Honor the power of your voice and begin your journey with us today!
Honor the power of your voice and begin your journey with us today!

Substance Abuse in College: A Vicious Cycle

College is often associated with a culture of binge drinking, partying, and drug experimentation. It’s no secret that alcoholism and drug use are generally accepted in college and universities as a type of subculture. College culture is more or less reduced to beer pong, reckless behaviors, experimenting with drugs, tailgates, smoking weed, and taking pills— even popping pills to study. Today, we’re going to take a look at how this substance abuse plays into the overall health of college students across the United States.
This substance abuse affects a variety of factors in a college student’s life; “One negative behavior such as substance abuse or heavy alcohol drinking can lead college students toward a vicious cycle of poor lifestyle choices, lack of sleep, mental distress and low grades, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York” (Binghamton University).

Mental Distress

Mental distress is what initiates this vicious cycle, as it is the key factor in associations that are directly reflective of anatomical and chemical changes in the brain. Additionally, this mental distress is then perpetuated by the very factors that may have caused it, including sleep, academics, and poor decision-making.
Low mental distress: “was associated with no substance abuse, responsible attitude toward learning as well as good academic efforts, high GPA (of above 3.0) and limited daytime sleepiness”
Mild mental distress: “correlated with borderline work neglect and with a marginal negative association with grade-point average”
Severe mental distress: “correlated with substance abuse (including excessive alcohol drinking), extreme daytime sleepiness, poor academic attitude and low GPA”
(Binghamton University).

The Cycle

This cycle feeds itself with the very factors that the cycle is comprised of. These cyclic behaviors caused by mental distress “are linked to a change in brain chemistry that supports substance abuse, poor academic attitude and performance, poor sleep patterns, and neglect of family and work. The novelty of these findings is that we are proposing, based on the neuroscience of these behaviors, that one action may be leading to another until a vicious cycle sets in” (Binghamton University).
There is a domino-type effect when it comes to analyzing these behaviors as a cycle, “…using drugs recreationally, abusing alcohol or using ‘study’ drugs not only affects brain chemistry but may affect diet and sleep, which may further alter brain function and brain maturity. Reduced brain maturity increases impulsivity, reduces emotional control and cognitive functions as well as GPA, eventually increasing mental distress with a potential long-lasting effect” (Binghamton University). Heightened impulsivity and an increase in mental distress will support drug abuse, completing the cycle.

Physical Impact

Physically, substance abuse will transform behavior. This shows up amongst college students through their social behaviors. Social behaviors in college tend to revolve around alcohol and drug use, which disrupts each college student from seeking healthy relationships and interactions. College students will become accustomed to believing that drug and alcohol use are synonymous with friendship and interaction, so interpersonal skills are reduced to partying together.
Usually, substance abuse is bred from mental distress. College students are under pressure, and often stressed out by a workload, finances, and other factors, which leads them to abusing substances.
In an examination of prescription stimulants, it was found that these drugs were used for social purposes. “Some students claim that taking Adderall makes them more talkative and better company. Additionally, about a third of students have taken to get high or experiment” (Aberg). Even more upsetting is that a study analyzing college student’s behavior, as it relates to adderall abuse, is that “…one in five women who take the drug do so to lose weight” (Aberg). This shows how perceived social expectations can directly affect substance abuse.
This substance abuse will also have a large impact on sleep patterns. Poor sleep quality to a lack of sleep will result from substance abuse, and will also perpetuate substance abuse.

Academic Impact

In addition to your physical health suffering, substance abuse will impact your GPA (grade point average), no matter how “under control” you believe your substance abuse is. College has an unhealthy habit of normalizing alcoholism and substance use disorders, which only worsens the attitudes of impressionable college students. This normalization also directly affects a student’s desire to reach out for help, because they view their own behavior as in line with other peers— making it seem “normal” to them. As research shows, a college student’s academic attitude and behaviors will also change due to substance abuse and addiction.

The Problem with “Study Drugs”

The prevalence of study drugs like adderall, ritalin, vyvanse, etc. is impossible to ignore. Prescriptions for amphetamine stimulants are growing at an outrageous rate due to growth in supply and demand of the drugs, “…over the past decade, the manufacturing of prescription stimulants has increased by a whopping 9 million percent” (Aberg). These stimulant prescription drugs are especially prevalent amongst college students, who attribute their ability to “focus” and “study for hours on end,” to these drugs. In a widely cast study examining over 10,000 college students from around the United States, it was “…found that more than half of students with an Adderall or other ADHD drug prescription were asked to sell the medication to peers and friends.

