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The Guide To Avoiding Alcohol And Drug Abuse In College

Dr. Alan Weiner MD

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Alan Weiner, MD

February 11, 2019

Understanding the reasons behind college-age drug and alcohol abuse and how to fight those influences can give individuals the strength they need to live a life free from addiction.

College is a time of great personal growth and education, but it is also a time to have a lot of fun. Unfortunately, people often take this fun too far by delving into excessive drug and alcohol abuse. This impacts millions of college students every year in multiple ways, including creating a lifelong addiction, causing educational problems, and even personal injury.

However, it is possible to avoid alcohol and drug abuse in college. It takes a lot of personal strength and focus, but you don’t have to fall down this dangerous track. Understanding the reasons behind college-age drug and alcohol abuse and how to fight those influences can give you the strength you need to live a life free from addiction.

The Statistics Are Alarming

The cliché of rampant drug and alcohol abuse during college is, unfortunately, well-supported by reality. People in college are continuing to turn to alcohol and drug abuse at very dangerous levels. For example, The National Institute On Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism reported the following shocking statistics regarding college-age drinking:

  • Four out of every five college students drink alcohol, half of which binge drink
  • Almost 2,000 college students die every year due to alcohol
  • Nearly 100,000 are sexually assaulted or raped due to alcohol
  • Close to 600,000 are injured when intoxicated or due to other people’s intoxication
  • Just about 700,000 are assaulted by a student who has been drinking
  • Suicide attempts and health problems effects 150,000 students
  • Academic problems plague 25 percent of all students due to drinking

As far as college-age drug use goes, much of it is fueled by increasing drug use in high school. reported that nearly half of all 12th graders used some form of illicit drug in their lifetime, with about 44 percent of them using marijuana. However, the use of cocaine, prescription drugs, methamphetamine, and other substances was also common.

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The Influence Of Peer Pressure

When teenagers go to college, they are often away from their parents for the first time in their lives. As a result, many of them get excited and start meeting people unlike anyone else they’ve ever met. As a result, they want to impress those people and begin suffering from the need to fit in. This is true even for students who avoided alcohol and drugs in high school.

It’s easy to write off the influence of peer pressure on addiction, but that is a mistake. Peer pressure is a real problem and a powerful influence on people’s behaviors. This pressure is never stronger than in college, when many people are coming to terms with who they are in life and what they want to do with it.

In fact, a study by the NYU Steinhardt Department Of Psychology found that the high drinking rate in college was directly related to forming new peer groups. Sometimes, these peer groups center around drinking or drugs because they feel they have nothing better to do. Others fall into drinking or drugs simply because they think that’s how they must behave in college.

The driving concept behind peer pressure in college is based on the social identity theory. Human beings are social creatures by nature, and we often define ourselves by our peer groups. Think of the idea of being an American versus being a Canadian or a Catholic versus a Lutheran. These groups help a person feel connected to something bigger than themselves and forces many people to do whatever is necessary to stay in that peer group.

Unfortunately, this often leads many people to simply fall in line with people who are drinking or doing drugs. They want to fit in with the group, and when they do, they socially identify as drinkers or drug users (or potheads, stoners, etc.). This also plays into the social identity that simply attending a university creates, such as dedication to a school’s sports teams.

Stress Is A Major Influence Too

College is a stressful time for most students. After all, they are not only studying difficult subjects and trying to get their life in order, but they are also dealing with unique personal and romantic problems. Unfortunately, too many of these students are turning to drugs and alcohol to alleviate this stress.

In a study entitled “The Daily Stress And Coping Process And Alcohol Use Among College Students,” the influence of stress on college-age alcohol use was tested. What they found was interesting: students drank more on days that they perceived as stressful, but also on days that required less thinking skills i.e. weekends.

Unfortunately, the regular use of alcohol and drugs as a stress-relief tool can often lead to excessive use and even addiction. With addiction comes a whole new world of problems, including stress related to academic problems, mistakes made when intoxicated, and even run-ins with the law regarding excessive alcohol and drug use.

One of the major ways that drug and alcohol use creates more stress is by decreasing your academic skills. For example, St. Larenwce University reported that alcohol can negatively impact your cognitive skills for up to 48 hours. So if you get wasted on Sunday night, you may struggle to do well in class on Tuesday.

