Teenagers and young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 are at a heightened risk for addiction. As they head into a new school year, many students feel anxiety for a variety of reasons. A new school year provides adolescents with the opportunity to meet new people and define their own identities. For some, the desire to fit in can push them to try drugs or alcohol as a means of easing nerves. Often, these substances, especially alcohol, can make it easier to socialize with others and have a good time. While many will not immediately engage in behaviors such as binge drinking, routinely using substances to have fun can lead to the development of dependency and addiction.
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Back to School Factors that Contribute to Substance Abuse
There are numerous factors—besides social situations—that can lead to increased risk for substance abuse. These include:
- Stress: As students grow into their own and begin college, there are often increased demands. Increased coursework, jobs, internships, social activities, and other obligations can make it difficult for some to manage their daily lives. Drugs or alcohol can seem like a quick fix and provide students with an escape or a method of coping.
- Increased workload: In college environments, many students begin experimenting with stimulant prescription drugs such as Adderall or Ritalin to manage their workload. These drugs are often used to help students stay up late, focus on work, and complete their assignments. These medications are frequently obtained from peers and not obtained via a prescription. Misuse of prescription drugs for “productive” reasons may seem like a legitimate method of coping with increased workloads, but it often can make it more difficult for students to accomplish their responsibilities and leads to poorer academic performance.
- Peer pressure: Students are often introduced to drugs and alcohol through their peers. Seeing their friends use these substances can normalize use and increase the likelihood that they will begin using it themselves. Even if they are not directly pressured to use drugs or alcohol, being in environments with peers who are using can make them feel pressure to participate.
- Curiosity: For many adolescents, college is their first experience with independence. As they begin exploring their own identities and interests, drugs and alcohol can become another avenue of exploration. It is not uncommon for young adults to explore recreational use of substances as part of this journey.
Common Substances Abused on Campuses
While there are numerous substances that may be available to students in school, there are several that are more commonly encountered. These include:
- Alcohol: Alcohol is one of the most frequently abused substances on college campuses. It is often the catalyst for the development of addiction because misuse is normalized. It is the centerpiece of many social gatherings, and it is not uncommon to see students engage in drinking games and binge drinking as a way to build comradery. Many do not recognize the development of problems associated with drinking because of its prevalence of use.
- Marijuana: Although marijuana has always been a commonly abused substance among young adults, recent legislation that favors legalization has made it more accessible than ever. Legalization can lead to increased risk for experimentation and a changing perception regarding its safety. In some schools, marijuana is used more often than alcohol.
- “Study drugs”: Prescription drug abuse continues to rise on many college campuses. Because these medications are prescribed by doctors, many assume they are safe to use and provide positive benefits. Stimulant prescription drugs are commonly used by students cramming for tests or working to balance their responsibilities. They are easy to get from peers and have become an increasingly popular method of juggling academic obligations.
- Ecstasy: Ecstasy has enjoyed a resurgence under rebranded names such as Molly and MDMA. It’s a popular party drug that many use at concerts, raves, and other large social gatherings. It is used to improve mood, enhance experiences, and boost social interactions with others.
Greek Life and Substance Abuse on College Campuses
While these substances can be found in any social situation, “Greek” life often exposes students at more rapid rates. Those associated with fraternities and sororities tend to have higher risks of exposure and higher rates of abuse than others.
Eating Disorders and College Life
Students also tend to run higher risks of developing eating disorders in school. Studies show that up to 25 percent of college students struggle with an eating disorder of some kind, and will use diet pills and other methods of managing their weight. Eating disorders affect men and women at equal rates and college lifestyles can put many at risk for developing one.
What to Look For | Identifying Substance Abuse in Students
Use of drugs and alcohol during adolescence can cause numerous mental, physical, and emotional problems that can have long-lasting effects. Understanding these risks is critical when talking with your children about what they may encounter in school. It is important to have open and honest discussions about these topics and provide students with the knowledge to make informed decisions about their choices.
Signs of Teen Drug Abuse
Young adults are exposed to numerous risk factors that other age groups do not experience in the same way. Although students may be far from home for school, there are ways to identify if your child is struggling with substance abuse. These may include:
- Poor academic performance: Drugs and alcohol can take their toll on performance in school. Grades may slip as students skip class or miss assignments.
- Isolation: While substances are often used to enhance social experiences, it can sometimes have the opposite effect. Drugs and alcohol may be favored over everything else, causing some to remove themselves from other interests in favor of the highs they experience under the influence.
- Decreased personal hygiene: Substance abuse can cause many to begin to neglect basic care. Lack of hygiene is often an indicator of a growing problem.
- Changing behaviors and sleep patterns: Substance abuse can wreak havoc on a person’s mental and emotional state. While there is no set list of indicators that apply to everyone, behaviors such as increased agitation, lethargic mood, and other abnormal changes can highlight a problem with drugs or alcohol. Substances can also affect a person’s sleep patterns which can lead to other problems, such as lack of hygiene and poor academic performance.
Something to Note
While signs of substance abuse vary from person to person, they often begin to affect many areas of life and lead to increased problems. Early identification of a substance abuse disorder is critical for effective treatment. There are numerous resources available both on and off campuses to help address early indicators and provide students with treatment options. Early intervention is one of the most effective ways to address substance abuse before it becomes more damaging and difficult to manage.
If you suspect that your son or daughter may be struggling with drug abuse
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