College Culture

Another consequence of substance abuse is that it can turn into a full-blown addiction in college. The college setting is not conducive to recovery, and it also hold its own type of culture that breeds a special form of denial for alcohol and drug addictions. Drug rehab is rarely thought of as a solution to consistent drug abuse, let alone any form of rehabilitation for binge drinking and substance abuse.
Alcohol addictions are seen as the norm in a college atmosphere, which has obvious physical impacts on students who regularly abuse alcohol— including heightened risks of diseases, major ailments, etc. Prescription medications being abused are often overlooked, as students believe drugs like Adderall can’t be dangerous because they can be prescribed and also used just for help studying. These perceptions lead students to continue to abuse substances, as they are unaware of any risks associated with their use. Drinking and drug taking are written off as just the culture, so college students drink, binge, and experiment without a second thought.
Fraternities and sororities also have a reputation for binge drinking, which further plays into the overall culture of college students. In a national study that analyzed Greek life in relation to addiction, findings included that “Male fraternity members who lived in fraternity houses during college had the highest levels of binge drinking and marijuana use relative to non-members and non-students in young adulthood…” and the effects were lasting: “At age 35, 45% of the residential fraternity members reported alcohol use disorder (AUD) symptoms reflecting mild to severe AUDs…” (McCabe). College student’s involved in Greek life have the highest rates of binge drinking and substance abuse, “nearly nine in every 10 social fraternity male members who reside in fraternity houses reported binge drinking in the past two weeks, relative to 32.4% of college young adults…” (McCabe).

Where Can College Students Turn?

Some college and university campuses have a Collegiate Recovery Program, which is aimed towards students who struggling with addiction, substance abuse, and alcoholism. These programs exist to help students struggling with an addiction, giving them guidance, resources, and a safe place to meet. Not every college or university has a collegiate recovery program, although we think they should. Programs like these actually save lives, as they are able to help place students into drug rehab programs and offer other treatment options that these students may have never discovered. Addiction recovery is becoming more common among younger adults, which should mean that discussing addiction in college should be less taboo.
We believe college students who engage in substance abuse need to reach out to a drug rehab center before their problem persists into an addiction (if it hasn’t already). The decision to reach out for help will save a college student from a vicious cycle of substance abuse, poor sleep patterns, physical and mental health consequences, and poor academics.

Our Treatment Options

Royal Life Centers provides addiction treatment programs that are designed to follow guests through the stages of recovery, offering guidance and support along each step of the way. We have a variety of treatment options, including both inpatient and outpatient programs. Royal Life Centers has treatment programs including: medical detox, a residential inpatient program, a partial hospitalization program (PHP), an intensive outpatient program (IOP), an outpatient program (OP), sober living and graduate housing. We also offer alumni services and services for family members. Our treatment plans are individualized, as guests collaborate with their primary therapist and case manager to design a treatment plan tailored specifically to meet his or her personal needs, goals, and circumstances. All of our programs support a long term and lasting, drug-free way of life.

Reach Out

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, please reach out to our addiction specialists at (877)-RECOVERY or (877)-732-6837. Our team makes themselves available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Because We Care.
Aberg, Simon Essig. “‘Study Drug’ Abuse by College Students: What You Need to Know.” National Center for Health Research, National Center for Health Research, 1 May 2017, www.center4research.org/study-drug-abuse-college-students/
Binghamton University. “How college students can end up in vicious cycle of substance abuse, poor academics, stress.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 April 2019.
Lina Begdache, Hamed Kianmehr, Nasim Sabounchi, Anna Marszalek, Ngawang Dolma. Principal component regression of academic performance, substance use and sleep quality in relation to risk of anxiety and depression in young adults. Trends in Neuroscience and Education, 2019; 15: 29 DOI: 10.1016/j.tine.2019.03.002
Mccabe, Sean Esteban, et al. “How Collegiate Fraternity and Sorority Involvement Relates to Substance Use During Young Adulthood and Substance Use Disorders in Early Midlife: A National Longitudinal Study.” Journal of Adolescent Health, vol. 62, no. 3, Mar. 2018, pp. 35–43., doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2017.09.029


Table of Contents

Read More From royal Life Centers Writers