Commonly Abused Drugs in College

January 9, 2023 | Drug addiction

Commonly Abused Drugs in College

For many Americans, college is the first time they’re away from their parents and able to make independent choices on their own. Of course, since many students are still teenagers, they don’t always make the same decisions their parents would make for them. Since drugs and alcohol are common on college campuses, some of those bad decisions are often made in relation to both legal and illegal substances. 

However, that doesn’t mean that all college students will eventually develop a substance use disorder. Knowing the signs can help parents and other loved ones who worry that their student has access to commonly abused drugs in college.

College Drug Abuse: How Common Is It?

A little over one-third of college students regularly use either illegal drugs or abuse alcohol, and a little over half of college students drink alcohol, whether they are of age or not. About 40% binge drink, though heavy drinking is most common in the six weeks of their first year. More college students are using illicit drugs and marijuana than in earlier generations.

While there’s clearly a lot of drinking and drug use going on, that doesn’t mean that students who drink automatically end up with a substance abuse problem. For example, just under 10% of college kids meet the criteria for alcohol addiction.

7 Most Abused Drugs in College

Alcohol is one of the major commonly abused drugs in college, as you might expect. Although today’s college students are increasingly using other substances, it’s relatively easy to get, even for underage kids, and may be less expensive than some other drugs.

Having said that, alcohol is by no means the only drug on campus.

Although THC is legal for non-medical use in some states, most of them (though not all) require the user to be at least 21. That doesn’t stop college students from smoking or vaping, however.

  • Hallucinogens/psychedelics

Not many adults use MDMA, mushrooms, LSD, or other hallucinogens anymore; the main audience for these drugs is the 18-25 crowd. College students, in other words. Psychedelics tend to accompany parties, raves, and festivals.

  • Cocaine

Despite its renown as a drug of the 1980s, cocaine can still be found on campuses nationwide.

  • “Study drugs”

Although they tend to be prescription drugs to manage ADHD, these drugs can also include amphetamines (such as meth) as well.

  • Other prescription meds

Typically, the other types of prescription drugs that get abused on campus are painkillers, and they can be very strong. They’re also easy to become addicted to, since they tend to be habit-forming.

  • Opioids

This class of drugs, which includes heroin and fentanyl, is also known to be habit-forming. While all types of drugs can potentially be dangerous, opiates are the ones that most often send college students to the hospital from injury or death.

Signs of Drug Addiction

If you’re in regular communication with your college student, you’ll likely be able to see the signs pretty clearly. Substance use disorders are frequently marked by specific changes in behavior and their results in academic and athletic performance.

Having said that, there are some behavior changes for college students that are normal and don’t indicate any kind of drug or alcohol abuse. For example, putting on “the freshman 15” in weight is normal, as students develop new routines and eat different food. They may also be homesick, which contributes to some minor mood swings. Don’t assume that a college student is on drugs just because they’re doing things a little differently now that they’re on their own. 

  • Drop in grades

For many freshmen, there’s an adjustment period at the beginning as they learn how to manage their academic load on their own. Your straight-A student may need some time to figure out what they need to do for academic success now they’re in a bigger pond. 

However, if your A-and-B college student suddenly starts getting Cs and Ds, or worse starts failing classes, that’s a big red flag for some kind of substance abuse.

  • Bad health

Depending on where they’re going to school, college kids may suffer more allergies or colds around exam time as the stress gets to them. But if your student suddenly experiences more colds, flu, other health issues, including STDs, that’s another red flag for substance abuse. 

  • Changes in weight

While the freshman 15 is a common adjustment to college campuses, a sudden gain at a different time – or, as happens commonly with substance use disorders, an unexplained weight loss – is concerning. Many drugs lead to weight loss when the user no longer cares about food because they’ve become addicted to their substance of choice.

  • Mood swings and unexplained behavior changes

Bouts of homesickness and anxiety around exams are relatively normal. But if your sunny college student suddenly starts exhibiting irritability or severe mood swings, they may be experiencing drug abuse instead. They may also start making riskier decisions about their personal safety or show other unusual behaviors you haven’t seen from them before.

  • Withdrawing from friends/becoming more secretive

Generally speaking, even introverts end up finding friends at college. It may take them a little time. But if a student suddenly doesn’t want to spend time with friends or doesn’t want to talk about who they’re with or what they’re doing, they may be spending too much time with drugs and alcohol.

How to Help a College Student With Substance Use Disorder

If your loved one (or friend) is showing signs of substance abuse, it may be hard for you to convince them that they have a problem. You can’t make someone get help, but you can show that you care and want to help them. Having a list of resources, like the college counseling center or help line (if available) is helpful to have ready when you decide to have a conversation.

You can focus on the specific behaviors that you’re concerned about. Try to come from a place of caring, not one of blame or criticism. Your student might not be ready to hear it, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk to them about it. Let them know you’re there for them and happy to help.

Commonly Abused Drugs in College

Drug Rehab Programs for College Students

Sometimes the college counseling center isn’t enough, or they may make a referral to a drug rehab program. Getting treatment as soon as possible can help someone who has an addiction to commonly abused drugs in college and make sure they’re able to graduate.

Some rehab centers are inpatient, where the student needs to leave campus, but others are outpatient. If a residential rehab is recommended, that doesn’t mean that they’ll fall too far behind in school. (Certainly it won’t be worse than being addicted to the drugs and alcohol!) The student may be able to take advantage of medical leave or a modified program of study to make sure they keep up with school.

Staying addicted to drugs or alcohol will definitely have an adverse effect on academic performance, and it’s hard to graduate when you’re in the throes of substance abuse disorder. Not only will the treatment center address the drug use, but many provide life skills that college students need to be successful. Getting help for an addiction can help a student start living the life they want and deserve.

 Quantum- Drug Rehab Programs in Princeton for College Students

Quantum is a smaller, more intimate recovery center that focuses on holistically treating the whole person, not just the addiction. We have experience with dual diagnosis as well, whether the mental issue has already been diagnosed or not. In addition to traditional therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy, relapse prevention, and life skills, we also offer experiential therapies such as art, music, meditation, and nutrition counseling.

We focus entirely on outpatient care, which many college students prefer. Our levels of care include partial care (20 hours a week), intensive outpatient programs for 9 hours a week, and outpatient care for less than 9 hours a week, which also provides longer-term support. We offer a variety of group sessions that address topics such as interpersonal relationships, mindfulness, and emotional regulation (most of which come in very handy on a college campus) as well as individual therapy and counseling.

At Quantum drug rehab, your loved one (or you) will be in a safe space that’s designed to be low stress, to focus on getting well and acquiring the skills needed for a healthy, happy life.