Back to School: What Are the Most Commonly Used Drugs by College Students?

Back to school season is here. Colleges and universities across the nation have opened their doors to both new and returning students. The first semester has officially kicked off, and our sons and daughters are already out making new friends, reuniting with old ones, and getting back into the swing of things on campus. If you are the parent of a college student, however, you may be home wondering what exactly your kid is up to this weekend. If your son or daughter has a history of drug use or binge drinking, you may be particularly concerned. Or, if it’s your child’s first year at school, you may be worried about him or her entering the partying scene.

These are completely normal worries to have as a parent. Going off to college is truly the first time in which young adults get to experience “living on their own.” It is a time of newfound independence. College students start to take their own adventures, face their own challenges, and make their own choices without the oversight of a parental figure. Unfortunately, this also means making decisions about whether to drink underage, to experiment illicit drugs, to go to that off-campus party, or to misuse prescription pills to get through an all-night assignment.

As much as you have taught your son or daughter to say “no” to drugs, the chances of young adults using drugs in college are high. According to a 2016 study, 43 percent of college students used an illicit drug over the last year. That is more than two out of five college students that used an illegal drug over a 12-month span, and is the highest prevalence we’ve seen among college students in three decades.

But what drugs are they using, exactly? Are these dangerous drugs you should be concerned about? Are our sons and daughters putting themselves at risk for longer-term issues, like addiction? As a recognized drug treatment facility for young adults, Turnbridge knows college students (and drug abuse in college) quite well. In this blog, we outline some of the most commonly used drugs by college students today.

1. Alcohol

Alcohol, while not an illicit drug, is by far the most widely-used addictive substances on college campuses today. Over 40 percent of college students have been drunk in the last month. Over 32 percent drink heavily or “binge” drink, recently having had five or more drinks in a row. 11 percent of college students partake in extreme drinking, which involves 10 more in drinks in a row. These figures are much higher among full-time college students than other young adults in their age group.

The problem is, alcohol is especially detrimental for college students. Not only does it put them at higher risks for drug addiction down the road, it also can negatively impact their academic performance. Alcohol is a factor in 40 percent of academic issues and 28 percent of college dropouts, as noted in our previous infographic on college substance abuse.

 

2. Marijuana

Each year, the use of marijuana among college students continues to increase. According to the most recent Monitoring the Future survey, annual marijuana use among college students reached its highest levels yet in 2016, with nearly 40 percent of full-time college students having used marijuana in the last year. About 5 percent of college students currently use marijuana on a daily basis.

There is no doubt that marijuana has become widely available in recent years, with about 8 states having legalized recreational use in some form. However, this does not undermine the effects of marijuana on young adults, whose brains are not fully developed. Most undergraduates are in college from age 18 to 22. The brain does not stop fully maturing until about age 25, which means any mind-altering substance could interfere with the development process. This could ultimately lead to a substance use disorder and longer-term memory and learning issues. Not to mention, most colleges and universities in those 8 legalized states still prohibit the use or possession of marijuana on campus, meaning that other external repercussions may affect college students using the drug.

3. Prescription Amphetamines

Ever hear of the ADHD drug Adderall? Did you know that it is also known as a “study drug,” and is one of the most widely abused substances among college students today? That’s right. This prescription drug is commonly used by college students to increase concentration and improve academic performance. Composed of amphetamines and dextroamphetamines, Adderall triggers a rush of adrenaline in its users, leading to enhanced energy, focus, and productivity levels. While all sounds fine and safe, what many college students don’t know is that prescription amphetamines like this are also highly addictive.

Adderall, along with the similar drug Ritalin, is classified as a Schedule II substance by the DEA, meaning it has a strong potential for abuse and addiction. This is especially true among college students, who are crushing and snorting these pills to obtain a faster and harder high. With increased wakefulness a side effect, prescription amphetamines are being used as both “study drugs” and “party drugs.” According to the 2016 Monitoring the Future survey, rates of amphetamine use without medical supervision have almost doubled among college students since 2008. College students also use these drugs more than any other demographic.

4. Ecstasy and other MDMA Drugs

Party and club drugs are still all-the-rage across college campuses, with MDMA use among college students having doubled in the last decade. Annual use of MDMA (commonly known as ecstasy and, more recently, Molly) rose to 5 percent among college students in 2016, up from 2 percent in 2007.

MDMA drugs can be extremely dangerous for anyone of any age. Not only are they highly addictive, but they are also associated with severe health risks such as seizures, hallucinations, panic attacks, heart failure, dehydration, and dangerous spikes in body temperature. And risks have worsened since the 70s when these drugs first gained popularity. Today, ecstasy and related drugs are commonly laced with other toxic substance: rat poison, detergent, and aspirin are just a few. Yet still, college students continue to take these drugs despite the dangers to enhance their partying experience.

If you have suspicion that your son or daughter is using drugs or drinking in college, it is important to act on it. Communicate with your child, and make those conversations consistent. Stay involved. Most significantly, if you feel your child has developed dangerous habits or any signs of addiction, it is vital to seek the direction of a professional. College students are one of the most diagnosable demographics for substance use disorders. Yet 37 percent of them will not pursue professional addiction treatment out of fear of the social stigma. Your son or daughter might need you to step in.

If your son or daughter has been in drug rehab before, know that there are collegiate recovery programs available for students on and off campus. If you would like to learn more about these, or about starting a treatment plan at Turnbridge young adult rehab center, please do not hesitate to call 877-581-1793.