College students are not statistically more likely to abuse substances than non-college peers. Indeed, NIDA data shows that young adults aged 19 to 22 who do not attend college are more likely to misuse some substances than peers in college.
That said, the college campus presents unique challenges and pressures. College is also an environment where alcohol abuse and substance abuse are often tolerated, sometimes even celebrated.
All students who use drugs or alcohol do so for different reasons, some to experiment and have fun, others to self-medicate stress, and others in an attempt to improve academic performance. Whatever the reasons underpinning college substance abuse, and whatever the substance in question, casual use can easily lead to tolerance, then dependence, and then full-blown addiction.
Fortunately, whether you are concerned about binge drinking, smoking too much marijuana, or abusing prescription medications, there are some simple ways to embrace the college experience without abusing alcohol or drugs.
6 Ways to Minimize Problems with Substance Abuse in College
- Educate yourself about addiction
- Address any mental health issues
- Do not succumb to peer pressure
- Balance your schedule and life
- Embrace a healthy lifestyle
- Don’t seek out a party school
1) Educate yourself about addiction
Find out as much as you can about alcohol use disorder and substance use disorder, the clinical descriptors for alcoholism and drug addiction.
Substance abuse occurs in any of the following situations:
- Abusing alcohol
- Using illicit drugs for recreational purposes
- Abusing prescribed medications
- Seeking intoxication every time you use substances
The more you discover about the chronic and relapsing condition of addiction, as well as the various options for treatment, whether an Orange County rehab center or an outpatient treatment program, the more confidently you can avoid experimentation spiraling into addiction.
2) Address any mental health issues
Many people with mental health disorders like depression or anxiety – especially when undiagnosed – self-medicate the symptoms with drink or drugs. This may offer short-term relief, but will not address the underlying conditions, worsening symptoms over time.
If you are struggling to cope with a mental health issue, seek help from a licensed counselor or therapist to minimize your chances of abusing substances and developing a dual diagnosis – addiction co-occurring with mental health disorders.
3) Do not succumb to peer pressure
If you fear you could be influenced by peers into abusing drink or drugs, develop healthy friendships not predicated on substance use.
Peer pressure is a major component of life, not just in school and college but at all stages of life. Plan for this and develop strategies to avoid buckling to pressure.
4) Balance your schedule and life
Stress is a risk factor for substance use, so ensure you don’t overload your schedule at college. Equally, boredom and too much spare time can also lead to experimenting with substances, so try to strike a balance.
Focus, too, on your goals and dreams for the future, reminding yourself that abusing drugs and alcohol will interfere with achieving these goals.
5) Embrace a healthy lifestyle
Join clubs focused on positive interests and hobbies, from sports and music clubs to movie and faith-oriented clubs. You will not only be embracing a healthy lifestyle, but you’ll also connect with peers less likely to abuse substances.
Socialize in coffee shops rather than bars, head to the movies, explore the great outdoors. You can have plenty of fun at college without increasing your risk of a substance use disorder derailing your future plans.
6) Don’t seek out a party school
You don’t have to seek out a completely dry campus with all alcohol prohibited, but that doesn’t mean you should look for schools with a reputation for partying. Choosing your college wisely can decrease your exposure to drink and drugs.
What happens if it’s already too late and you’re already grappling with substance abuse?
What to Do if You’re Struggling with Substance Abuse in College
Many colleges offer rehab programs for students struggling with alcohol or drug abuse. Reach out to your advisor for specifics.
Another option is to transfer to a sober college. Isolated from the influence of substances, you can focus on getting the therapy and counseling you need to break the chains of addiction. With rolling admission, you can start attending classes upon arrival.
Alternatively, you may decide to engage in outpatient addiction treatment, engaging with therapy around your classes.