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Overview: Substance Use in College
Alcohol and drug abuse have been known problems on college campuses for a long time. Students are challenged daily by living in a high-stress environment that often promotes and glorifies partying and other unsafe behaviors.
This combination can have profound adverse effects on individuals. It is also not uncommon for students to develop alcohol use disorders (AUD), substance use disorders (SUD), or mental health disorders as a result.
Many colleges have taken initiatives to increase recovery resources for their students. However, despite their efforts, college students rarely seek help for substance abuse problems.
According to a peer-reviewed academic journal, students who drink heavily prefer low-threshold (informal) intervention options as opposed to clinical (formal) treatment methods. Low-threshold options include:
- Peer interventions
- Support from family and friends
- Online treatments
Commonly Abused Substances
Substance abuse is prevalent on all campuses across the country but is more common in public universities. The most commonly abused substances include:
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 engages in binge drinking.
Prescription or “Study” Drugs
Study drugs are prescription drugs misused by students to help them focus or stay awake. They are usually stimulants prescribed to people with ADHD. Study drugs are incredibly popular among college bodies and include:
- Adderall (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine)
- Ritalin (methylphenidate)
- Concerta (methylphenidate)
- Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine)
- Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine)
- Focalin (dexmethylphenidate)
Party or “Club” Drugs
Party drugs (also known as club drugs) are recreational drugs commonly associated with nightclubs, raves, and electronic dance music parties. The drugs are also popular at college parties, and include, but are not limited to:
Benzodiazepines, often referred to as “benzos,” are prescription medications most commonly used to treat anxiety and seizures, as well as relax muscles and induce sleep. They are some of the most commonly prescribed medicines in the U.S.. College students often misuse them for their sedative effects. Common benzodiazepines include:
- Valium (diazepam)
- Xanax (alprazolam)
- Ativan (lorazepam)
- Librium (chlordiazepoxide)
- Klonopin (clonazepam)
Treatment for Substance Misuse
For many students, it can be difficult to tell the difference between substance abuse and addiction.
Substance abuse is a misuse of a substance (ie. binge drinking or taking Xanax without a prescription), which may or may not escalate to addiction. Addiction is a chronic disease where an individual has developed a physical or psychological dependence on a substance.
In both cases, a student is at high risk of suffering adverse mental and physical health effects and may wind up hurting the people around them. However, the most effective treatment methods vary depending on the severity of abuse or addiction.
Treatment Options for Substance Abuse
Common treatment options for substance abuse include:
- Brief interventions
- Support from family and friends
- Educational resources and programs
- Counseling or therapy
Treatment Options for Substance Addiction
Treatment for substance addiction requires more intensive treatments, such as:
- Outpatient rehab
- Inpatient rehab
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Individual or group counseling
- Continuing care groups
Addiction Treatment Timeline
There is no one-size-fits-all addiction treatment that will work for everyone. The type of treatment and pace of recovery will depend on many different factors.
However, there are five stages of recovery that everyone must go through:
- Evaluation — First, patients will be screened and clinically assessed to determine the best treatment plan.
- Detoxification — The next step is detox. Depending on the substance and intensity of addiction, this may need to take place under medical supervision.
- Psychological and Medical Treatment — Depending on the plan, a variety of treatments will help the individual learn how to live a healthy, sober life.
- Transition — The next step is taking what you’ve learned in recovery and applying it to the real world. Ongoing aftercare will help monitor progress.
- Maintenance — Once someone has proven that they can live a sober life, aftercare will be reduced. However, it’s common for recovery maintenance to continue for years or an entire lifetime.
Treatment Costs and Insurance Coverage
Many 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 will depend on your insurance provider.
Tips for Finding the Best Treatment
If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse or addiction, it’s important that they get help right away. People who get help early on have a much higher chance of achieving a full recovery.
Some tips to help students find the best treatment include:
- Know that you’re not alone. Many college students struggle with substance abuse and addiction. Help is available.
- Help your 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 on hand that can provide treatment, or give advice.
- Reach out to other professionals. If you feel uncomfortable going to someone on campus, there are several resources available that will provide anonymous support.
- You can always look for a treatment center on SAMHSA’s website.