Ten Signs of Drug or Alcohol Abuse in College Students - AspenRidge

During the college years, there’s a good possibility that students will turn to the party scene as part of their experience. College students may start to abuse drugs or alcohol as they have little experience with their side effects. This can eventually turn into addiction. Statistics show that four out of five college students drink regularly with 40% of student’s binge drinking. The overall addiction in the U.S. for street drugs, prescription drugs, and alcohol are extremely high. College life put students at higher risk due to their environment. There is a lot of pressure on all levels. The pressure of course loads along with the peer pressure and managing life without parents can be a lot to handle. Some students can manage the party life while other have addictive tendencies based on family history. So how can you tell when a student is abusing drugs or alcohol? Substance abuse will often come with behavioral changes that are easy to detect if you’re paying attention. If you notice someone is displaying one or all the following signs, you may want to stage an intervention or at least alert someone who can help. There are online tests that can help determine if a student has gone too far with substance abuse.

1. College Students that Regularly Binge Drink

College Students that Regularly Binge Drink If you notice a student who constantly gets black out drunk, this is an obvious sign of alcohol abuse. Studies have shown that the more often you drink, the more your black out occurrences will be. Binge drinking is characterized as drinking five drinks or more in a two-hour period for men. For women, it’s four drinks in two hours. While binge drinking is a form of alcohol abuse, most students will not be considered alcoholics. Of the regular drinkers, up to 90% will have engaged in binge drinking within the last 30 days. If binge drinking persists over several years, it will inevitably lead to alcohol addiction.

2. College Grades Start to Deteriorate

College Grades Start to Deteriorate The NIAAA has found that 1 out of 4 college students who binge drink regularly will perform poorly in their studies. This is especially true for those who abuse alcohol at least three times a week. Instead of studying, students will turn to drinking. They may oversleep or just skip class due to a hangover. School work suffers greatly because students will miss classes or do poorly on exams. The mind becomes fuzzy so it’s more challenging to retain information. This has the potential to cause students to reach for stimulant drugs to counteract the party scene. It is said to help them think more clearly and helps with the energy loss of a hangover. Stimulants like Adderall which are known as study drugs can quickly become drug addiction. The cycle is an ugly one which result in a deterioration of academic performance.

3. The Student Abusing Substances Will Experience a Change in Appearance

Experience a Change in Appearance Whether a student is binge drinking, taking diet pills, or consuming “study pills”, it’s likely their appearance will change dramatically. Men and women in college are at a high-risk of developing eating disorders. In fact, up to 25% of college students will develop an eating disorder which will cause them to abuse diet pills. Stimulant pill abuse will also cause a student to lose a lot of weight in an unhealthy way. Those who abuse alcohol or marijuana may experience rapid weight gain. With all types of substance abuse, obvious changes in the face, hair, and strength of the body will show signs of an unhealthy lifestyle. Dark circles around the eyes, lack of color in the cheeks, and sallow skin will be just some of the negative signs of addiction. As the substances have weakened the body and negatively affected the nervous system, the person may also get the shakes.

4. College Students with Substance Abuse Problems Show a High Incidence of Criminal Activities

High Incidence of Criminal Activities There are over 100,000 arrests that take place yearly that are connected with students and alcohol abuse. This could be anything from public drunkenness to driving drunk. Students abusing alcohol damage campus properly or vandalize. Statistics have shown that 25% of students that are heavy drinkers have vandalized in the past. Drugs that cause a change in perception can cause violent crimes to occur. Illegal drugs like cocaine can help a student manage their exhaustion for a brief time. It can cause a person to take many hits so they can stay on top of their game. As cocaine is so addictive, it’s likely to be used chronically. Chronic use can lead to aggravation, one of the side effects of cocaine. This can make a person violent within a party scene. Fighting or damaging property can lead to arrests in many cases.

5. A Decreased Interest in Extracurricular College Activities

Decreased Interest in Extracurricular College Activities When a student abuses alcohol or drugs, they will begin to exhibit behaviors that may indicate a problem. This may include isolating themselves while they’re in a period of being sober. Depending on the development of the substance abuse, they may still go to classes. Afterwards, they will usually crash for the rest of the day with no energy left for other activities. Doing extracurricular activities won’t be of interest to someone who is abusing substances. They will do the minimum that is required to get through their days. They will opt for the party opportunity if anything to continue abusing substances.

6. Substance Abuse Causes Shifts in Sleeping Patterns

Shifts in Sleeping Patterns Someone abusing drugs or alcohol will either go to bed at dawn or fall asleep early because they’ve exhausted themselves. If you notice someone that is constantly up all night, sleeping in the day, and going to bed early, it’s possible they’re abusing substances. Substances change the way a person behaves due to psychiatric conditions. These conditions will affect sleep patterns. For example, cocaine will suppress REM sleep as will amphetamines. Many students abusing drugs will develop sleeping disorders.

