College Students Guide to Drug Abuse & Addiction

Addiction is defined as a complex disorder in which compulsive drug abuse occurs. The addict feels an uncontrollable need for a particular substance and goes to extreme measures to get it. Through repeated drug use, the brain’s function is altered and impaired, making the individual incapable of clear thought processes, exercising good judgment, controlling behaviors and functioning without the drug.

College addiction to drugs and alcohol is on the rise. If you are struggling with addiction, dealing with a friend’s use or are feeling pressured or tempted to begin using-you are not alone. Many college students face the same issues and are left feeling helpless, ashamed and isolated.

In 2008, The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported the percentage of illicit drug use was higher in young adults aged 18 to 25 at 19.6% than any other age group. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, surveys taken at colleges and universities across the US, the percentage of students who used drugs other than alcohol within the past year were as follows: marijuana, 32%; amphetamines, 6.5%; hallucinogens, 7.5%; cocaine, 3.7%; and designer drugs, 3.6%.

In 2008, The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported, young adults aged 18 to 22, enrolled full-time in college, were more likely than their peers not enrolled full-time to use alcohol, drink heavily and binge drink. Binge drinking is the act of drinking excessive amounts of alcohol in a short period of time. Binge drinkers run the risk of developing alcohol poisoning because their body does not have time to process the alcohol as fast as it is being ingested. Alcohol poisoning and binge drinking can have lasting effects on the body. NSDUH also reported full-time college students, 61% were current drinkers, 40.5% binge drank, and 16.3% were heavy drinkers.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) defines the difference between dependency and addiction.

“Contrary to common belief, physical dependence is not addiction. While addicts are usually physically dependent on the drug they are abusing, physical dependence can exist without addiction. Addiction is defined as compulsive drug-seeking behavior where acquiring and using a drug becomes the most important activity in the user’s life.”

Additional Resources on College Student Drug Abuse & Addiction:

College Drinking Stats
National Survey on Drug Use and Health

Popular Types of Controlled Substances

Controlled substances can be classified into a number of different categories: stimulants, narcotics, depressants, hallucinogens and anabolic steroids. The DEA website notes while drugs may be classified differently, many produce similar affects. With the exception of anabolic steroids, controlled substances are abused to change mood, feeling and thought through their effect on the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) which increases their potential for the abuse. The drugs most commonly abused among young people aged 18 to 25 include the following. Warning signs and health risks are general to the classification, each substance may react differently to the individual and professional help is always advised:

Drug Classification
General Warning Signs & Symptoms
Health Problems & Risks
Stimulants or "Uppers"Cocaine
Euphoria; excessive talkativeness and laughing; decreased appetite; weight loss; anxiety and paranoia; inability to concentrate; inability or lack of need for sleep; irritability, aggression and restlessness; increased heart and lung function resulting in heavy breathing; increased metabolismStimulant abuse puts strain on the heart muscle and blood vessels which can result in heart attack. These drugs speed up metabolism which increases adrenaline in the body and creates protein that in turn destroys lean body mass. Malnutrition can develop due to loss of appetite. Abuse also burns out serotonin reserves in the brain which can cause mood crashes and inability to stabilize thoughts and feelings.
Opiates, Opiods and Prescription NarcoticsPrescription Pain Relievers
(aka Percocet)
(aka Vicodin)
Opium Derivatives
Inability to feel pain; sedation and unresponsiveness; euphoria; shallow or rapid breathing; shrunken pupils; bloodshot eyes; nausea and vomiting; confusion and poor judgment; and possible needle marks on skin; abnormal appetiteSeizures; convulsions; coma; permanent loss of cognitive function; and memory loss
Phencyclidine (PCP)
Magic Mushrooms
Dilated pupils; euphoria; paranoia; warm skin, excessive perspiration and strong body odor; disorientation and distorted sight, hearing and touch; and mood and behavior changesIllusions and hallucinations; block pain receptors, which can result in serious self-inflicted harm; and may lead to paranoia and aggression; long term personality disorders
Depressants or "Downers"Alcohol
Gamma Hydroxy Butyrate (GHB)
Rufilin (aka ruffie or the date rape drug)
Slurred speech; loss of balance; impulsivity; loss of self-control; impaired vision and hearing; blackouts; and slow heart rate and difficulty breathing; poor hygiene; loss of energy; memory loss; reclusive behaviorDamage to the nervous system; dizziness; impaired response time and cognitive function; amnesia; and extreme depression as a result of a developed chemical dependence
Anabolic SteroidsAnadrol
Rapid and otherwise unexplained weight gain; acne; insomnia; excessive energy; visible increase in muscle mass; and fluid/water retention; aggression or hostility; increased or decreased sexual driveBacterial infections from injections; stunted growth in teenagers; rapid heartbeat; heart attack; inability of blood to clot properly, and damage to vital organs including the liver and reproductive organs
Inhalants (gasoline, paint thinner, paint, glue, white-out, keyboard cleaners, markers, aerosol sprays)
Quickened heart rate; redness of the eyes; dry mouth; lack of concentration; limited coordination; delayed reaction time; and reduced short-term memory
Strong and persistent headaches; dizziness; disorientation; lack of coordination or difficulty walking; changes in mood and behavior; excessive unexplained weight loss; and nose bleeds
Increased risk of heart attack, palpitation, and arrhythmias; lung cancer; respiratory problems similar to tobacco-users; and loss of cognitive function
Decay or corrosion of cartilage in the nose; sporadic and reoccurring; heart, kidney, liver, and brain damage; Decreased cognitive function; and memory loss; affected sense of smell

