Updated on May 17, 2024
3 min read

College Substance Abuse Statistics

College is a time of exploration, growth, and new experiences for many young adults. However, it’s also a period when substance abuse can become a significant problem.

Some of the most commonly misused substances among college students include alcohol, marijuana, and prescription drugs. 

This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the current state of substance abuse among college students in the United States. We’ll highlight key statistics and trends that shed light on the magnitude of this issue.

Key Statistics on Substance Abuse Among College Students

College students will have different reasons for abusing different substances. These reasons may range from stress to peer pressure to self-exploration.   

Substance use College

Alcohol Use and Abuse

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH):

  • About 49.0% of full-time college students ages 18 to 22 drank alcohol in the past month
  • The same survey found that 28.9% of full-time college students engaged in binge drinking in the past month*
  • Roughly 20% of college students meet the criteria for having an alcohol use disorder.

*Binge drinking is defined as consuming 5 drinks or more on one occasion for males and 4 drinks or more for females.

Marijuana Use and Trends

In 2020, marijuana use among college-aged adults reached the highest levels recorded since the 1980s. 

  • Specifically, 44% of college students reported using marijuana in the past year, marking a significant increase from 38% in 2015.
  • Daily or near-daily marijuana use (defined as using on 20 or more occasions in the past 30 days) among college students increased to 7.9% in 2020, the highest in four decades.
  • The percentage of college-aged adults who reported vaping marijuana in the past 30 days more than doubled from 5% to 14% for college students between 2017 and 2019. However, these increases leveled off in 2020.

Prescription Drug Misuse

  • Up to 20% of college students abuse prescription stimulants, with medications often obtained from peers.
  • Around 43% of college students used marijuana in 2018
  • One study found nearly half of college students met criteria for at least one substance use disorder.
  • 5 to 35% of college students have tried Adderall without a prescription.

Vaping and Cigarette Use Among College Students

Another problem among college students is nicotine use. In recent years, there’s also been a rise in vaping, setting a dangerous trend for young adults. 

Rise in Vaping

  • Between 2017 and 2019, there was a dramatic increase in nicotine vaping among college students. The rates reported in the past 30 days increased from 6% in 2017 to 22% in 2019.
  • In 2022, around 78% of U.S. college students who used tobacco vaped, making vaping the most popular form of tobacco consumption among this demographic.

Cigarette Smoking Prevalence

  • Over 4 years, the prevalence of current (30-day) cigarette smoking among college students rose by 27.8%, from 22.3% to 28.5%.
  • In 2022, cigarettes accounted for most of the tobacco use among college students, with a significant portion of students engaging in cigarette smoking.
college substance use line chart

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, please know that help is available. College campuses often offer counseling services, peer support groups, and educational programs. Additionally, there are numerous national helplines and online resources dedicated to providing support and information:

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Updated on May 17, 2024

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