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Why Do College Students Binge on Drugs and Alcohol?

Group of Asian women party at home, female drinking cocktail talking having funny together on sofa in living room in night. Teenager young friend play game, friendship, celebrate holiday concept.

Thanks to the high concentration of colleges and universities here in the Greater Boston area, most locals are keenly aware that many college students have problematic patterns of drug and alcohol use. Substance misuse, particularly binging, is particularly high among young adults under the age of 25, and this increases among those who go to college.

This isn’t a pattern that’s unique to Boston by any means, and it could be seen in most colleges and universities throughout the United States, with few exceptions. While most individuals’ college alcohol and drug binges mellow down or cease by the time they leave college, many will continue to see lasting effects throughout the rest of their lives.

To better address these unique substance misuse issues, it’s good to be able to understand the specific reasons why college students are often drawn to drug and alcohol misuse in the first place. Below are some of the most common reasons for binging among American college students.

1.) Social Expectations

Drugs and alcohol are extremely common in social gatherings in college. Students might feel pressured to at least try them in these situations. Additionally, individuals with social anxiety might turn to substances to make themselves more outgoing or to help them better tolerate social situations that are extremely commonplace in this period.

2.) Stress and Anxiety

Social situations are not the only source of anxiety. One’s financial situation, the need to balance coursework with personal and, sometimes, professional responsibilities, and familial issues may all contribute to stress during college. Many students may turn to binge drinking and drug use during the weekends as a way to unwind from a tough week.

3.) Fraternity or Sorority Membership

Members of fraternities and sororities are at a much higher risk of developing substance use disorders compared to other college students. This is largely due to the subculture surrounding such organizations and the expectations that come with them. Being in a group that normalizes drug and alcohol use also creates a pattern of enablement that further increases the chances that members will drink and use drugs more often, and in larger quantities.

4.) Academic Pressures

Stimulant medications like Ritalin and Adderall are disproportionately misused by college students. College students may misuse these and other substances to keep up with their coursework. This type of substance misuse is most common among medical students, largely because they have more access to these types of substances.

5.) Curiosity

Teens and young adults have rapidly developing brains and most are intensely curious about themselves and the outside world, as well. College gives them the opportunity to let loose, as they usually no longer have any direct supervision from parents. This further encourages college students to experiment with drugs, alcohol, and other things they may not otherwise try at home.

6.) Family History

People who have gone to college themselves are more likely to encourage their children to do the same. Because individuals are more likely to experience heavy drug and alcohol use in college, they may be more likely to carry those habits later in life. These positive attitudes to alcohol or drugs may be picked up by their children, who may be more influenced to use drugs or alcohol more heavily when they go to college.

Additionally, substance use disorder has a genetic component. This means children of parents who have SUD have increased risks of developing a drug or alcohol habit, regardless of whether the parents have been in college themselves.

7.) High Availability of Substances

Liquor stores and illicit drug dealers will invariably be a presence in most college towns due to the extremely high demand generated by the students, which is kept up by the new enrollments every year. For illicit dealers especially, these places present a low-risk, high-reward area for their business.

8.) Depression

Depression is extremely common among college students, due to young adulthood being a time of rapid and extreme transitions. Many individuals may also feel that they are not living up to their expectations and others are starting to question their own sense of identity, which can lead to trauma that results in drug use as a coping mechanism.

Understanding these underlying issues can go a long way towards mitigating the worst effect of college binging, potentially preventing a lifelong substance use disorder. While not all these factors could be easily dealt with, others, such as academic pressures, often have straightforward solutions.

If you or someone you know has a problem with their alcohol or drug intake, help is just a phone call away. You can get in touch with Boston Drug Treatment Centers at (857) 577-8193 to discuss your treatment options.

Resources:

  1. Palmer, R. S., McMahon, T. J., Moreggi, D. I., Rounsaville, B. J., & Ball, S. A. (2012). College Student Drug Use: Patterns, Concerns, Consequences, and Interest in InterventionJournal of college student development53(1), 10.1353/csd.2012.0014. https://doi.org/10.1353/csd.2012.0014
  2. Welsh, J. W., Shentu, Y., & Sarvey, D. B. (2019). Substance Use Among College StudentsFocus17(2), 117–127.
  3. Schulenberg, J. E., Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Miech, R. A. & Patrick, M. E. (2020). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2019: Volume II, College students and adults ages 19–60. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.
  4. Fallah, G., Moudi, S., Hamidia, A., & Bijani, A. (2018). Stimulant use in medical students and residents requires more careful attention. Caspian journal of internal medicine9(1), 87–91. https://doi.org/10.22088/cjim.9.1.87
  5. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. CollegeAIM: Overview.