Facts and Statistics of University Drug Abuse

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Drug Abuse and College Campuses

Substance abuse among students is hardly a new trend. Since the 1970s, the percentages of alcohol consumption and binge drinking have remained fairly constant. Students have always represented a large part of the population who regularly used drugs and alcohol.

While alcohol abuse has maintained a constant presence on college campuses, the type and frequency of other substances has changed over the years.

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Some researchers suggest that drug abuse is cyclical. This means that as concerns about one drug increase, so do prevention efforts. As use falls for that drug, so does the effort to reduce its use. This can then lead to a lack of education and a resurgence of the abuse of that drug.

Some of the things that affect which drugs are targets of abuse, especially on college campuses, are:

  • Shifts in public perception of drugs
  • Legislative changes that make penalties more severe or less severe
  • Availability of certain medications, especially prescriptions

Signs of Substance Abuse in Students

Substance abuse occurs when someone uses a drug outside of the way it is intended or prescribed. This may include taking Adderall over the counter to increase concentration or smoking marijuana to relax. Drinking is considered abuse when its effects negatively impact the drinker’s social or professional life or health. Read more about the difference between abuse and addiction in college students here.

While the signs and symptoms of drug or alcohol abuse vary based on the substance, there are often psychological patterns that emerge in those who consistently abuse. While some personality changes can be attributed to other stressors, dramatic shifts that are otherwise inexplicable can indicate that something is wrong. Some ways to tell if a student is using drugs or alcohol include:

  • Decreased interest in classes and extracurricular activities
  • Drastic change in grades or academic performance
  • Shifts in sleep patterns or fluctuations in weight
  • Time spent in new social circles, especially among those with a reputation for being abusive
  • Withdrawing from friends or being secretive
  • Unexplained changes in behavior or personality
  • Uncharacteristic mood swings, depression, or irritability

Higher risk students

Substance abuse does not discriminate. No one, whether they come from a good family or have a high GPA, is immune to substance abuse.

There is no “type” of drug addict, as substance abuse can affect anyone.

However, based on social pressures, expectations, and availability of certain drugs, there are some demographics on college campuses who are at higher risk of encountering and abusing drugs. Among which:

  • Fraternity and sorority members
  • Campus athletes
  • Students with psychological problems
  • Residents of residences and dormitories on campus
  • Students facing extreme amounts of stress

In addition, research has shown that men are more likely than women to both abuse drugs and suffer serious consequences, including: arrest, injury and even death.

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Student Drug Abuse Statistics


per cent

About 31 percent of American college students report symptoms of alcohol abuse.


per cent

About 80 percent of American college students have abused alcohol.


per cent

Between 1993 and 2005, the proportion of college students abusing sedatives like Xanax and Valium rose by 450 percent.



An estimated 110,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are arrested each year for alcohol-related offenses, such as public intoxication or driving under the influence.

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Getting help for drug abuse in school

If you or someone you know is struggling with repeated drug or alcohol abuse, help is available. Regardless of your substance or situation, you can contact a practitioner for more information.

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