Guest AuthorsOpinion

Opinion: Drug and alcohol use in college should not be pushed aside as a phase

Photo courtesy of Jonah Brown
This article was written by Michael Leach, a healthcare professional specializing in Substance Use Disorder and addiction recovery. He is a certified clinical medical assistant and contributor to the healthcare website Recovery Begins.

Substance use and drinking are common in college, and it is almost expected that students will experiment with some drugs and excessive drinking.

Unfortunately, it is common for parents to think of this as a phase that will not turn into anything significant. While this is partially true, there are substantial risks. Drug dependence, overdose and addiction are real problems among college students.

Between 2015 and 2019, 23% of all overdose deaths in Idaho occurred among those aged 35 to 54, one of the highest overdose rates by age group, according to a report from the Idaho Office of Drug Policy.

The same report showed that in 2019, an estimated 60,000 Idaho residents misused pain medication. Additionally, over 14% of high school students in the state misused prescription pain medication in the same year. 

Drug and alcohol abuse that begins in high school does continue into college life. The first month of college is critical. When students are caught up in addiction or excessive drug and alcohol use, it becomes impossible to maintain academic responsibility.

Most college students experience high levels of stress related to their academic performance. In addition, there is stress surrounding social life, family concerns and other aspects of college life.

Aside from academic stress, college students also face numerous social reasons to drink and experiment with drugs. Some students may use drugs or alcohol to loosen feelings of social anxiety or tension.

[Photo of students pouring drinks into red solo cups.]
Photo courtesy of Jonah Brown

There are also common misconceptions among college-age youth that it is acceptable or normal to abuse drugs or alcohol. It becomes labeled as “the college experience,” and is passed down from student to student.

Finally, being a fraternity or sorority member comes with risks, as there are higher levels of drug and alcohol use due to hazing and partying.

College or university is a time of transition from childhood to adulthood. For most students, it is the first time without parental supervision. With this newfound sense of freedom, students often exceed their limits and have little knowledge about the risks they’re taking.

Some of the most commonly abused substances are alcohol, marijuana, MDMA and stimulant medications such as Adderall, cocaine and pain medication.

Parents or caregivers should be aware of the long-term risks. Students will experience decreased academic performance, engage in risky or dangerous behaviors, suffer from poor health and face social consequences.

Drug and alcohol use leads to lower GPAs, less time spent studying and more time missing classes; this is the reality of being hungover or under the influence of harmful substances.

The social consequences are also quite severe, especially in the age of social media. One wrong post or statement can ruin college careers.

“Social media is also the most common place for college-age adults to purchase illegal prescription drugs, such as opioid pain medication,” said Marcel Gemme of “It is scary how easily accessible these drugs are on all social media platforms.”

In addition, sexual assault and sexual violence also occur, placing both men and women at risk, and this can be attributed to the fact that consent can be negatively affected when the misuse of harmful substances is involved.

Most colleges are taking action to prevent excessive drug and alcohol abuse on campus. Many have also established recovery programs, sober housing for students and extended mental health care access.

Prevention and education programs are also vital during college years, especially during this time of fentanyl. The risk of overdose has increased significantly, as fentanyl is now found in most illicit drugs and made to look like pain medication—a commonly abused drug among college-age adults.

Much is being done to prevent these problems, and that is where the success is; early prevention and drug education. When this is done early in life, such as early childhood and teen years, there is less chance of substance abuse use during early adulthood.

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