The Top 3 Most Commonly Abused Drugs by College Students

College is often an exciting and, sometimes, overwhelming time in a young adult’s life.  It is a time of exploration and discovery in a variety of areas. The massive transition from childhood to adulthood enters its final stages, and entering college is the metaphorical first step as an adult. Along with this newfound independent way of life comes a newfound sense of freedom.

But what happens when this new freedom and liberty is taken too far?

It’s no secret that college is often the catalyst for many young people to experiment with drugs and alcohol, sometimes excessively. But when it comes to college drug use, what can you expect to come across and what risks do they pose?

Drug Abuse Statistics In College

Before delving into the actual drugs college students tend to favor, it’s important to understand just how common drug abuse on campus is. College-age students are one of the most at-risk age groups when it comes to alcohol and drug abuse. College drugs are becoming increasingly common on campuses across the country, with the number of people abusing these drugs at an all-time high.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than one-third of full-time college students engaged in binge drinking in August. Binge drinking is defined as the consumption of an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period of time. For women, this is consuming four or more alcoholic beverages at once or across several hours. For men, the number is a little higher, with binge drinking being defined as five or more alcoholic beverages at one time. Approximately one in five college students consumed illicit drugs in August as well. With such large populations of students engaging in abusing drugs and alcohol, it’s important to understand what college drugs are being used and why.


The most commonly abused of all college drugs is alcohol. Alcohol abuse is notoriously synonymous with the “college experience”, with many students confusing binge drinking and alcohol abuse with “normal drinking.” Seen as a rite of passage for many students, going to parties and getting heavily inebriated is encouraged.

Apart from being abused to “fit in”, alcohol is often looked to as one of the college drugs of choice due to its “legality”, although most college students are not old enough to actually purchase or consume alcohol. Often, older college students purchase alcohol for their minor classmates. It’s readily accessible and looked at with less scrutiny than any other substance.  Many college students also turn to the bottle as a means of relaxation, reducing anxiety and depression, and as a social lubricant by lowering inhibitions.

However, this particular college drug poses a number of negative health effects as well as negative impacts on the user’s life. Many students report alcohol abuse having a negative impact on their studies, with about one in four students suffering academically. Students often find themselves unable to make it to class after a night of binge drinking or incapable of performing on exams or papers.

Alcohol is also responsible for a significant number of sexual assaults reported on campus; over 97,000 students report being the victim of alcohol-related sexual assault every year. Lastly, approximately 1,800 students lose their lives each year to alcohol-related injuries, including car crashes.


Another favorite among college drugs for college students is marijuana. In the wake of recent developments in the battle for legalization, marijuana usage among college students has been at an all-time high since 1980. An estimated 5.9 percent of college students reported daily or near-daily usage. That means that approximately one in every 17 students uses recreational marijuana on a daily basis. This is not the only trend that has had a stark increase in marijuana usage either. A whopping 38 percent of college students admit to using marijuana in the last year.

With so many students engaging in recreational marijuana usage, what possible side effects could this college drug be having on the students who use it? Contrary to popular belief, the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that nine percent of marijuana users become addicted. As the science behind weed develops thanks to the complete legalization and legalization of medical marijuana, strains of the plant are far more potent today than ever before.

As the race to perfect the “super strain” of marijuana continues among scientists and growers alike, these stronger marijuana plants are finding their way into the hands of college students around the country. Some students experience an increase in anxiety or paranoia due to a bad reaction to being high. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical in weed, is also known to affect a person’s short-term memory, causing a decline in academic performance for some students.

Prescription Drugs

Up next on the list of popular college drugs is a prescription medication, more specifically ADHD medication. ADHD medications are stimulants, typically amphetamines, such as Vyvanse or Adderall. These prescription pills are also known as “study drugs” due to their ability to stimulate the user’s memory, concentration, alertness, attention, and motivation. These college drugs make for the seemingly perfect “study aid” among students of all kinds. But what kind of insidious side effects await these students?

First, the abuse of any stimulant drug bears an exorbitant number of side effects. Nausea, increased heart rate, severe insomnia, loss of appetite, bizarre and sometimes violent behavior, hallucinations, paranoia, and even psychosis can ensue after ingesting these prescription medications.

Next, this is a widespread problem. According to a study conducted at Bates College, one in three students had abused Adderall or another study drug at one time or another. Currently, 62 percent of all college students who possess a valid prescription for these medications are sharing their pills with students without prescriptions. Taking another person’s prescription medication can result in several side effects including overdose. These medications are also highly addictive.

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