In fall 2019, almost 20 million people will attend college in the United States. A little more than 12 million will go to school fulltime while about 7.8 million will be part-time students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
For many of these people, heading back to school means a blur of activity colored with the promise of a fresh start. For students who are trying to live free from drugs and alcohol, the chance to start over is a huge gift. But college presents with various triggers for relapse to drug and alcohol use.
According to the results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables (NSDUH) about 33 percent of fulltime college students between the ages of 18 and 22 reported past-month binge drinking, and about 20 percent reported past-month use of an illicit drug.
Here are some of the most common triggers for drinking and drug use in college, coupled with healthy coping mechanisms that can turn things around.
Many people fear the perceived pressure that comes with college-level work: both the need to get good grades and the push to become a leader on campus in order to demonstrate expertise. Whether the goal is to transition into the workforce after graduation or to enroll in grad school, the need to get good grades and qualify for competitive academic programs is significant. Many students feel the pressure from the first day of their freshman year.
Rather than attempt to relieve this pressure with binge drinking, college students can:
Feeling accepted by a community of peers on a social level can be just as stressful as academic pressure. If peers regularly drink or use drugs, it can be difficult to abstain and still feel a connection with the group.
Instead of feeling like it’s necessary to be like the group and drink or get high, students can:
College is a time of exploration, and for many, first time use and/or regular use of substances begins during these years. According to the 2014 NSDUH, on an average day, about 7,000 fulltime college students tried alcohol or a drug for the first time. When substance use begins as a means of managing college stressors, it’s a serious problem.
Rather than viewing substance abuse as a rite of passage, students can consider:
Drugs and alcohol play a big role in the dating scene at college. Many people meet at parties and bars while under the influence, and it can have a significant impact on the value of the connection and the subsequent relationship. In any situation where substances play a role, there is the potential to “medicate” the ups and downs with more drugs and alcohol.
Instead, students can:
Many significant mental health disorders begin during the late teens and early 20s. It is not always easy to identify confusing feelings and difficult responses to life as signs that there is something bigger going on.
If life often becomes overwhelming or dramatic, and using drugs and alcohol to manage those feelings is the only way out, it might be time for students to:
Are you concerned that drinking or drug use is becoming a problem? How can you manage triggers more healthfully?