Each fall, more than three million students begin their studies in colleges ranging from community colleges to Ivy League universities. They join an additional 20 million students already pursuing a degree or postgraduate degree.
However, in most states, residents make up only 20% of the student body. That means 80% of students in these states have left home to go to school. For many of them it is the first experience of an extended absence from home.
Unfortunately, news of college campus mishaps, many of which were related to alcohol or drug use, shows that too many of these students were not adequately prepared to succeed once they arrived.
Many students enter environments where heavy drinking, drunkenness, marijuana, and use of prescription stimulants are only part of the common landscape. How hard must it be to keep the goal of a useful college education in mind when the environment around you is alcohol and drugs. Some make it. Others metaphorically break their training through arrests, evictions, injuries, criminal activity, addiction, and death from overdose or accident on the rocks.
It’s too easy to find the evidence.
The annual survey on monitoring the future
First, let’s look at a basic survey of college students ages 19-22 that is published each year, Monitoring the Future, published by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.
- How many of the students who participated in the survey have used illegal drugs in the past year? 47%
- How many have used an illegal drug other than marijuana? 17%
- How many have used marijuana in the past year? 43%
- Last month? 26%
- Almost daily? 6%
- How many marijuana vaped in the last month? 14%
- How many have drank intensely in the past two weeks (10+ drinks in a row)? 10%
- How many were involved in binge drinking? 33%
- How many got drunk in the last year? 59%
- The survey report also notes that this high-intensity drinking behavior has typically evolved after this High school graduation.
Besides marijuana, what are the most commonly used illegal drugs?
- Adderall 8.4%
- cocaine 5.6%
- LSD 3.7%
- MDMA 3.3%
- Sedatives 3%
- Ritalin 2.5%
- OxyContin 2.5%
- Sedatives 2%
Those are the bare facts. Let’s look at the phenomenon of drug and alcohol use on campus and its consequences.
So-called “study drugs”
Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, Vyvanse, and other brand names denote stimulants that are prescribed when a doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist diagnoses a person with an attention deficit. These drugs are often misused, either by those who get the drugs illegally or by those who fake symptoms and only go to doctors for a prescription they can misuse.
Many college students believe these drugs will help them succeed in their studies. In essence, however, these are simply stimulants that create an unnatural, drug-induced ability to stay awake and alert longer than usual. Just like the street drug methamphetamine, this artificial stimulus stresses the body and mind. Side effects include irrational anger, dangerously high body temperature, irregular heartbeat, and seizures.
According to another student survey published in 2019, 18% of surveyed students said they used one of these prescription stimulants for non-medical reasons. However, this number sometimes varies widely depending on where the survey was conducted. Just look at these numbers from other campus surveys compiled in a 2015 report on this issue.
- Great South University: 43% have misused any of these drugs in their lifetime
- Mid-Atlantic University: 11% last year
- Mid-Atlantic University: 38% in the fourth year of study
- Southeast University: 34% during lifetime
In drug use surveys, getting completely accurate information, as these numbers seem to show, will always be a challenge. Both levels of drug use and honesty about drug use can vary significantly.
These stimulants, just like street stimulants, can be addictive and misuse them can lead to the use of other harmful substances, as you can see in this news report from Utah.
What the students fail to realize is that comparative studies of those who abuse a drug like Adderall and those who show no difference in grades or other benefits.
Alcohol on campus
Alcohol use seems to be simply associated with study, especially for those in Greek organizations (fraternities and sororities).
Several studies have found that fraternities and sororities are more likely to drink and use other substances riskily than other students. Men are more exposed to this behavior and therefore suffer more unpleasant or even more dangerous consequences.
One study found that far more members of Greek societies were more binge drinking and consuming more drinks per week than other students. They also suffered more hangovers, blackouts, unwanted sexual encounters, and problems in college.
Further problems After this University
These patterns can have long-lasting consequences. A 2018 study looked at how many members of Greek organizations have alcohol use and how many eventually have symptoms of alcohol abuse disorder (AUD). This study analyzed information from people who had responded to the “Monitoring the Future” survey as high school graduates and who continued to provide information until they were 35 years old.
Men who were in a fraternity for at least one semester had a significantly higher rate of binge drinking during their studies and even afterwards compared to others who were not in a fraternity. 45% of this group showed symptoms of AUD compared to just 33% of non-fraternity students.
Women in sororities were slightly more likely to show AUD symptoms at 35.
Life lost to alcohol
Stories of young people who have lost everything to excessive drinking are tragically easy to find. Unfortunately, these losses are very often associated with Greek life on campus. Here are just a few young men who were forever lost to their families.
- Dalton Debrick, a freshman who stormed a fraternity, died of alcohol poisoning at an off-campus party.
- Timothy Piazza, 19, died of alcohol poisoning during a clouding and initiation ritual while promising brotherhood in Penn State.
- Maxwell Gruver, 18, died with blood alcohol levels close to half a percent, 25 times the legal limit for driving. He was a newbie going through an initiation.
- Andrew Coffee, 20, died of alcohol poisoning while promising brotherhood at Florida State University.
- Philip Dhanen, 18, a fraternity pledge at Fresno State, drank 37 shots of booze at a party and then died.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that alcohol consumption contributes up to 1,500 student deaths annually. In addition, there are almost 700,000 alcohol-related assaults and almost 100,000 sexual assaults.
It would be a terrible loss to send a loved one to college only to let them die needlessly in an alcohol-related incident.
Important preparations for college
The Dean of Studies at Bloomington University in Indiana put the problem very aptly: “For students who have lived in very structured situations and environments, going to college campuses when all of a sudden they have this new kind of freedom and new choices can be quite overwhelming … parents and students are so focused getting into college doesn’t always pay much attention to what will happen when they actually get there. “
“Parents and students are so focused on getting into college that they don’t always pay much attention to what will happen when they’re actually there.”
It is up to parents to prepare a child for an environment that is permissive about drug and alcohol use. This leads to some sobering conversations between parents and children.
It’s important to consider any subtle or not-so-subtle peer pressure the new student may experience going to a party where everyone is drinking – except them. You have to be ready to make tough decisions.
Parents need to be open about the types of harm caused by drinking too much. These new students need to know for sure that they can and will die from drinking too much too quickly and how much alcohol it takes to kill a person.
The new student should be informed of what to do if a person passes out drunk to protect his (or her life) so that the student does not face the death of another student.
They should also be educated about the risks of addiction, paranoia, heart failure, seizures, and psychosis in those who abuse prescription stimulants by ingesting high doses.
It would be advisable for parents to inform themselves very well on these topics and for direct educational discussions with the school-age children. It could save your life.
Parents and the educational institution
Parents can also put pressure on their child’s university to make certain policy changes. The University of Colorado implemented the policy to notify parents when underage students violate the campus alcohol policy. The school also banned the sale of beer during soccer games. Following this change, 52% fewer students were evicted from the stadium for bad behavior and the number of arrests decreased by 70%. There was even a significant decrease in the number of attacks.
Similar improvements occurred at the University of Delaware, Florida State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and several other schools.
Parents who have survived even rocky college years may find the challenges their child will face normal. The problem is the 1,500 young adults who never make it home. Because parents speak openly and honestly about the very real risks to educational success, health, and even life, young adults have a much better chance of finding their way around the university environment safely.