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Substance Abuse in College Students

Substance Abuse Trends in College

College is a time for higher education, growth, and finding yourself. 

Unfortunately, college may also be a time for frat parties, binge drinking, wild tailgates, and experimenting with drugs. For many young adults, it may be the first time that they are on their own and free from their parent’s rules. It is natural that they may want to push the limits and go a little crazy, but this bad behavior could lead to some dangerous habits later. As a Chicago addiction treatment center, we are looking at substance abuse in college students, what these trends mean, and how fun intentions can result in grave consequences later. 

Alcohol Abuse in College Students 

Underage drinking and binge drinking are common practices at colleges around the United States. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 58% of full-time college students ages 18 to 22 reported drinking alcohol in the past month compared to only 48% of their peers not enrolled in full-time college. Research also suggests that almost 20% of college students have an alcohol use disorder.1  

Because almost a quarter of college students meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder, these numbers are concerning for the future as their dependency may persist without proper intervention, such as what can be accessed at our Illinois addiction treatment center. While drinking may seem like harmless wholesome fun, it can also lead to missing classes, poor grades, alcohol poisoning, emergency room visits, drunk driving, assault, and serious legal issues. The latter of these instances is especially prevalent for underage students, along with those responsible for providing them with alcohol.   

It is worth noting, however, that many schools and states employ medical amnesty laws, which are intended to legally protect an underage person from getting in trouble when seeking medical help. This is done to mitigate the phenomenon of people not getting necessary emergency care for themselves or a peer out of fear of legal consequences.  

Regardless of how popular or normalized substance abuse in college students is, if you suspect that your loved one has taken their drinking habits beyond a normal recreational level, get them help with our alcohol treatment in Chicago 

Drug Abuse in College Students 

Some students will choose to experiment with drugs in college to enjoy their newfound independence. But, just as with alcohol, an innocent instance of experimentation can lead to a slew of issues down the line. One survey estimated that 1 in 5 college students had used an illicit drug in the past month.1 What might start as trying a substance on one occasion could easily lead to drug addiction.  

Often, party drugs are shared in social settings to help people loosen up and enjoy the experience. Some college students may even resort to taking illicit forms of controlled substances to meet their academic obligations. For instance, Adderall is a stimulant that is used to treat ADHD but is also utilized as a substance for students that struggle to focus. This commonly leads to the illegal distribution and use of it by those to which it is not prescribed. 

Although the use of marijuana, nicotine, and synthetic drugs is lower in college students than their peers not in college, young adults this age still have the highest rates of drug abuse than any other age population.2   

It is also worth noting that, according to neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt, brain development and maturity are not even completed until age 25.3 This is why substance abuse in young adults, even those in their early twenties, is not advised. It can have a negative effect on a person's decision-making abilities, cognitive functions, and overall development. The irony should not be lost that, at a time when someone is supposed to be preparing for the future ahead of them, so many distractions and risks remain not only present but normalized.  

When Substance Abuse Among College Students Becomes a Problem  

Many people that have a relationship with an addicted person have heard the same thing: “I can stop anytime I want to.” If substance abuse is beginning to affect other parts of your life, it could be a major red flag. What makes that red flag even more glaring is making excuses for these instances as opposed to addressing the common denominator. While college students and substance abuse may seem like a well-known combination, it still presents the same drastic consequences that it would for any other age. Even more so, considering the incredibly important decisions and responsibilities that someone at this stage in their life may be facing. 

If your loved one has gone beyond recreational alcohol and drug use in college to a full-blown addiction, our Chicago IOP may be able to help. This program would give them the opportunity to confront their destructive habits whilst maintaining their academic obligations. 

Substance abuse in young adults should not be ignored. It may not be easy to convince them that what they are doing now can have lifelong consequences, but that only accentuates the danger involved. Recognize and acknowledge when drinking and alcohol use has crossed that line, and do not be afraid to confront these things head-on. Our Illinois drug rehab offers excellent intervention programs that gives you the opportunity to explain exactly how the addiction of your loved one affects you, while the creation of a recovery plan will help the addict visualize clear steps, guidelines, and goals for the process.  

The main component that we want you to understand is you do not have to face this alone. Whether it is you or a loved one that is struggling, our team of professionals will be there every step of the way to ensure you receive the best treatment possible.  

Contact Banyan Treatment Center Chicago at 888-280-4763 to learn more about our rehab centers, the therapies offered, and how you can begin one of the most transformative experiences of your life. 



  1. SAMHSA – 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables 
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse – Drug and Alcohol Use in College-Age Adults in 2017 
  3. NPR - Brain Maturity Extends Well Beyond Teen Years 


Related Readings 

Self-Care Tips for College Students  

Causes of Substance Abuse in College Students 

Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.
Substance Abuse in College Students
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