A College Student gets Addicted to Drugs and Alcohol

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Last Edited: September 12, 2020

Bianka Fisk

Clinically Reviewed
Andrew Lancaster, LPC, MAC

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and certified by an addiction professional.

Isabel grew up in a strict, religious home; her dad was a minister, so she played by all the rules. As the tallest nail gets the hammer, the loudest personality in her environment would be chastised, so she kind of went through the motions in life. Growing up, it was her goal to blend in and live within the bounds of her faith—or the one she inherited.

When she graduated high school and was offered a chance to study at Boston University, she took it gleefully. Stepping onto the campus was a feeling akin to being born again. She was immersed in a culture of permissiveness. Her roommate often smoked weed and usually had guys over in the dorm . She requested a transfer, but her resident assistant wouldn’t allow it, eventually just deciding to live with it and get used to it. Her roommate was a nursing major like her, and would stay up throughout the night, studying.

Isabel wasn’t sure how she could stay up all night and not grow tired. She had always tried to stay up all-night to study, but it never worked. One day she asked her roommate about her ability to stay up, and she told her about Adderall. Adderall helped her stay up and get work done, and most kids at the school were taking it.

Isabel felt the pressure to study throughout the night, so she decided to use Adderall. Originally she would just take it only to stay up at night, but after a while she was taking it to function in the world. Quickly, she developed a physical addiction to Adderall, needing it to operate and function daily.

She had developed an addiction, something she could have never imagined. She isn’t alone though; there are a lot of students in college who abuse Adderall. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, approximately 10.7 percent of the population abuse Adderall.

The Effects of College Drinking

One of the mainstays of college is drinking. During college, a lot of kids try drinking for the first time and often do so to extremes. The consequences of underage drinking can’t be understated. According to the National Institute on Health, approximately 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related injuries. The effects of high-risk drinking in college impacts the individual, their peers and the institution where the individual is abusing alcohol. Students who decide to engage in risky drinking could develop blackouts, injuries, unprotected sex that could lead to unwanted pregnancy, failing grades or accidental death.

One of the most serious and threatening issues created by college drinking is injury or alcohol poisoning. When college students drink heavily, especially during this delicate developmental stage of their life, they can end up worsening pre-existing mental health issues.

Hurting others is a persistent reality for those who drink heavily in college. According to College Drinking Prevention, occasional binge drinkers were almost 3 times more likely, and frequent binge drinkers nearly 10 times more likely, to report having damaged property when compared with students who do not drink. The CDP reports that approximately 600,000 college aged students aged 18 to 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking. Another dynamic of risky drinking includes the amount of care other students have to put into those who need “babysitting” when intoxicated.

Impact to the institution is another component of harm caused by over-drinking. Vandalism and property damage goes up in the presence of over-drinking. It also impacts dropout rates and added time to graduation. Overall, college drinking impacts a lot of different aspects of college life. Additionally, college drinking can serve as a gateway to more intense drugs in college.

Stage of Addiction

When someone first begins using, it is known as the experimental stage. For example, an individual may begin drinking in college as a way to experiment, as was the case with Isabel. She wanted to experiment after living in a strict, religious home. This is a stage that a lot of young people go through and isn’t one that should raise too many red flags. However, some drugs are extremely addictive and trying them even once could lead to long-term addiction, like Cocaine. People can try it once and become hooked for a lifetime.

After the experimental stage comes the social or regular use. For college students, they have the opportunity to use periodically when they are with their peers. From going to parties to trying to stay up late studying, the opportunity for regular is ubiquitous on college campuses.

Problem use is characterized by binge drinking and substance abuse. Binge drinking is defined by the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse as drinking five or more drinks on the same occasion at least once in the past 30 days. This has the potential to cause great harm.
Substance abuse is use that interferes with a person’s normal functioning. For example, Isabel’s substance abuse began interfering with her academics. Abusing drugs becomes a priority—overriding all other needs that a person has. Substance abuse is a dangerous stage because it could lead to addiction or chemical dependency.

