Keg Parties. Greek Life. Cheap alcohol. Tailgating. All combined with a new freedom and lack of supervision when thousands of students go off to college every year.

What is “normal” college drinking?

If you are a college student, it is likely that you are regularly exposed to alcohol and/or drugs. In many ways, drinking and experimenting with other substances in college is seen as the norm. In the college setting, it is easy to confuse what is normal and what isn’t. There is no shortage of movies- from Animal House back in 1978, to more current movies such as “Neighbors”, “Old School”, and “Van Wilder”- that show the college experience as being intoxicated all day and at wild, themed parties every night. And indeed, some colleges likely come close to these over-exaggerations. But for some students, this lifestyle can easily segue into alcoholism or drug addiction.

Soon, drinking and drug use become less about being social, and you might begin feeling like you NEED to drink or use drugs to have fun or get through withdrawal symptoms/“hangovers”. The consequences might start to pile up- legal troubles, problems with relationships, physical deterioration, poor grades, worried and angry parents. As many in recovery from substance abuse say, “First it was fun. Then it was fun with problems. Then it was just problems.” But many students think, “How could I possibly have a problem? I’m just doing what everyone else around me is doing. This is normal.” But the problem is, it isn’t. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports the following statistics:

  • 1,825 college students under age 25 die yearly from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including car crashes
  • 19% of college students under 25 met the criteria for an alcohol use disorder
  • Each year an estimated 599,000 students under 25 suffer accidental injuries under the influence of alcohol
  • About 25% of college students report having academic consequences because of their drinking (such as missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall)

Further, the newfound freedom and influence of peer groups in college can also encourage experimentation with and progression to problem drug use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse releases an annual survey, Monitoring the Future (MTF), provides data and up-to-date statistics on smoking, drinking, and illicit drug use among American high school and college students. The 2013 edition of MTF reported that daily marijuana use among college students was at its highest level in three decades, and amphetamine use (i.e. Adderall/Ritalin) nearly doubled between 2008 and 2013.

How do I know if I have a problem?

There are many ways you can determine whether you have a drinking or drug problem, but likely the easiest place to start is by taking the confidential online assessments provided by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. They provide tests for both alcoholism and drug addiction. The key is, answering the questions honestly.

So what do I do if I think I have a problem?

Many college students ignore obvious problems with substance abuse because of a fear of change. Many are convinced that their behavior is normal, or that they can’t imagine their college lives without drinking or using. A common misconception is that getting sober young means you will never have fun again, or will be missing out. But the truth is, if you really are an addict or an alcoholic, things will only get worse. Consequences will continue to build, and you can take action to do something different before your consequences are jail or death. Many areas have large networks of young people in sobriety- a surprising fact for most. There ARE people your age, who have been where you’ve been, and have found a way out. Life can be so much more fulfilling- you can have fun and enjoy college without risking your freedom, relationships, or the health/life of yourself and those around you.

If you want to try something different, check out your local AA/NA meeting listings, and find the Young People’s groups. If you might need detox services or a more structured form of recovery, call the admissions professionals at Serenity Acres today for a free, confidential conversation, to determine whether inpatient treatment is right for you.