Signs of Substance Abuse in College Students

Signs of Substance Abuse in College Students

Substance abuse can be common amongst college students. When young adults attend college, they might encounter stressors that they’ve never experienced before, such as moving to a new place, living without parental supervision, managing their schedule, and leaving friends behind. College students might succumb to peer pressures to drink or use drugs, potentially leading to substance abuse as an unhealthy coping mechanism.

Risks of Substance Abuse Among College Students

College students could be at a high risk of abusing substances if they lack coping skills for dealing with stress or cannot stand up to peer pressure. Since college coincides with significant life changes, like moving out, graduating high school, and caring for themselves, students might be overwhelmed with change. Now, they are adding additional academic and social pressures to an already challenging time of their lives.

Risk factors associated with substance abuse amongst young adults attending college include:

  • Underlying mental health disorders, like depression, trauma, and anxiety
  • Poor social skills, leading to using substances to cope with loneliness or an inability to make friends without giving in to peer pressure
  • Learning disabilities, like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which could worsen without structure and support
  • Difficulty following a routine without parental guidance
  • Moving to an unfamiliar place without social supports nearby
  • Academic pressures influencing students to misuse stimulants to pull all-night study sessions

Many colleges offer mental health and academic support to students coping with these issues. College students who struggle with underlying mental health issues or learning disabilities should consider seeking supportive services. Otherwise, they could be at a higher risk of using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate.

Binge Drinking Amongst College Students

One of the most prevalent substance abuse behaviors amongst college students is binge drinking. Binge drinking is dangerous and can lead to physical injuries, violence, addiction, and even death. Drinking five or more drinks on one occasion for males and four or more drinks for females is considered binge drinking. However, some college students drink much larger amounts of alcohol, known as high-intensity drinking.

From an article posted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “almost 53 percent of full-time college students ages 18 to 22 drank alcohol in the past month and about 33 percent engaged in binge drinking during that same time frame.”

Binge drinking can lead to issues like poor academic outcomes, arrests for underage drinking or public intoxication, hospitalizations for excessive drinking, and disciplinary actions taken by the college. College students who binge drink are more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder in adulthood.

What Are Signs of Substance Abuse in College Students?

You might notice some of the following signs of substance abuse in college students:

  • Failing classes and decreased academic performance
  • Lack of interest in extracurricular activities, like athletics or band
  • Dropping classes from their schedule or quitting college altogether
  • Lack of personal hygiene
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Confusion and a lack of focus
  • Mood swings, agitation, and irritability
  • Disciplinary issues both on- and off-campus
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Not sharing much information about their new friends or social activities
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Sleep disturbances

Sometimes, these warning signs have other causes, like underlying learning disabilities or mental health disorders. However, when underlying conditions are untreated, they increase a college student’s risk of turning to drugs and alcohol to cope.

Preventing Substance Abuse in College Students

Preventing substance abuse in college students should begin before young adults start taking classes. Young people deal with several stressors during this age — even those who don’t attend college. Parents and other adults can help young people navigate these stressors with healthy coping skills while offering guidance.

Adults and parents continue to influence young adults, even as they gain more autonomy throughout college. You can help prevent substance abuse among college students with some of the following tips:

  • Schedule regular check-ins by phone, text, or video chat:
      • For students moving away from home for the first time, it is essential to feel that someone has their back.
      • Set up a time to check in — whether a daily text, a chat on the phone once a week, or a combination during finals weeks and other stressful events.
  • Follow up on academic progress:
      • Since a decrease in academic performance is a sign of something going wrong, make sure you know how well a young adult is doing in their courses.
      • Don’t just take their word for it; ask for proof with reports on their grades.
  • Never accept the answer “everything’s fine”: 
      • When you speak to young adults, don’t be afraid to ask for more information if they only say that everything is going “fine.”
      • Think of specific, open-ended questions to ask when you check in with them, like:
        • Who did you have dinner with this week?
        • What do you and your roommate do together?
        • What differences do you notice between high school and college?

By keeping the lines of communication open, you can recognize warning signs of substance abuse in college students. Addiction treatment could help students to get back on track and learn strategies to avoid relapse, so they can succeed in college.

Substance Abuse Treatment for College Students in Denver

College students face enormous pressures and stressors that could leave them vulnerable to substance abuse. Continuum Recovery of Colorado offers outpatient mental health and addiction treatment services, which can help college students work on their recovery while continuing with their studies. Call us today or visit our contact page to get started.