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Signs of Substance Abuse in College Students

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There are currently about 20 million students enrolled in colleges across the United States. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), approximately 2 million of those students used an illicit drug in the past month and the rates of substance abuse in college students is on the rise.

Signs of Substance Abuse in College Students

College-aged students are in a critical window for the development of substance use disorders (SUDs), as the brain is still developing. Although most teens and young adults will not progress past experimentation to a fully developed SUD, even experimentation can be dangerous. The majority of people who have a SUD developed it before age 20, and the likelihood of developing a SUD is greater for individuals who begin using it as teenagers.

It’s critical for parents, siblings, and close friends of college students to watch out for potential signs of drug or alcohol addiction. However, without being around the person 24/7, how can you be sure if a person is abusing drugs or alcohol?

College students struggling with substance abuse may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Mood swings
  • Lack of interest in classes or other college-related activities
  • Academic decline
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, and scholarly peers
  • Unexplained changes in behavior
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Abnormal sleeping patterns
  • Changes in physical appearance

Why Do College Students Abuse Mind-Altering Substances?

When it is time in a young adult’s life to move to college, whether close or far from home, it is a  time that signifies exploration and an expression of newfound freedom. Students are keen to fit in, find their place, and prove themselves. Substance abuse in college students occurs for a number of reasons. There are factors specific to college-aged individuals that lend themselves to the desire to experiment and eventually abuse drugs and alcohol.

Peer pressure – One of the very first things college students do upon arriving on campus is attempt to make friends. Not only are they in a totally new environment (likely without any familiar faces around), they also want to fit in. What’s the easiest way to break free of any awkwardness? Drinking or doing drugs. While at first, a student might not think much of it, they can quickly get into a pattern of abusing drugs and alcohol as a means of fitting in and feeling accepted.

Undeveloped decision-making abilities – Science shows that the prefrontal cortex of the brain is not fully developed until about age 25. This area of the brain is responsible for controlling decision-making skills. So, college students who fall between ages 18-24 have not developed their full capacity as it relates to making good, rational decisions. This does not mean they can’t make good decisions, but it does mean that they are more likely to be irrational when deciding on things such as using drugs or alcohol or not.

Academic pressure – While there are countless social reasons why college students begin abusing drugs and alcohol, there is also a strong academic reason, too. Many students strive to maintain good grades to keep their scholarships, maintain a good-standing with their parents, and sometimes simply because they want to. The transition from high school to college work-wise is often a big one, as there is much more expected of students. Lots of students find themselves abusing stimulants like Adderall in order to stay awake to study or binge drinking in an effort to escape the stress.

Absence of parental guidance – For many college students, this is their first time away from home. Not having a curfew or parents watching over their every move can feel liberating to the point where they end up going overboard with their behaviors. This includes engaging in drug or alcohol abuse, which was likely not allowed at home. What once seemed like the opportunity to break free and experiment can quickly become an uncontrollable substance abuse problem.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse in College Students

The United States is experiencing a mental health crisis of epic proportions. A growing number of 18-24 year olds experience anxiety disorders and mood disorders, according emerging research. Being aware of common mental illnesses within this age group can be pivotal in figuring out if a student is displaying symptoms of a substance use disorder or is at risk of doing so. Mental illness and substance use disorders often co-occur with each other.

Some symptoms of mental illness that can predispose a college student to abusing drugs or alcohol can include the following:

  • Mood swings
  • Unexplained changes in behavior
  • Hyperactivity followed by a depressive state, or vice versa
  • Inability to properly cope with stressors
  • Poor decision-making skills
  • Problems concentrating
  • Excessive worries or fears

Substance Abuse Treatment in Redondo Beach

College can be a wonderful and exciting time, but it also highly transitional and anxiety-provoking for some. If you or someone you love is grappling with substance ab use problems, do not wait.

Contact us at Clear Behavioral Health to learn more about how we can help.

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