Substance Abuse on College Campuses | Alcohol & Drugs in College

Substance Abuse on College Campuses

The truth about college is that it’s anything but easy. It can feel adventurous, sure, but it also elicits emotions of stress and overwhelm. It can seem exciting, too, but also nerve-racking and unsustainable pressures. In fact, many students feel the pressure to perform and often associate success with how well they can handle life at a university. Combined with climbing tuition rates and mental health woes, it’s easy to see why alcohol and drugs are rampant among college students. Rates of substance abuse on college campuses are on the rise.

“Alcohol, illicit drug, and tobacco use are more common among young adults than in any other age group. Substance misuse brings a variety of problems to the entire population of college students and presents difficult challenges for campus administrators and surrounding communities.” –Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA)

Research conducted by College Pulse surveyed 65% of college students rate their mental health as “fair” or “poor.” A separate mental health survey of 2,086 college participants showed that the recent worldwide pandemic negatively impacted 80%. With easy accessibility to alcohol and other drugs, college students are more at risk of substance abuse than ever.

college and substance abuse

What is Substance Abuse?

Substance use and substance abuse differ in many ways, but there are prevalent signs that can help individuals identify whether substance use has turned problematic.

To summarize, substance abuse refers to the overindulgence of drug or alcohol use rather than a single drug or alcohol use episode. Additionally, drug and alcohol use is considered abuse when the person uses the alcohol or drug in a way it’s not intended. Examples would include taking medication without a prescription, increasing the dosage with a physician’s approval, smoking marijuana to relax, or drinking to cope with emotional trauma.

Trends on college campuses indicate that students often blur the lines between substance use and abuse. As a result, avoiding the downward spiral often associated with alcohol and drug abuse is becoming increasingly difficult. The truth is, students are likely to find both legal and illegal substances around campus. However, a growing number of resources are available to help students navigate the treacherous waters of alcohol and drug use. They include:

Prevalence of Substance Abuse on American Campuses

Addiction Center data indicate that college students have represented a significant population of abused drugs and alcohol. College enrollment in a two-year and four-year institution and graduate program accounts for 17.5 million people in 2013 and 19.7 million in the fall of 2020.

Why is this specific group of young adults more prone to drug abuse and risky behavior? Science suggests it pertains to developmental factors, social and environmental changes, pressures to perform, and increased likelihoods of mental health disorders.

Substance Abuse on College Campus Trends

The institution of higher learning is rigorous, demanding, and unrelenting. The pressures to perform and achieve success are constant. Some students handle these obstacles by working out, building up time management skills, and finding outside resources for help. Others may feel compelled to participate in less “healthy” activities but provide an outlet for everyday issues. Unfortunately, these activities largely surround partying and experimenting with popular drugs.

It’s important to note that the likelihood of substance use is more prevalent among marginalized students—such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students, international students, and racial and ethnic minorities. All of them are more likely to experience tension regarding their identity and social acceptance. For help with LGBTQ-specific treatment options, contact us directly at (720) 650-8055.

According to studies, substances most frequently abused on college campuses include:

  • Alcohol – 73.7%
  • Marijuana – 42.5%
  • Adderall – 14.6%
  • MDMA – 7.2%
  • Cocaine – 7%

Trends show that college students choose alcohol over any other type of drug, followed by Marijuana. There’s also been an increase in students abusing Adderall and other various types of “study drugs.” Within each group, there are notable differences. For example, there is a significant gender difference in Adderall use. Male college students have a higher proclivity for Adderall use at 14.6% than females at 8.8%.

Beyond learning and planning for the future, college is about testing the limits and partying for many students. But, finding the perfect balance between the two often proves to be a stern challenge.

substance abuse on college campuses

Why Do College Campuses Have High Rates of Drug and Alcohol Abuse?

College students are at an age and circumstance when peer pressure, social expectations, and the availability of certain drugs are an everyday reality. On one end, there’s newfound freedom away from strict rules and parental control. It’s largely considered a societal norm to let loose in college. On the other hand, there are also the pressures of academia to define long-term career goals and solidify life expectations. It can be a lot for young people to comprehend and manage.

Aside from the overarching reason that drugs and alcohol are widely used on American campuses, there are other factors that contribute to the propensity for students to experiment with drugs. Some students who are at higher risk may be among the following groups:

  • Fraternity and sorority venues
  • Campus athletics
  • Students with mental health issues
  • Campus housing and dorm residences
  • Students in highly stressful situations

Research by the National Institute of Health indicates that college males are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than females.

Common Substance Abuse on Campus

Some substances are more commonly used on college campuses. An Addiction Center study noted that half of the students drink or abuse prescription drugs. The five most common substances include:


According to American Addiction Centers, 10% percent of college students admit they first tried alcohol on campus. Over 70% had already tried it. Alcohol is easily available and widely accepted. Campuses have bars. Dorms have room socials where alcohol is available. Most first-year college students can drink legally.

Unfortunately, binge drinking has become popular at sporting events, parties, and hazing. This has led to cases of alcohol poisoning and even death.


Over half of college students have tried marijuana. Medicinal and recreational marijuana has become legal in many states. It has become as available and popular as alcohol. Marijuana also referred to as weed or cannabis, is widely used on campus to relax.

Mixing marijuana with other drugs or alcohol often occurs on campus. Students also fail to understand the dangers of driving under the influence of the lack of judgment that marijuana can cause. The relaxed attitude brought on by marijuana can cause students to neglect homework and assignments.

