Substance Abuse Among College Students Statistics

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College students have been a major percentage of the population that abuse substances for decades. It’s no secret that binge drinking, illegal drug use, “study” drugs, and performance-enhancing drugs are huge problems on campuses around the country. 

Substance abuse (now referred to as a substance use disorder, according to the DSM-V) occurs when someone uses an illegal drug or uses a legal drug in a way other than the way it is prescribed. 

Each year the NIDA performs a “Monitoring the Future College Students and Young Adults Survey” that identifies the trends of substance use in both college students and their non-college peers aged 19-22. SAMHSA also performs a National Survey on Drug Use and Health each year. 

The CDC and NIAAA use these results and contribute their own studies and findings to identify significant problems and come up with ways to help keep students educated and safe from harm. 

The statistics in this article have been compiled from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

They are drug and alcohol awareness facts for college students, educators, and parents. The more we all work together to educate ourselves, our friends, and our children, the better chance we’ll have of reducing substance abuse among college students.  

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Side Effects of Substance Abuse in College

The widespread use of substances, such as Adderall, Ritalin, nicotine, steroids, and amphetamines, on American campuses has continuously led to:

  • Poor academic performance
  • Significant cases of sexual misconduct
  • Problems with addiction later in life
  • An overwhelming number of deaths among students

College Drug Use Statistics

The following come from the 2018 Monitoring The Future National Survey Results On Drug Use:

  • Opioid use among college students decreased by 50% in 5 years from 5.4% to 2.7%.
  • 5.2% of college students have used hallucinogens (such as LSD).
  • 5.3% of college students have used cocaine.
  • 4.3% of college students have used MDMA
  • 3.5% of college students have used tranquilizers (such as Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin)

In 2018, 45 percent of college students used an illicit drug. 18 percent of college students used an illicit drug other than marijuana.

College Alcohol Abuse Statistics

  • 75% of college students drink alcohol
  • 60% report drinking within the past month
  • 38% report having been drunk within the past month
  • Binge drinking (when men have five or more drinks or women have four or more drinks in approximately two hours) has seen a steady decrease in recent years and is actually at an all-time low
  • 28% of college students still binge drink
  • Studies show that between 19% to 27% of women and 6% to 8% of men are sexually assaulted in college. Many of these cases involve alcohol.
  • Dating someone who abuses alcohol increases your likelihood of sexual assault

Alcohol-related deaths number over 80,000 each year, making them the third-highest preventable cause of death in the United States, after tobacco and poor diet/inactivity. 

College Marijuana Use Statistics

  • While binge drinking is at an all-time low, marijuana use among college students is the highest it’s been in 35 years.
  • 43% of college students use marijuana.
  • 6% of college students use marijuana daily.
  • In the last 5 years, the number of college students that use marijuana has increased by 7 percent.

Marijuana use is equally prevalent among college students and their non-college peers.

College Vaping and Cigarette Use Statistics

  • In 2017 6% of college students vaped
  • In 2018 16% percent of college students vaped
  • However, only 1.9% of college students report daily cigarette use

This jump in numbers of college students that vape shows a 250 percent increase. It is one of the most massive one-year increases of any substance in the history of the Monitoring the Future College Students and Young Adults Survey.

Adderall & Other Study Drug Abuse in College Statistics

  • Adderall and other study drug use has remained consistent, hovering around 10 percent for the last five years
  • In 2018 11.1 percent of college students reported using Adderall

College Drug Use Treatment Options

The main problem when it comes to finding treatment for college students is that they rarely seek help on their own. Many colleges have taken initiatives to increase recovery options for their students. However, the number of students seeking treatment hasn’t seen a significant increase. 

The good news is that there are several options available to students. These include:

Preventative measures, such as educational programs, need to be prioritized as well. It’s up to the educators, parents, and students themselves to work together to keep college campuses safe and healthy.

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Resources +

Monitoring the Future. “Monitoring the Future National Survey Results on Drug Use 1975-2018.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, July 2019,

National Institute on Drug Abuse. Monitoring the Future. 9 June 2020,

“A Day in the Life of College Students Aged 18 to 22: Substance Use Facts.” SAMHSA, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 26 May 2016,

“Binge Drinking Is a Serious but Preventable Problem of Excessive Alcohol Use.” Alcohol and Public Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Dec. 2019,

“Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 18 Feb. 2020,

Center for Behavioral Health Statistics. “Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, SAMHSA,

Chen, Lian-Yu et al. “Prescriptions, nonmedical use, and emergency department visits involving prescription stimulants.” The Journal of clinical psychiatry vol. 77,3 (2016): e297-304. doi:10.4088/JCP.14m09291,

“College Drinking.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 19 Aug. 2016,

“Consequences of College Drinking.” College Drinking Prevention, NIAAA,

“Prevalence of College Drinking.” College Drinking Prevention, NIAA,

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