Addiction is a disease where a person’s brain has been rewired in a way to make them compulsively crave a drug despite any and all negative consequences. When people become addicted to drugs, they risk losing scholarships, dropping out of school and ultimately death or imprisonment.

Intervention for a College Student

If a college student is living in addiction, they might need someone to come to their aid and help them see the reality of their problem. One of the best ways to convey this is by holding an intervention. An intervention is a gathering of loved ones to help people
in addiction realize that they are hurting others. Often times, people in active addiction do not realize the hurt they are causing. They might feel like their addiction is only hurting themselves.

When people decide to hold an intervention, it’s important to remember that addiction is a disease. It is not anybody’s fault and that the loved one in addiction isn’t lashing out against anybody. They just need help. The best interventions convey hurt without causing hurt through shame or manipulation.

A lot of studies suggest that an intervention specialist is the best way to get through to someone with a successful intervention. An intervention specialist will help guide the process so that loved one’s can offer a comprehensive and organized intervention to get their loved one into treatment. The goal of the intervention is to get the loved one into treatment, however, it is not a failure if that doesn’t happen. It is a process. An intervention isn’t just a single event. When you decide to have an intervention, you are committing to the long-term health of your loved one. If anything, the intervention plants a seed into their heart, which could help them seek out treatment in the future.

College is a time of great change and incredible potential. For a lot of students, it’s the first time they’ve had freedom and the ability to live for themselves. This freedom could become the double-edged sword that injures them and others. If your loved one has developed an addiction in college, it’s not too late for them. Addiction is a disease, but there are treatment options available so that people can experience freedom. Freedom is the goal and treatment is the answer.

Treatment for College Students

It’s important that college students have an opportunity to receive treatment for their addiction in facilities that cater specifically to their needs. Often, people in college who have an addiction do not have options for treatment that are allocated for them. It’s important that they have their own treatment facilities because of the idea of comparison.

When people go into treatment centers, they will see a lot of people who have been in treatment for a long time. Some people who have gone to treatment centers multiple times. This can make the young college student feel like their addiction isn’t that bad or that they don’t really need help. The college student needs to know that their addiction is serious and that they need help before it’s too late.

College Drinking as a Gateway Drug

Though a lot of people argue that Marijuana or prescription drugs like Vicoprofen like  is the gateway drug, Alcohol could be seen as the true gateway drug—and it’s legal. Research from Texas A&M shows that 54 percent of 12th graders first used Alcohol over tobacco and Marijuana. The presence of alcohol on college campuses leads to the chances students will pursue other drugs.

The problem is that when people start abusing alcohol, their inhibitions are lowered, which makes them more susceptible to experimenting with other drugs. A lot of times, this can happen at parties or social events where the drugs are more present.

A lot of times, people drink in order to relieve the stress of college. There’s a lot of pressure and expectations placed on people who are in school, which makes them likely to turn toward alcohol as a way to combat the expectations. Unfortunately, people who start using alcohol to cope with stress could turn toward other things, such as illegal drugs, which might be cheaper.

For a lot of people, drinking in college is a rite of passage. It marks the transition from adolescence to adulthood, from restraint to indulgence. In some ways, drinking during college is a way to break off from the families and forge a new identity.

Parents and Enabling

Addiction doesn’t just happen; it’s a contextual illness. In many ways, it’s a family disease. In that sense, the family could play a role in the development of someone’s addiction—reinforcing or enabling their behavior. Often times, family members will provide money or support in a way that perpetuates their addiction. Some families may even supply some of their own medications (such as Concerta) in order to support his/her habit. This is sometimes rooted in co-dependence as the loved one who enables is too attached to the other’s perceived happiness that they can’t imagine saying no to them.

In order to break the cycle of enabling, the loved one has to see beyond helping the person in active addiction find happiness. They have to help them get healthy. That’s the most important thing. And often, that means saying no. Family members can learn how to say no and set healthy boundaries with their college student in addiction by attending meetings, such as Al-Anon.

But, the best way to combat enabling is to practice the power of no. The ability to say no and lay down boundaries will force the loved one to either quit because they don’t have someone providing them with the means to get high or find a new supplier. Either way, the loved one won’t be culpable in the demise of their significant other.