7. University Students with Substance Abuse Will Withdraw from Healthy Friends

Withdraw from Healthy Friends If you have a friend who begins to act secretive with you, there’s a chance they are abusing substances. This is one of the signs of a person who knows they have a problem abusing drugs or alcohol. They hide it because they know it’s a problem. They are ashamed to let their friends see them in this light. They are also protecting their right to continue abusing substances and don’t want to be nagged by those that care about them. They want to avoid the whole social stigma that comes with substance abuse. The less people that know the student is abusing substances, the less likely the college will learn of their problem. You may find that they get caught up in lies that are blatantly obvious. If you want to help someone you care about, there’s a certain approach you should use.

8. Students Will Spend Time in Negative Social Circles with other Substance Abusers

Spend Time in Negative Social Circles Like attracts like so people who are abusing substances are likely to stick together. It’s easy to use drugs and drink every day when you’re in university. Guaranteed there is always a party happening somewhere. For the student that develops a problem, they will likely create a social life around the party. It’s easy to fall under the radar and it’s rarely seen as a problem to go out every night. If you notice a student hanging with a crowd that has a reputation of substance abuse, it’s likely they’re abusing too.

9. Students Will Exhibit Uncharacteristic Mood Swings

Uncharacteristic Mood Swings A student who is constantly abusing either alcohol or drugs will completely change in character. A happy person with positive energy may turn into a lifeless, negative person when they use drugs or drink alcohol often. Substances change the way the brain works so the person’s mood will also change. They may become irritable or deeply depressed. As they rely more on the substance, their mood may fluctuate even more intensely. Withdrawal symptoms can cause agitation or even anger. Abusing a substance too often and too much may cause co-occurrence or depression. When they’re using or drinking, they are on top of the world. When they are sober, they become sad and depressed.

10. Substance Abuse in College Students Can Result in Reckless Behavior

Reckless Behavior A student may start inhibiting certain behaviors that will indicate they’re abusing substances. As they continue to use, the brain forces further changes in behavior. Couple this with someone who is under the influence of substances and behavior can become erratic. When someone is drunk, high, or both, they may black out and do harmful things they don’t even remember. Here are some of the following behaviors that indicate substance abuse. The more you notice these things from someone, the more likely they need help with addiction.

  • Acts of emotional, physical, and verbal abuse.
  • They tend to be neglectful of property and people.
  • They’re more likely to provoke a fight or assault other people.
  • They become illogical and times and say awful things with no memory of it the following day.
  • They are more likely to drive drunk.
  • They are more prone to sexual activity that is unprotected.
  • They may commit or be the victim of sexual assault.
  • Having sex with no memory of it due to substance abuse is also a problem.
  • Risking their own safety and others around them.

Drug and alcohol abuse on college campuses have been a problem for decades. They create addiction in early stages of adult life and without help, they could lead to long-term problems. It’s important to pay attention to the patterns and behaviors of students. If it goes too far, they may lose sight of their hopes and dreams. They risk getting in trouble over not attending classes or making good enough grades. This could lead to expulsion. They may also end up in legal trouble due to hanging out with the wrong crowd or committing petty crimes. They find a new, negative way of living. When substance abuse takes over someone’s life, they stop caring about their studies. You can stop the cycle of substance abuse if you’re a friend or faculty member. There are many ways you can help someone who seems to be going down the wrong path. The first step will be to pay attention to the signs. If substance abuse does lead to addiction in a student, they may need to attend a treatment program. The college years should enhance a person’s life so they can move on to a fulfilling future.

Full Infographic:

10 Signs of Drug Abuse in College Students


NCBI,  J Am Coll Health. (Nov, 1994) Substance use and abuse among college students: a review of recent literature. Retrieved from, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7814772 AJAP, Science and Education Publishing. Assessment of Causes, Prevalence and Consequences of Alcohol and Drug Abuse among Mekelle University, CSSL 2nd Year Students. Retrieved from, http://pubs.sciepub.com/ajap/3/3/1/ NCBI, J Coll Stud Dev. (Jan/Feb. 2012) College Student Drug Use: Patterns, Concerns, Consequences, and Interest in Intervention. Retrieved from, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3856915/ NCBI, International Journal of Preventative Medicine (Oct, 2014) Is Alcohol Consumption Associated with Poor Academic Achievement in University Students? Retrieved from, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3843305/ NCBI, Psychiatry Edgemont (Dec. 2009) Sleep Disorders in Substance Abusers. Retrieved from, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2811138/

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