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Most Commonly Drugs Used in College

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College is a time when students are feeling the freedom of being away from home. It is also a time when they face pressing assignment deadlines, regular exams, and new peer pressure.

Many colleges are located in cities or towns that cater to the school and its student population. From restaurants to bars, grocery stores, pharmacies, and other establishments, there is always a place to go and unwind, release built-up stress, grab a bite to eat with new friends, or stock up on supplies.

Colleges across the country also contend with the effects of student life, including rampant alcohol use and abuse, marijuana use, nonmedical use of prescription drugs, over-the-counter (OTC) medication, and experimental drugs, like ecstasy (MDMA).

 Vaping is also widespread in dorm rooms, frat and sorority houses, and around campus. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that 14 percent of college-aged students vaped marijuana in the last month (based on 2018 data).

Data from the 2019 Monitoring the Future study found that 35 percent of college students said they vaped nicotine. Eight percent took prescription amphetamine non-medically, with Adderall being the most used. Not surprisingly, alcohol was the most commonly used drug, with 78 percent of students reporting use.

There are consequences for students when they misuse substances in college. Keep reading to obtain more information about the drugs most commonly used in college.

4 Most Common Drugs

Alcohol

Alcohol is one of the most commonly misused drugs in college. While some students may arrive for their freshman year with some experience of alcohol consumption, many may not. Others may find the new freedom away from parents, new expectations of them, and new peer pressure all too much to handle without a little liquid help.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) notes that almost 40% of college students engaged in binge drinking in college. 

The agency defines binge drinking as “a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent—or 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter—or higher.” This equals five or more drinks in two hours for males, and four or more drinks for females, at the same rate.

The NIAAA also states that college drinking leads to an estimated 1,519 student deaths each year. It notes that an estimated 696,000 assaults were committed by students who had been drinking, and 97,000 sexual assault or date rape cases occurred due to college drinking.

Marijuana and Nicotine

Marijuana and nicotine are also used fairly regularly on college campuses. Smoking both are commonplace. Vaping both is also pretty common.

Monitoring the Future reports that vaping marijuana and vaping nicotine increased sharply in the past three years among college-age adults. Twenty-six percent of college students reported vaping marijuana, and 35 percent reported vaping nicotine.

Whether smoking or vaping, marijuana has serious side effects. Among them are:

  • Coordination loss
  • Increased heart rate
  • Higher chance of risky behavior
  • Traffic accidents while impaired
  • Poor memory functions
  • Respiratory issues
  • Dependence and addiction

Smoking or vaping nicotine brings its own set of health troubles. According to Healthline, smoking cigarettes can increase the risk of stroke, heart disease, and lung cancer. Vaping nicotine can decrease lung function. It also reminds us that vaping nicotine can cause nicotine dependence and addiction.

Prescription Drugs (Nonmedical Use)

Amphetamines, central nervous system depressants, and opioid pain relievers are also on the rise in college.

Prescription stimulants: Amphetamines, such as Adderall, which is used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), are popular because they are prescription stimulants that are known to help keep students awake to study or complete a major project. Eight percent of college students said they had taken an amphetamine when it was not their prescription, and 8.4 percent said they took Adderall.

HealthDay reports that taking Adderall, even sporadically, can cause panic attacks. “Sporadic use can lead to severe sleep deprivation and cause stimulant-induced psychosis, when a student gets paranoid and may hallucinate,” the health publication states.

Long-term effects of misusing prescription stimulants are heart issues, psychosis, anger, paranoia, risk of contracting HIV and STDs, hepatitis (sharing used needles), dependence and addiction.

Central nervous system depressants (CNS): Central nervous system depressants slow down the CNS. Examples of these drugs include tranquilizers, muscle relaxants, and sleep aids. Tranquilizers such as Valium and Xanax are benzodiazepines that work to relax muscles and ease anxiety. They are also considered tranquilizers. They are widely prescribed and are incredibly addictive.

Common health effects of CNS depressants include drowsiness, poor concentration, slurred speech, confusion, movement and memory problems, and risk of contracting HIV and STDs. Sleep meds can also be used as “date rape” drugs when they are added to alcoholic drinks.

Prescription opioids: Prescription opioids are most commonly prescribed to treat pain for the short-term. When misused, they can bring on feelings of euphoria. Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet are a few brand-name prescription opioids.

Long-term health effects of misusing opioids include dependence and addiction.

Ecstasy/MDMA (Molly)

Mind-altering or psychotic drugs can be abused in college. Ecstasy, also known as Molly, is 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA). It is a synthetic drug that alters mood and perception. It can be slipped into drinks unknowingly or taken willingly. It produces feelings of increased energy, pleasure, and emotional warmth. It is a hallucinogen, and it is also an illegal drug.

Long-term side effects of MDMA include depression, attention and memory problems, long-lasting depression, poor sleep, increased impulsiveness and/or anxiety, dependence, and addiction.

 Drug Use in College – What You Need to Know

Drug use in college happens, and students can become dependent or addicted to the substance before they realize it. NIDA defines dependence as “physical dependence in which the body adapts to the drug, requiring more of it to achieve a certain effect (tolerance). 

Addiction is defined as “compulsive drug use despite harmful consequences,” the inability to stop using the drug and the possibility of experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using the drug. The American Society of Addiction Medicine states that addiction is a “treatable, chronic medical disease.” 

If you or someone you care about is misusing alcohol, prescription medication, marijuana, nicotine, or the illicit drug MDMA, there is help. You don’t have to fight the struggle to stop taking drugs alone. Addiction treatment at The Palm Beach Institute has decades of experience and knowledge in treating those whose lives have been adversely affected by drug use.

No matter where your college is located, there are evidence-based treatments and therapies that can get you back on the road to a healthier lifestyle – physically and mentally.

Sources

NIDA. (2020, September 15). Vaping, marijuana use in 2019 rose in college-age adults. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/news-releases/2020/09/vaping-marijuana-use-in-2019-rose-in-college-age-adults

Monitoring the Future. (2020 July) National Survey Results on Drug Use 1975-2019. Volume 2. College Students & Adults Ages 19-60. Chapter 8. Schulenberg, J. et. al. from http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/monographs/mtf-vol2_2019.pdf

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2020 August) Fall Semester—A Time for Parents To Discuss the Risks of College Drinking. from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/NIAAA_BacktoCollege_Fact_sheet_2020.pdf

Healthline. (2020, January 3) Is Vaping Bad for You? And 12 Other FAQs. Vandergriendt, C. from https://www.healthline.com/health/is-vaping-bad-for-you

NIDA. Commonly Used Drugs Chart. Central Nervous System Depressants. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/commonly-used-drugs-charts#central-nervous-system-depressants

NIDA. Commonly Used Drugs Chart. Central Nervous System MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly). from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/commonly-used-drugs-charts#mdma-ecstasy-molly-

HealthDay. ((2014, November 13) ADHD Stimulant Drug Abuse Common Among Young Adults: Survey. Haelle, T. from https://consumer.healthday.com/mental-health-information-25/addiction-news-6/adhd-stimulant-drug-abuse-common-among-young-adults-survey-693690.html

NIDA. (2020, May 29). Is there a difference between physical dependence and addiction?. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/there-difference-between-physical-dependence-addiction

ASAM. (2019, September 15) Definition of Addiction. from https://www.asam.org/Quality-Science/definition-of-addiction

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