The transition to college is an exciting time full of a number of changes and new adjustments for young students. Many are finally making the transition out of their parent’s houses and into more independent living situations while simultaneously embarking on more strenuous academic endeavors through the more challenging curriculum presented at college. Throughout this major chapter in young students’ lives, they are also introduced to a whole new world of people and lifestyles. Drug and alcohol use is also notoriously prevalent among college students at universities, with some schools even earning reputations as party schools. These are just a few of the potential reasons that drug and alcohol addiction and dependency within the dorms has remained an issue across the country for many, many years.
Newfound Sense of Freedom
The new sense of freedom and independence is a major reason that students decide to engage in experimentation and drug abuse. They no longer live at home under the watchful eyes of their parents, and have the ability to go out whenever they want and stay out as late as they’d like. With this newfound sense of freedom comes the desire to experiment. Students also do not have to follow the same rules that they had to while living at home. Sarah, an addict currently in recovery, recalls that she was drug tested by her parents throughout high school, and was therefore required to abstain from smoking marijuana, specifically. As soon as she went to college and was no longer subject to these drug tests, she began to smoke marijuana on an almost daily basis. This sparked her spiral into the drug-using world, which eventually led to her devastating heroin addiction. Many students also turn 21 while in school, and can begin to legally purchase and drink alcohol, as well as go to bars and different events that only allow guests 21 and up. Drugs and alcohol are very common within these environments.
Increased Exposure to a Wider Variety of Drugs and Lifestyles
This newfound freedom also exposes students to an even larger world of different people and drugs. Whether it’s a new roommate who smokes weed every day, a classmate that is involved in a fraternity and drinks heavily at various Greek life events, or a new friend who goes to raves and takes ecstasy, students are going to come into contact with all different kinds of people and lifestyles. Even if they are not directly pressured by these peers, many students experience the desire to experiment and are presented with the opportunity to do so when surrounded by people who participate in activities such as these. The desire to fit in and socialize with peers can increase the likelihood that students will engage in drug and alcohol abuse if that is what their peers are doing. Additionally, spending time around people who use drugs and alcohol normalizes their lifestyles and can make drug or alcohol abuse appear more acceptable.
Added Stress of Tougher Curriculum and Independence
In addition to the newfound freedom and exposure to drugs and alcohol, students are faced with a higher level of stress due to the more challenging college curriculum. This not only increases the chances that students will abuse amphetamines such as Adderall or Ritalin to enhance their academic performance, but it can also contribute to a student’s desire to relax, unwind, or celebrate the weekend with drugs and alcohol. Sarah, the aforementioned addict, stated that she started smoking pot to help her relax and reward herself after a tough day of classes and homework. Drugs and alcohol are widely abused as coping mechanisms for people who experience high levels of stress, both in and out of college. Students also experience an increase in their stress levels due to their need to suddenly manage their own time and take care of more of their own needs. Especially when they are surrounded by drugs and alcohol, students often experience the temptation to cope with this stress by engaging in consumption of these substances.
While experimentation with drugs and alcohol can seem harmless, there are a number of potential consequences that students who chose to engage in these activities face. A number of colleges have strict rules about underage drinking and general drug abuse that put students at risk of being expelled if they are caught drinking on campus or abusing drugs, both recreationally and to enhance their academic performance. Many schools consider the use of non-prescribed attention deficit medications to be a form of cheating, and will respond accordingly. Additionally, students who abuse drugs and alcohol also face the possibility of other drug and alcohol related dangers. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, each year over 97,000 students are victims of alcohol related sexual assault and/or rape each year, while over 690,000 students are assaulted by another student under the influence of alcohol. Not only that, but about 25% of college students have experienced academic consequences due to drinking, which have the potential to further affect their enrollment and education. Students also face the risk of becoming addicted to different drugs or dependent on alcohol, which has proven to be a life-long struggle for a vast majority of addicts and alcoholics, including Sarah, the addict who shared her experience for this article. Students who abuse drugs or alcohol are subject to overdose and even death, with approximately 1,825 deaths each year from alcohol and about 114,000 hospitalizations for drug overdoses among college students.
Many people say that college is the time to experiment with anything and everything. However, experimentation with drugs and alcohol comes with a variety of risks and consequences that students need to be aware of before participating. Students also need to learn about different ways to handle stress more effectively in order to reduce the number of them turning to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism. It can also be helpful for students to become involved in productive extracurricular activities that reduce the amount of time that would otherwise be spent partying or engaging in drug abuse. While experimentation can be an important element in college for students, it is important that they become better educated about the risks of drug and alcohol abuse, find healthier ways to cope with stress, engage in more productive activities, and learn about where they can find support if they feel it is necessary.