Slang Terms for Popular Controlled Substances


A green, gray, or brown mixture of dried leaves, flowers, stems and seeds of the hemp plant. Most often smoked in rolled cigarette papers, cigar wrappers, a pipe or a bong. Slang terms: pot, smoke, weed, bud, j, joint, blunt and Mary Jane.


Chemical vapors typically inhaled with the use of aerosols or breathing in chemicals through a paper or plastic bag. These chemical elements are included in many household cleaners, solvents, volatile solvents. The most widely used inhalants include: gasoline; paint thinner; paint; glue; white-out; keyboard cleaners; markers; hair products; nail polish; nail polish remover; rubber cement; nitrous oxide; chloroform; and ether. Slang terms: poppers; snappers; whippets; huff; moon gas; head cleaner; boppers; poor man’s pot; locker room; or climax.


A white substance manufactured illegally from the coca plant is sold in a powder or chunks and is most often snorted, smoked or freebased then injected. Slang terms: Blow, c, marching powder, white, blanca and nose candy.


Illegally-manufactured pills in different colors are orally ingested. Slang Terms: Cloud nine, herbal x, x’ing, x, and rave energy.


Derived from base chemicals-ephedrine and pseudoephedrine-found in over-the-counter medicines. Most often swallowed, snorted, smoked, or injected. Slang terms: Crank, ice and stove top.


Available in common forms such as cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Slang terms: Stogie, cancer stick, dip and chew.

Pain Relievers

Prescription pills developed to treat pain. The most commonly abused are Hydrocodone and Oxycodone. Slang terms: kiddie dope, chill pills, big boys, cotton, kicker and French fries


This liquid made from fermented fruits, grains, or potatoes is the most commonly abused drug. Types include liquor, wine and beer. Slang terms: Booze, sauce, juice, giggle juice, hooch,


Available in different forms it is usually injected, sniffed or smoked. Slang terms: Big H, China white, Mexican brown, smack and dope.


Pills are commonly ingested or broken down and injected. Commonly abused types include: Valium, Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin and Rohypnol. Slang terms: downers, relaxers, Vals and Tranqs.

LSD (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide)

LSD is sold in tablets, capsules and small squares of blotter paper to which liquid LSD has been absorbed. Slang terms: Acid, hits, microdot, sugar cubes, tabs, stamps and trips.

PCP (phencyclidine)

PCP is a powder, typically used as an additive in marijuana or leafy substance, smoked, snorted, or in tablet/capsule form. Slang terms: Peter Pan, Kools, magic dust, Chrystal t, horse tranquillizer, Paz, O.P.P.

Anabolic Steroids

Typically illegally important from other countries or obtained in the U.S. by using forged prescriptions, anabolic steroids describes over 100 varieties of synthetic chemicals closely related to testosterone, a naturally occurring chemical in the male body that influences muscle growth. Slang terms: juice, roids, fakes or basement drugs


Additional information on drugs and alcohol addiction:

CDC Statistics and Information about Binge Drinking

Information about Depressants and Treatment Options

Overview of Narcotic Abuse

Substance Abuse Information: Stimulants, Inhalants, Steroids, and Designer Drugs

Prescription Drugs Effects and Trends