraternities, and club-goers.

Most users don't take into account the dangerous side effects the drug presents. These include the elevation of heart rates and blood pressure to dangerous levels. In some cases, cocaine also leads to strokes, heart attacks, overdoses, and even death.

Sources of Cocaine

Cocaine is mostly found in student residences, college bars, dorm rooms, and sorority and fraternity houses.

Who Snorts Cocaine

According to The University of Maryland, 1 in every 8 students uses cocaine at one point or another during their college careers. Further, the study found that 36% of all students would have been offered the drug at least once by the time they were in the fourth year. 13% of those interviewed stated that they had used blow.

Effects of Cocaine

The use of cocaine leads to numerous health problems, including:

  • Cardiac arrest
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia
  • Restlessness
  • Seizures

Using the drug also impedes academic performance. It has been known to lead to impaired decision making, forgetfulness, absenteeism, and tardiness. Sometimes, blow results in financial and relationship problems.


Common psychedelics include mushrooms and LSD. These drugs cause the user to start "tripping" - an altered state of mind. While tripping, the user loses all sense of reality, and experience hallucinations and a changing sense of space and time.

As hallucinogenic drugs, psychedelics can make you act unpredictably. Typical results of using these drugs include seizure, general discomfort, psychosis, and paranoia.

Sources of Psychedelics

Most psychedelics in colleges can be found at parties, or in sorority and fraternity houses, campus greens, student residences, and dorm rooms.

Who Pops Psychedelics

Psychedelic use is most common among students looking to experiment with drugs. 7.7% of individuals in the 18 to 25 age group have used psychedelics over the course of their lifetime.

Effects of Psychedelics

Psychedelics are linked to such short-term health effects as:

  • Agitation
  • Dizziness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Paranoia
  • Sleeplessness

Since the drugs are known to alter your state of mind, using them over the long term will prevent your class attendance or impede your effectiveness as a student. As a result of failing to complete your assignments, you might end up performing poorly in your academics.


Molly and MDMA are some of the alternative names given for Ecstasy. The drug causes the brain to release dopamine, which makes you feel happy and rewarded. It also increases your energy levels and feelings of euphoria.

Although it has been in existence since the 80s, ecstasy only saw a surge in popularity recently. Today, it is one of the most commonly available of all drugs at electronic music festivals.

The use of ecstasy is quite dangerous. Supplies and dealers usually cut it with unknown substances to add to the volume and make a larger profit. As a result, users have been known to experience extreme dehydration and heart problems. Imposter chemicals used instead of ecstasy might also send you to hospital and/or cause your death.

Sources of Ecstasy

The drug is most common at college parties, music festivals, clubs, and bars.

Who Pops Ecstasy

Most college students take ecstasy at dance parties and nightclubs to help them achieve emotional warmth, feel pressure, and increase their energy. In recent years, the drug has led to many causes of overdose, especially at electric dance music festivals.

Effects of Ecstasy

Apart from the euphoric effects it produces, ecstasy also leads to such side effects as:

  • Aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Appetite
  • Depression
  • Impulsiveness
  • Sleep problems

Since the drug is known to cause hangovers running into several days, it might affect your social, work, and academic life.

Sources Of Drugs In College

In most colleges, there is no one given area where all the drugs and substances listed above are consumed. As such, you can find these drugs almost everywhere on campus.

However, some of the most common culprits tend to be:

  • Bars
  • Dealers
  • Dorms and apartments
  • Parties
  • Study groups

Sober Spaces

Your avoidance of alcohol and drug abuse need not be as hard as it already is. In fact, several colleges - including the Ohio State University - have started addressing the issue and tackling it head-on.

These colleges have created sober spaces comprising of sober living communities and substance-free residence halls. At these spaces, you should be able to find other like-minded sober-living communities of students. By joining them, you will be better placed to avoid most if not all opportunities to abuse drugs and drink.

The University of Michigan, on the other hand, organizes social gatherings designed to promote sobriety. Currently, over 100 collegiate recovery communities have been registered on campuses around the country.

To prevent yourself from falling for the drug and alcohol trap so common in colleges, you should find those places in your campus/town where you will feel safe and welcome and where you can be more productive. You can also talk to the administrators in your school about the resources they have set aside to create such environments - especially if none exists in your college.

Last but not least, if your classmates or roommates are making you feel uncomfortable with their alcoholism or continued drug abuse, talk to them. In case they don't change their ways, get in touch with resident assistants and professors to discuss your options. A change in your living arrangements might improve your college experience and ward you off all sources of drugs, alcohol, and other substances.






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