Updated on February 6, 2024
6 min read

Addiction Treatment for College Students

Alcohol and drug addiction have been problems among college students for a long time. Living in a high-stress environment challenges these young adults, often leading to partying and participating in unsafe behaviors.

This combination can have profound adverse effects on college students. Therefore, it’s also not uncommon for them to develop alcohol use disorders (AUD), substance use disorders (SUD), or mental health disorders.

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Substance Abuse Treatment for College Students

The most effective treatment methods for college students depend on the severity of abuse or addiction. Tailoring addiction treatment is essential, as it lets them identify the root cause of their drug abuse.

A tailored treatment program can address underlying mental health issues and help students develop the necessary skills to maintain long-term sobriety.

Every treatment program should address college-specific issues, including:

  • Academic stressors
  • Relationship problems
  • Availability of drugs and alcohol on campus

Treatment Options for Substance Addiction

Treatment for substance addiction requires more intensive treatments, such as:

Treatment Costs and Insurance Coverage

Many college students have little or no expendable income while they are studying. Luckily, most treatment facilities accept medical insurance. Insurance covers the majority of treatments, so the cost depends on the provider.

Addiction Treatment Timeline

These are the five stages of recovery that everyone, including college students, must go through:

  1. Evaluation: You’ll undergo screening and clinical assessment to determine the best treatment plan.
  2. Detoxification: Depending on the substance and intensity of addiction, you may do this under medical supervision.
  3. Psychological and medical treatment: Depending on the plan, various treatments will help you learn how to live a healthy, sober life.
  4. Transition: The next step is applying what you’ve learned in recovery to the real world. Ongoing aftercare will help monitor progress.
  5. Maintenance: Aftercare will reduce once you can live a sober life. However, it’s common for recovery maintenance to continue for years or an entire lifetime.

Preventing Substance Abuse Among College Students

Most college campuses have support systems and resources to help students struggling with addiction. The American College Health Association (ACHA) provides guidelines for college health and mental health services.

The ACHA recommends that all colleges offer a range of drug and alcohol education programs. You can get them through student health centers, counseling services, and student organizations.

Support Systems and Resources on College Campuses

Many colleges offer support groups and individual counseling services to help students cope with addiction. These programs help students:

  • Understand the impact of their substance use
  • Learn how to make better lifestyle choices
  • Build resilience to stay sober
  • Provide access to health insurance, housing referrals, and vocational training

What Does Tailored Addiction Treatment Offer College Students Post-Recovery?

Tailored addiction treatment programs provide college students with essential tools and resources to support their success after completing treatment. This includes assistance with:

  • Career development
  • Housing support
  • Access to educational services

These ensure they have a well-rounded foundation for a healthier, more fulfilling life beyond addiction.


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How Does Substance Abuse Impact College Students?

Drug and alcohol abuse can have severe implications for college students. It can:

  • Affect their mental health, academic performance, social life, and personal relationships
  • Lead to depression, anxiety, paranoia, and other mental health disorders
  • Cause them to struggle with academics and social life
  • Result in financial, health, legal, and other negative consequences

Substance abuse is a misuse of a substance, such as binge drinking or taking Xanax without a prescription. It may or may not escalate to addiction.

Addiction is a chronic disease where you’ve developed a physical or psychological dependence on a substance. In both cases, a college student is at high risk of suffering adverse mental and physical health effects.

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What are the Commonly Abused Substances in College?

Substance addiction is prevalent on all campuses. However, it’s more common in public universities. 

The most commonly abused substances among college students include:

1. Alcohol

Alcohol is the most frequently misused substance on college campuses around the country. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), one in three college students aged 18 to 22 binge drink.2

2. Prescription or “Study” Drugs

College students misuse prescription substances like study drugs to help them focus or stay awake. They’re usually stimulants doctors prescribe to people with ADHD. 

Study drugs prevalent among college studies include:

3. Party or “Club” Drugs

Party or club drugs are recreational drugs that people abuse in nightclubs, raves, and electronic dance music parties. The drugs are also popular at college students’ parties and include:

4. Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines, or “benzos,” are prescription medications that treat anxiety and seizures, relax muscles, and induce sleep. They’re some of the most prescribed medicines in the U.S.

College students often misuse them for their sedative effects. The most common benzodiazepines are:

How Do You Identify Addiction in College Students?

Recognizing the signs of drug or alcohol addiction in college students and intervening early is essential. Parents, friends, and teachers should watch for changes in behavior, physical appearance, academic performance, and social life.

Look for these symptoms that indicate substance abuse among college students:

  • Frequent hangovers
  • Changes in physical appearance
  • Manifestations of intoxication or withdrawal
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Financial problems caused by substance use
  • Poor academic performance
  • Legal issues related to substance misuse
  • Regularly skipping classes and failing to meet commitments
  • Preoccupation with obtaining and using substances
  • Running out of their medication early
  • Using substances to cope with stress or anxiety

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Why Do College Students Abuse Substances?

College students decide to drink alcohol or use drugs for many reasons, including:

The use of marijuana, prescription drugs, and illicit drugs is on the rise among college students aged 18 to 22.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that out of the full-time college students of this age group, 9.3% consumed alcohol in 2021. Among them, approximately 27.4% participated in binge drinking.1

Tips for Finding the Best Treatment

Here are some tips to help college students find the best treatment:

  • Know that you’re not alone: Numerous college students struggle with substance abuse and addiction. Help is available.
  • Help your college friends who might be suffering: Talking to them about your concerns may be uncomfortable, but not talking to them may have much worse consequences.
  • Utilize your Student Affairs professionals: Your campus health center has professional counselors and doctors who can provide treatment or advice.
  • Reach out to other professionals: If you feel uncomfortable going to someone on campus, several resources will provide anonymous support.

You can also always look for a treatment center on SAMHSA’s website.


Substance abuse in college can have severe consequences. Help is available through college-based support systems and tailored addiction treatment programs.

These services address the unique needs of college students. They include academic stressors and peer pressure.

Remember that you're not alone; reaching out for help is a sign of strength. Resources are available to help you or a loved one overcome substance abuse and live a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Get matched with an affordable mental health counselor

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Updated on February 6, 2024
7 sources cited
Updated on February 6, 2024
  1. Harmful and Underage College Drinking.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023.
  2. Lipari et al. “A Day in the Life of American Adolescents: Substance Use Facts Update.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2013. 
  3. Caldeira et al. “College students rarely seek help despite serious substance use problems.” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 2009.
  4. Perron et al. “Supporting Students in Recovery on College Campuses: Opportunities for Student Affairs Professionals.” Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 2011.
  5. Buscemi et al. “Help-seeking for alcohol-related problems in college students: correlates and preferred resources.” Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 2010.
  6. Pedrelli et al. “College Students: Mental Health Problems and Treatment Considerations.” Academic Psychiatry, 2014.
  7. School and Campus Health.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2023.

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