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How to Help a College Student Experimenting With Substances

Parents with college students may have a hard time letting go and trusting them with their newfound independence. Your child is in a phase of life where they are learning to live on their own, meeting new people, and exploring new ideas. They may also be experimenting with alcohol or other substances.

Supporting your college student from afar can be a challenge, especially if they are a long way from home. Perhaps you are already aware or suspect they are using substances and you are worried. If your child has a history of addiction, mental health issues, or other concerns, it may be necessary for you to intervene. Read on to learn what you should do and how you can help your college student.

Start With a Light Conversation

When you are talking to your child, there are light ways to breach the subject of substance use. Ask them how school is going, about their friends and roommates, and other normal things to talk about. Ask them about their favorite class or why their most difficult class is so tricky. Try not to pry on substance use topics. Let them keep talking, and see what information they offer you.

When the time feels right in the conversation, tell them that you know some people experiment with alcohol or drugs in college and it concerns you. Do not blame or shame them and do not ask directly right away – let them come back with a response. They may say “Yeah, that happens” or “Okay” and leave it at that. They may volunteer more.

Ask if substance use around them worries them at all. If they say no, that is okay, but then ask how they are adjusting to any exposure to alcohol and drugs. Again, do not blame or shame them. Allow your college student a chance to respond.

The Facts About Substance Use in Colleges

If you are worried about your college student, it may help them understand your concern to talk about the reality of substance use on campus. Explaining your fears through evidence and studies can help give your student a reality check on where they fall in those statistics.

According to a 2019 study on U.S. college campuses:

  • Nearly half of college students will qualify for a substance use disorder at some point by the time they graduate. This study did not focus on any particular substance, but a combination of alcohol, tobacco, and various drugs. Here is specific data for each substance:
    • Alcohol: Over 60% of full-time college students have consumed alcohol, and 39% reported binge drinking (5-6 drinks or more in one sitting).
    • Prescription drugs: Approximately 10% of college students reported using prescription drugs to enhance their academic performance or for partying. Drugs like Adderall and other dextroamphetamine prescriptions are commonly misused, and some who are prescribed under false pretenses will sell their prescription.
    • Cocaine: Approximately 4% of college students use cocaine recreationally. More than 20% of college students reported being exposed to or offered cocaine.
    • Marijuana: Over 20% of students reported regular or semi-regular marijuana use. Some use it for recreational purposes, while others claim they are self-medicating to treat symptoms of mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
    • Tobacco: Though cigarette use has been declining significantly for decades, targeted marketing of colorful and flavorful e-cigarettes (vaping) continues to keep the number of college-aged tobacco users on the rise.
    • Psychedelic drugs: Many college students use LSD, acid, MDMA, and other psychedelic drugs as part of the party scene. Microdosing – using significantly smaller amounts of a drug for hallucinogenic effects rather than mind-altering effects – is growing in popularity.
    • Opioids: The prevalence of opioid addiction in the United States gives many college students access to prescription opioids. They may sell or obtain prescriptions for physical injuries or consult dealers for stronger opioids if they are addicted.
  • Grades are highly affected by substance abuse issues. College students who suffer from substance use disorders are more likely to skip class, be unable to pay attention in class, and be unable to study or complete their schoolwork. A substance use disorder can affect their grades to the point where they actually fail or drop out of school entirely.

What to Do if Your Child Has a Problem

If you can, schedule a time to visit them at school. Tell them that you are worried, and work out a plan to help them overcome this. Every campus has counseling and academic support for students. Worst-case scenario, they may need to switch to online schooling and go back home with you for support.

But as college students, they are adults and their reality may be different than what you are fearing from afar. Upon your visit, the best-case scenario is that they are doing just fine. Whatever happens, make the decision together with your child.

College students are in an exciting and exploratory phase of their lives. This may mean they are exploring or being exposed to drugs and alcohol. If your child has faced issues with addiction in the past, or you suspect they may have a substance use problem now, it may be time to step in and help. You can find the answers at RECO Intensive. We understand that being separated from your child for the first time can be worrisome. We also know that many college students experiment, and they may not realize they need help until it’s too late. At RECO Intensive, we can create a treatment plan that is specifically catered to your college student. We’ll make sure that your child has every opportunity to make better choices for themselves and learn strategies for success in their college career and life beyond college. To learn more, call us today at (561) 464-6533. Let’s get back to a brighter future.

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