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Substance Use on College Campuses: Young Adults and Addiction

At the forefront of the addiction epidemic that continues to sweep across the United States lies a specific age demographic: college students.

Popular culture portrayals of teen and young adult substance use have played over and over in the media—whether in goofy buddy comedies or poignant coming-of-age dramas. The relationships that young people form with alcohol and drugs are significant, particularly in light of the growing statistics surrounding the risks for youths and addiction.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 4.3% of college students report daily consumption of alcoholic beverages, while 5.9% of students report daily smoking of marijuana. The daily usage of marijuana by college students has tripled since 1994.

And while only 4.3% reported daily drinking, 35.4% admitted to binge drinking within a given 2-week period.

More troubling still, the opioid crisis is affecting college campuses nationwide. In a survey conducted by Q Market Research Minnesota and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, 16 percent of young adults admitted to using painkillers that were not prescribed to them at some point in their lifetime.

College students who took the survey seemed largely unaware of opioids’ potency. While a majority of respondents knew that painkillers were addictive, 63 percent believed that prescription opioids were less risky than heroin.

With the numbers surrounding substance use by college-age students increasing, education and availability of treatment have become of the utmost importance. As we analyze the specific risks for young adults in regard to substance use, we discover that young people everywhere are affected by substance misuse and abuse.

Substance Use Risks for Young Adults

NIDA reports that the most intense risk periods for drug abuse occur during major transitions during children’s and adolescents’ lives. Particularly for young adults leaving home for the first time, the risk for drug and alcohol abuse increases exponentially.

The agency goes on to state that people are most likely to being abusing drugs during this important time of transition.

This conclusion is likely in direct correlation with the underdeveloped nature of the young adult brain. The brain has not fully matured during this stage of life, and therefore contributes (often in a negative fashion) to the critical inner processes of judgement and rationale. The National Institutes of Health believe that the brain is still maturing well into an individual’s twenties.

With this in mind, the risk for addiction, combined with other biological, social, and other factors, intensifies. Peer pressure can contribute to dangerous experimentation with substances; family history can contribute to genetic links to the disease.

While only a percentage of those who abuse alcohol and drugs as young adults will become addicted, safety is still a paramount concern. Lowered inhibitions due to substance use can lead to a host of concerning issues—ones that, if not addressed, can become life-threatening.

Across the country, more and more students are attending addiction treatment centers and entering recovery—at the age when they may find it difficult to find support from peers. Due to widespread college substance use, those attending treatment and adhering to a sobriety program may find themselves more susceptible to relapse in the college environment.

Many universities are taking note and instituting recovery programs. Baylor College recently revealed plans to open an addiction recovery center on campus. The center will be a sober place for students to receive professional assistance and talk to likeminded peers.

In a report from KWTX, Interim Baylor President Dr. David E. Garland stated that, “College students suffer from these kinds of addictions and we want to do everything we can to help them and not be stigmatized in looking for help.”

Through increased education of addiction risks and treatment for those who need help, we will be able to better serve young adults and their futures.

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