And using marijuana (easily the most abused drug in college) can throw off your sleep cycle, decrease your focus, mess with your memory abilities, increase your overall fatigue, increase your heart rate, and even cause anxiety and panic. The latter effect is particularly problematic for people who are using marijuana to decrease their anxiety.

Ways To Make Your Sobriety Clear At Parties

Choosing to stay sober in college is going to be a major challenge. You are going to be surrounded by people who are getting drunk or high almost every night. As a result, you might feel urged to give into temptation in order to fit in or to have fun at a party. However, you can still hang out at these parties without using any substances.

First of all, it’s important to avoid being dishonest about your sobriety. Many college students will try silly tricks, such as drinking pseudo-liquor (pretending a bottle of orange juice has vodka in it) in order to avoid peer pressure. Doing things like this will only make you seem dishonest to your friends or will inspire them to continue pestering you to use.

Good friends will understand and support your sobriety. Discuss it with them ahead of time, before any party, and make it clear that you just aren’t interested in using. Never use condescending or judgmental language in these moments. People will often believe you think that you are “better than them” if you behave in a morally aghast way. This is especially true in college, when self-esteem can be low.

When you’re at the party and somebody offers you a drink, firmly and politely decline. Explain why you are practicing sobriety in a friendly way. Often, many people will applaud you for your difficult decision and will even end up spending time talking to you. Making friends in this way may even give you the chance to help other students obtain sobriety.

Learning How To Have Fun Without Drugs Or Alcohol

One reason that many college students use drugs or drink is because they have “nothing else to do.” This silly misconception is fueled by many people’s inability to think outside of the box. Yes, you should have fun in college, but having fun isn’t limited to getting wasted every night. Ways that you can have fun without alcohol or drugs include:

  • throwing sober parties, where you get together with friends, watch movies, dance, talk, or even engage in fun and creative activities, such as making movies.
  • exploring the city or natural wilderness around your university. Bring your pet along! Keeping active and exploring new areas will expand your mind and help you appreciate life in a fuller manner.
  • going with your friends to restaurants and coffee shops that don’t serve alcohol and creating a fun and social experience that easily takes the place of drinking.
  • attending movies or concerts where alcohol and drugs are not allowed. Many college cities have free movie showings during the school year or other free events that are very entertaining.

Fun is what you make it and many people have a blast sitting around playing cards without any alcohol or drugs. Learning how to make your own fun is a major part of avoiding the draw of alcohol and drug use.

What To Do If You Are Struggling With Abuse

If you have fallen under the allure of alcohol or drug abuse and you want to find a way out, there is specialized help available for you. Many universities now offer rehabilitation programs for their students that focus on pulling them out of negative situations and teaching them coping behaviors, while giving them the chance to continue attending school.

Other options include transferring to a sober college, which is a university/rehab environment. Here, you are isolated from any type of substance and can earn several easily transferable credits while getting specialized drug rehab help. Most utilize what is known as “rolling admission,” which means you can start attending classes as soon as you arrive with no delay.

One of the major goals of a sober college is to teach you about the ways that drug and alcohol are portrayed in the media. Often they are glorified and inspire college-aged students to indulge. Classes like this encourage students to think critically about their substance abuse and consider the ways in which it has impacted their life negatively.

Options such as wilderness and adventure rehab are also tempting for many college students, as they will be taken out into the wilderness to hike and even climb mountains. Rehab experiences like this are designed to challenge the student and drive them to try new things and experience life to its fullest. Traditional methods, such as detox and psychological counseling, are also available.

Sobriety Can Be A Reality In College

We’ve shown you that avoiding the alluring pull of drugs and alcohol while in college can make you a stronger person and help you succeed in college in ways you never imagined. Thankfully, we’ve also shown that it’s possible to have fun in college while sober.

However, if you need more guidance, suffer from addiction, or know someone who needs help, you should contact us at immediately. Our counselors have been in the same situation and have bounced back to live a full and happy life. They can get you back on track in no time. Reach out today.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - College Drinking

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Various Drugs

NYU Steinhardt - Peer Pressure and Alcohol Use amongst College Studen

NCBI - The daily stress and coping process and alcohol use among college students.

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