Substance use among college students is surprisingly high. One study found that about 40 percent of college students qualify as binge drinkers, compared to less than 20 percent in the general population. College students also use other substances heavily. The study found that 37 percent used at least one illicit drug and about 7 percent used drugs as study aids. While partying in college is generally considered normal, this increased exposure to drugs and alcohol can lead to a higher risk of addiction. Here’s why substance use in college is so common.
First time away from home
For many students, college is their first time away from home and parental supervision. Whereas they may have snuck a few drinks on weekends while living at home, they are now suddenly free to drink any time they want. It’s easy for students to get carried away with this new freedom.
Stress from classes
College can be incredibly stressful. Many students have to take heavy course loads with little margin for failure. It’s often challenging to finish a four-year degree in four years. On top of that, students feel a lot of pressure to succeed. Tuition is expensive, internships and jobs are competitive, and every professor believes her class is the only one that matters. Students respond to this pressure in three basic ways. First, they feel overwhelmed, becoming depressed and anxious, and perhaps coping with drugs or alcohol. Second, they adopt a work-hard-play-hard attitude, studying hard during the week and partying on the weekends. Third, they may feel the need to use study drugs such as Adderall to give themselves an edge by studying when they should be sleeping. These reactions are not mutually exclusive either.
Many students believe that drinking is just what you do in college. College movies and TV shows feature heavy drinking. Fraternities and sororities are sanctioned by colleges and universities and are best known for extravagant parties. It’s easy to see why a first-year student would believe that heavy drinking is normal and expected. This also creates a culture where the people around you are drinking heavily and it’s easier just to go along. Students may fear social isolation, especially if they are far from home or at a large university. Drinking is an easy way to meet new people and fit in. Although drinking culture prevails at many colleges and universities, it’s not very healthy or productive. A weekend with too much alcohol and too little sleep can make you underperform for the whole week. What’s more, just because drinking is common in college doesn’t mean you’re protected from addiction. People do develop alcohol use issues from weekend binge drinking, and decisions you make under the influence may affect the rest of your life.
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