Drug and Alcohol Abuse By Young Adults in College and Beyond

pills spilling from bottle

 Drug and alcohol use and abuse by college students has long been a concern for parents. It is part of the process of getting their children ready for college for parents to help their young adults understand the very real dangers of the college party scene, which includes, among other things, binge drinking, roofies, and taking prescription drugs for recreational use.

While some students may laugh it off and feel confident that they will be able to manage their extracurricular activities without a problem, many students will, at one point or another during their college years, find themselves in a situation where it's not easy to say no, or find that they are too inebriated to function normally.

Parents should not pretend this won't happen to their child - instead, they need to give them all the information they possibly can to educate them about the situations that may arise and the dangers that can come from overdoing, combining, or experimenting with drugs and alcohol. 


Marijuana use, now legal in 25 states and the District of Columbia, has grown substantially in the past few years. While not as dangerous or addictive as other drugs, marijuana comes with its own set of problems, including memory issues and cardiopulmonary damage. On college campuses, marijuana use is commonplace.

Daily marijuana use among college-aged young adults is at its highest since 1980, surpassing daily cigarette smoking for the first time in 2014.  - National Institute on Drug Abuse


Binge drinking, a common activity at college parties and during fraternity initiation, is defined as having 5 or more drinks in a row during one drinking session.

The only reason to binge drink is to get very drunk, very quickly. Among college students, 35.4% report binge drinking in the past 2 weeks and 42.6% report binge drinking in the past month (National Institute on Drug Abuse 2014 survey). By contrast, young adults of the same age report 7% less binge drinking during the same time period.

Alcohol and energy drinks are combined to allow students to party longer and harder, but doing so comes with risks. Combining the two can confuse the body, as the stimulants in the energy drink will increase heart rate just as the alcohol is acting to slow it down. 

The long-term concerns about alcohol and becoming an alcoholic are real. Of particular concern are young adults who have family members who are alcoholics, as studies show that 50% of the 

Prescription Medications

Prescription medications like Adderall and Ritalin, used for management of ADD and ADHD, are wildly popular among college students as a study aid. Young adults visit physicians and after a perfunctory examination, come away with a prescription for these powerful drugs. Others buy pills from those willing to sell doses of their prescriptions. Where once you would find students downing cup after cup of coffee to stay awake and focused, they now take these stimulants to keep their grades up.

"When we look at upperclassmen, the number really begins to jump [for ADD medication abuse]," says Alan DeSantis, professor of communications at the University of Kentucky who has conducted research on stimulant use in college. "The more time you stay on campus, the more likely you are to use." - CNN.com


If your college student is taking medication for ADD or ADHD, emphasize that selling tablets is not only wrong, but illegal, and your young adult could be in legal trouble if anything should happen to the person using the pills.

Abuse of Adderall and Ritalin doesn't end with college. Young adults in high pressure jobs who are exhausted and stressed will sometimes take these medications to help them perform better at work.


Between 1993 and 2005, the proportion of college students using prescription drugs went up dramatically:  use of opioids such as Vicodin, Oxycontin, and Percocet increased by 343 percent. - The Clinton Foundation

College students are using prescription pain killers to get high more than ever before. As these medications are prescribed more and more for injuries and pain, young adults find that they can get access to them easily, whether through their own prescription or that of a parent.

The biggest problem with these medications is that they are highly addictive, and when the mainstream resource dries up, users are forced to look to illegal drugs to get high. Be sure to keep prescription drugs in your home in a safe place, and never hand them out freely for aches and pains.

Xanax, Valium and Ativan are anti-anxiety drugs that are often shared among college kids for everything from insomnia to depression. These are, like painkillers, highly addictive.

According to dosomething.org, 1/3 of students will abuse prescription medications during their college career.

"Designer" or Manufactured Drugs

Flakka, Molly (Ecstacy) and Spice (synthetic marijuana) are just 3 of the synthetic drugs that college students and young adults are using. The danger with using these drugs is that there is no regulation to how they are made, unlike prescription drugs, and can contain deadly chemicals and combinations of chemicals that young adults cannot be aware of when the drugs are taken.