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Substance Abuse Prevention: How to Avoid Drugs in College

Going off to college is a powerful growth experience. It’s an opportunity to be more independent, experience new things, and build a foundation for a future career. Sometimes, however, the pressures and temptations of college can lead to problems with drugs and alcohol.

How Substance Abuse Problems Impact College Students

College students aren’t necessarily more likely to abuse substances than their non-college peers. In fact, data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) suggests that adults aged 19-22 who aren’t in college tend to misuse certain substances more than students do. However, the pressures and temptations of a college environment are unique.

Some students start using drugs or alcohol out of a desire to explore and have fun. Some start to escape stress or improve performance. Whatever the reason, even casual use can spiral into a dangerous addiction.

Common substance problems in college include:

  • Binge drinking
  • Use of stimulants (like Adderall)
  • Misuse of other prescription drugs
  • Marijuana use

Drinking (especially binge drinking) is perhaps the biggest issue colleges face. In the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over half of full-time students aged 18-22 reported drinking alcohol within the last month. That’s nearly 10% more than non-college peers.

Drug and Alcohol Use Can Have Serious Personal and Academic Repercussions

A substance use disorder affects all areas of a young adult’s life. The following are just some examples of the repercussions that can come from drug and alcohol use in college.

  • Physical and mental harm: Depending on the substance, there may be permanent damage to the brain and/or body.
  • Increased accident risk: Intoxication puts you at a greater risk of injury or death, especially in car accidents.
  • Assault risks: The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that 97,000 students report alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape each year.
  • Poor performance: Lower grades, missing class, worsening athletic performance, etc.
  • Academic consequences: Inappropriate behavior, repeated rules infractions or falling below academic expectations may lead to suspension or expulsion.

How to Prevent Substance Use Issues at School

Whether you’re the parent of a college student or a student yourself, you can use the following strategies to prevent drug and alcohol problems at school.

Don’t Look For a “Party School”

College is genuinely fun without the social pressure to binge drink and party. You don’t have to choose a “dry” college campus (where alcohol is not allowed), but avoid the ones known for their party scene.

Let People Know Off the Bat That You Don’t Drink or Use Drugs

Peer pressure tends to be less intense in college, as everyone is there to grow and learn. There’s no need to worry about seeming uncool. Just let others know you’re not into drinking or drugs and you’ll gather friends who respect your boundaries.

Balance Your Schedule

Work with an advisor on an appropriate course load. Stress is a risk factor for substance use, so don’t overload yourself. On the other hand, too much free time could lead to temptation. Develop a schedule that works for you.

Get Involved in Healthy Things

Join clubs that center around positive hobbies and interests (sports, music, faith, video games, etc.). You’ll make friends naturally and stay busy doing things you enjoy.

Parents: Foster Good Relationships With Your College-Aged Kids

Your young adult child needs room to grow and feel independent, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep in touch. Check in with them once in a while, but be willing to trust them as well. You’ll be able to watch for warning signs, and they’ll have the family support they need without it being overbearing.

Parents: Let Them Know They Can Turn to You

It’s normal to feel disappointed or upset if your child is abusing drugs or alcohol at college. However, it’s important they know you’ll still love them and help them find treatment if they need it. If they feel safe turning to you, you’ll be able to address issues early on and prevent further damage.

Adelante Recovery Center Offers Young Adults a Compassionate, Supportive Environment

Young adulthood is a unique stage of life that requires both support and freedom. At Adelante Recovery Center, we understand that balance. With a combination of compassion, structured treatment and self-direction, our programs give college-aged clients a tailored framework for success.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a college drug or alcohol problem, the addiction treatment professionals at Adelante Recovery Center can help. Contact us today to learn more about our inpatient and outpatient rehab programs.


  1. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/drug-alcohol-use-in-college-age-adults-in-2018
  2. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics

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