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Substance Abuse on College Campuses

When College Fun Can Have Dangerous, Permanent Consequences

College is an opportunity for emerging adults to explore themselves more than ever before. Many students are living away from home for the first time, and the newfound freedom gives them responsibility that many of them may not be equipped to handle. Alcohol abuse has always been prevalent on college campuses, but the opiate epidemic has lead to other drug abuse entering the scene. One scary statistic says that 90 percent of underage drinking is binge drinking, which is drinking four to five drinks in one hour with the intention of getting intoxicated. An even more disturbing statistic says that 33 percent of young adults will use opiates (e.g. heroin, prescription painkillers, etc.) following high school graduation. While substance abuse has many dangerous, life-altering consequences (e.g. legal issues, violence, sexual assault, transmission of STDs, unwanted pregnancy, and car accidents), the most daunting consequences is developing the disease of addiction.

Why Do Some College Students Become Addicted and Others Do Not?

More college students engage in alcohol and drug abuse than those who do not. While many people engage in excessive drinking and recreational drug use and turn out fine, many other people fall into the lifelong trap of addiction. Alcohol and other drugs affect people differently. Some people have the predisposition to become addicted, and others do not.

A variety of factors play a role in determining whether a person becomes addicted or not:


Addiction has been known to run in families. The chemical reactions in the brain of a person who is genetically predisposed to addiction are different than the chemical reaction in the brain of a person who is not genetically predisposed to addiction. Many people report having an “addictive personality,” and genetics play a role in determining personality traits.

Psychological Factors

Sixty-percent of people who suffer from addiction have another mental health disorder (e.g. depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, ADHD, etc.). People who have an undiagnosed and/or untreated mental health disorder are more likely to become addicted to alcohol and/or drugs. Other psychological factors (e.g. sensation seeking, negative thinking, sensitivity, etc.) increase people’s risks of developing addiction.

Life Events

Traumatic life events (e.g. abuse, being bullied, single-trauma, authoritarian parenting, etc.) often fuel people’s addictions. People often become dependent on substances because they discover that the substances assuage their emotional pain. If people do not need to assuage their emotional pain, they will be less likely to become dependent on substances.

Age of First Use

The younger people are when they start using alcohol and/or drugs, the more likely they are to become addicted. The brain is not fully developed until the age of 25. A less developed brain is more likely to become addicted.

Education on Substance Abuse is a Must

Many students start college with a lack of education about substance abuse and the consequences of it. High schools fail to place an emphasis on drug and alcohol education in their health curriculum. The D.A.R.E. program has been proven to be a failed program because the “Just Say No” approach does not work. Telling young people to “Just Say No” does not work nor does imposing stricter laws about underage drinking. Young people need to have a comprehensive knowledge about alcohol, drugs, and the disease of addiction. Comprehensive substance abuse education needs to start from elementary school and be reinforced into students’ college years. Drug abuse education should become a required college course to help young people make informed decisions about themselves and be aware of the prevalence of addiction that is going on in the world.

More importantly, families need to start the conversation at home. Studies show that people who are knowledgeable about their family’s history of addiction are less likely to engage in alcohol and drug abuse. Parents and guardians need to understand that the authoritarian approach does not work, which is “Just Say No.” Young people need to be knowledgeable about drugs, alcohol, addiction, their family history, and what to do if themselves or a friend become addicted.

Addiction Treatment Available for College Students

The addiction treatment options that are available for college students who develop a substance use disorder are:


Detox addresses the physiological component of addiction. When the body becomes addicted, having the substance in its system becomes the body’s new normal. If the addicted body does not receive the substance, it reacts by causing excruciating, fatal withdrawal symptoms. Medical detoxification is imperative because withdrawal is extremely dangerous.

Inpatient Rehab

Inpatient treatment is where the clients live at the treatment center for a time period of 30 to 90 days (in most cases). The clients are not permitted to leave the treatment center unless they are authorized to do so for a therapeutic outing (e.g. trip to the beach) or some other circumstance. Inpatient treatment is the most effective form of treatment because it allows the clients to solely focus on their recovery without the distractions and relapse triggers of the outside world.

Outpatient Rehab

There are several forms of outpatient treatment. Partial-hospitalization and intensive-outpatient are the best options for those who are beginning their recovery because they consist of long, frequent sessions. Regular outpatient treatment is best as a requisite for a more intense form of treatment.


Recovery is not just about abstaining from the addictive substance; it is also about the people creating a new life for themselves. Meetings are a necessity for lifelong recovery. Twelve Step Meetings are not the only option for recovery. There are many alternatives to 12 Step Meetings.

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