Prescription Pills

More than half of students misuse or overuse prescription drugs. There has been an alarming rise in the use of opioids and pain medications, as well.

As the stress of college-level work increases and the absence of adult supervision disappears, drugs like Ritalin and Adderall are used to block distractions and increase focus. These so-called study aids are more in demand as the rigors of college become more pronounced.


Alcohol is the drug of choice for dorm or house parties. However, at large gatherings like raves and festivals, “party drugs” like ecstasy are the go-to substance. Users claim these drugs intensify the experience.

When ecstasy reaches its peak, users feel as if their brain is exploding. The downhill side is a desire to relive the high. Dependency almost always follows.


More than half of cocaine users did not try coke until college. By the time they graduate, their use has more than tripled. Cocaine is highly addictive and illegal. It can cause brain damage in the United States. One in four students who try cocaine wind up addicted to a lifetime habit.

Signs It’s Time to Seek Help

While it’s common to experiment with drugs and alcohol in college, it’s critical to understand when casual use becomes dangerous, toxic, and even life-threatening. Pills and tablets are readily available to boost alertness and mental activity for hours at a time, but at what cost? Unfortunately, obtaining drugs on many college campuses is relatively easy. According to the Journal of American College Health, around 74% of students got their Adderall from friends with a prescription. Underage drinking is also a norm.

Signs and symptoms vary with the substance and the individual. However, there are patterns for those who consistently abuse alcohol, medication, or illegal drugs. These often include:

  • Waning interest in school and extracurricular activities
  • Marked changes in academic performance
  • Sleep pattern changes
  • Weight fluctuations
  • A shift in social relations to those with a reputation of substance abuse
  • Secretive behaviors
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Extremes in behavior, mood swings
  • Prevalence of mental health disorders and symptoms associated
  • Depression or irritability

What Makes Online Therapy So Popular with College Students?

Counseling programs assist in dealing with alcohol or drug addiction. College students may be unable or unwilling to seek in-patient treatment of alcohol or drug issues due to scheduling or lifestyle conflicts. For one, many students are embarrassed, stressed, or experiencing shame about their problematic drug use. Additionally, college students are heavily influenced by their peers and may feel certain pressures to continue using despite the negative health effects of alcohol or drugs.

Online therapy and virtual addiction treatment are affordable, accessible, and discreet. College students are also very tech-savvy and can easily navigate the barriers that exist for online treatment, such as having access to computers, smartphones, and applications. 

The pandemic carved a path and showcased an overwhelming need for virtual support. To answer these issues, addiction treatment programs sought to move practices and programs online. The impact has been transformational. By integrating telehealth strategy with existing evidence-based treatment modalities of in-person programs, the outcomes for college students appear favorable. Online support can provide quality levels of care for those battling substance use disorders.

online substance abuse help

Does Online Therapy Work?

Substance abuse on college campuses is frightening for any parent. Online therapy may provide an option and outlet for students suffering from the perils of the university.

Online drug treatment for college students has gained recognition and popularity over the last year. Fortunately, online therapy statistics are showing incredible traction for those in recovery. Additionally, it seems to have provided a newer way for more American’s and college students to receive help.

Additionally, online substance abuse counseling has shown a high degree of participant satisfaction. Eighty percent of college students in online therapy found it effective, according to a TalkSpace survey.  Further, an American Psychology survey noted that almost all students who responded found online therapy were more convenient and more effective, and more comfortable than face-to-face therapy.

There are also long-term success stories regarding online therapy. The National Center for Research discovered that college students stuck with online therapy more than traditional in-person sessions.

In examining the stats, there appear to be three major reasons that a college student may be more willing to try teletherapy for substance abuse, including:

  • Cost
  • Accessibility
  • Anonymity

Access to a computer, laptop, or smartphone provides a clear-cut method for university adults to receive help from medical doctors, psychotherapists or counselors, and addiction treatment specialists.

AspenRidge AspenRidge Virtual Care Programs

The AspenRidge Virtual Care online program has demonstrated a high degree of popularity with both patients and AspenRidge online therapists.

Because every client has unique needs, AspenRidge Virtual Care offers several delivery options. This includes both individual and group counseling sessions. Through video conferencing, clients meet with counselors three times a week.

AspenRidge Virtual Care 12-Week Online Intensive Outpatient Program

In this online twelve-week program, board-certified, licensed therapists interact both individually and in small-group counseling with their clients through private, HIPAA compliant video.

The goal of online intensive outpatient therapy is to help clients achieve sobriety and achieve a fulfilling life.

AspenRidge Virtual Care Online Outpatient Program

This outpatient treatment program aims to fit the needs of those with a mild need for clinical care. This program is led by qualified, experienced therapists in weekly, ninety-minute group counseling sessions. Group therapy occurs over private, HIPAA-compliant video.

These sessions work best for those who have completed the twelve-week online outpatient program. However, the AspenRidge Virtual Care Outpatient Program is also an alternative for those who want telehealth assistance. AspenRidge Virtual Care counselors are specifically trained to facilitate licensed online counseling in individual and small-group sessions using our private, HIPAA-compliant video.

Contact Us Today

AspenRidge AspenRidge Virtual Care offers online substance abuse and mental health treatment. Our qualified treatment specialists understand that customizable treatment yields the best outcomes. We can help you address the pressures and unique circumstances that college students often face. It’s important to find outside resources that provide perspective and support for the struggles that surround alcohol and drug use on college campuses. Contact us today for more information at (720) 650-8055.