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Substance Abuse in College Students & How to Find Treatment

September 22, 2022

Amy Mauro

Going to college is an exciting and dynamic time in any young adult’s life. There are so many great opportunities to discover themselves and begin to create their futures. Meeting new friends, attending fun events and sports, and let’s not forget the real reason they are there: a chance to pursue an education of their choosing in a diverse and stimulating environment. But their first time away from home means the first time making real decisions by themselves. Often, this sparks the natural maturation process in them and allows these young adults to become independent and develop strong character. Unfortunately, this pressure can also cause intense stress and lead them down the wrong roads.

Substance Abuse in College

Studies show that over 35% of college students ages 18 to 25 regularly abuse drugs or alcohol during their time in school. Though substance abuse has now been taught in America for decades and most students are aware of the risks involved, many still turn to drugs or alcohol for a number of reasons.

Reasons Students Use Drugs or Alcohol in College

  • Pressure to get good grades
    We typically associate drugs and alcohol with a party lifestyle; however, it’s becoming clearer every year that many students use drugs to enhance their abilities to stay awake and focused to improve their studying. Of course, in the long run, this has many adverse effects on memory and academic performance. But when dealing with such pressure from family or society to get good grades, students try to get any advantage they can in order to succeed in the short term.
  • Stress relief from academic worries (grades)
    Yes, we’re listing grades twice. In addition to the drug use associated with achieving good grades, students become so stressed from the process as well as strung out from certain drugs like amphetamine salts (adderall), that they turn to quick remedies to alleviate the stress. While we’d like to think college students are practicing yoga or exercising to release stress, it’s much more realistic, however unfortunate, to consider that thousands, if not millions of students turn to alcohol or drugs such as marijuana and prescription pills to unwind and blow off steam.
  • Peer pressure
    As we said, not all students who abuse drugs or alcohol do it for the sake of partying or improving their social lives. However, this is a major contributor to substance abuse in college. Whether at bars, clubs, fraternity events or house parties, students have easy access to drugs and alcohol wherever they turn. Moreover, pressure from society and social media to have fun or that sad, misguided, and shortsighted goal of college being “the best four years of your life” all contribute to the weight on the shoulders of these young adults. And being so young, many college students aren’t able to think long term in these social situations. Everyone wants to have fun and no one wants to seem uncool in front of their peers. All of this, in addition to the fact that they’re on their own making decisions for themselves for the first time as well as in a petri dish of hormones and stress, often leads to bad decisions in the form of either drug or alcohol abuse.
  • Loneliness and isolation
    On the flip side to the party scene of college life, many students find themselves very alone and unable to cope with being miles away from the friends and family they’ve known their entire lives. For some, making friends is easy. For others, it’s incredibly stressful just to think about. Thankfully, most colleges and universities now set up events and programs to alleviate the stress associated with this new chapter in their lives. But many still struggle with depression, anxiety, or any number of other mental illnesses that may have been dormant or less severe before leaving for college. So when these students find themselves all alone, sometimes drugs or alcohol seem like their only way of coping

While this is not a comprehensive list with every potential reason a college student might abuse various substances, these are some of the main causes from which many others may stem. We also want to mention that many students deal with trauma or grief during their collegiate years. Parents, other relatives, or close friends may pass away. Breakups can be immensely strenuous on a person in this age group even if they aren’t already dealing with the pressures from school. And let’s not forget one of the worst catalysts for substance abuse: sexual assault. It’s difficult to talk about but it’s important to understand how traumatizing sexual assault is for victims. Often, drugs or alcohol are the only way they can escape the memory in the short term. Another important note is that all people are different. In life, in therapy, and in substance abuse, no two paths are the same. Though we all deal with similar pressures and events, we all react differently and process hardship in our own unique ways.

Finding Treatment for Substance Abuse

Substance abuse in college students is very common but also very treatable. Many turn to substances like drugs and alcohol because they feel they have no one to turn to for help anymore. Moreover, once an addiction or substance abuse problem begins, these feelings of isolation and struggle become more severe. Fortunately, there are people to turn to for help. Colleges and universities today offer an assortment of programs and resources to help students struggling with substance abuse. From traditional support groups and counseling, to more modern options such as clubs and organizations to help students find belonging and support within groups that share similar interests.

Handel Behavioral Health Can Help College Students with Substance Abuse

Though the aforementioned groups and extracurriculars are supportive and successful at combating collegiate substance abuse, in many cases, when a student is truly battling a serious drug or alcohol problem, it’s time to turn to professionals for support. Handel Behavioral Health proudly offers support and substance abuse treatment for people of all ages, including college students. We serve the entire Massachusetts community from our offices in Amherst, Franklin, West Springfield, and Wilbraham Massachusetts. We also offer online teletherapy services to accommodate your schedule and preferences. If you or a loved one is battling a substance abuse problem, contact one of our experienced therapists or substance abuse counselors today and begin the road to recovery.