Many people first start abusing alcohol or drugs when they’re in college. For many students entering school, it’s the first time that they have been “on their own.” It should be exciting time to explore new interests, make new friends and find yourself.
Unfortunately, many students today live in a stressful world. The challenges faced in by students in college today surpass the stress of studying and test taking. Classes in school are highly competitive, often with tight homework deadlines and frequent exams. Modern students don’t just worry about schoolwork, however. Increasingly, the future students are faced with is an uncertain world. It’s easy to worry about student loans, future job prospects, and the increasing social instability shown in the media. School is stressful, and life is stressful. Developing health coping mechanisms is necessary to survival.
Mental Health and College Life
For some people, college is also a place to discover that mental health troubles are interfering with life and learning. Healthy coping skills may not come easily.
Many people become sad or anxious when they’re far from home for the first time. After a few weeks of settling into a new routine, most students adjust. Others may find it harder to adjust, and feel more stressed or pressure than they’re used to, developing anxiety attacks or other symptoms of a mental health disorder. Depression may sink in, causing feelings of hopelessness or lethargy. Up to 75% of people who live with a mental health disorder first had symptoms before the age of 24, and many people may not realize the symptoms until they’re away at school on their own.
The struggle is real for those who living with a mental health disorder and going to school at the same time. Symptoms of these disorders can often interfere with classwork and social lives. Counselors often describe students with major anxiety or depression. Some students come to school as with trauma-related health issues such as PTSD.
Some mental health organizations have said that there is actually a mental health crisis in the current generation of college students. Many young people have made it to college and found that they’re struggling with mental health issues. College life has a partying environment that is difficult to ignore, which can cause behaviors that exacerbate mental health disorders.
The good news is that there’s a big upswing of students who seek out help and get treatment for their disorders.
Why Do College Students Use Alcohol & Drugs?
• Experimentation: For a lot of people, college is a time of experimentation and, unfortunately excess when it comes to alcohol and drug. Binge drinking, prescription drug use and illicit drug use are common among college students. In fact, drug and alcohol abuse is twice as common in people who have been to college than not.
• Stress/Anxiety: Everyone wants to kick back and relax, but for many people in college, there’s so much stress that sometimes people use drugs or alcohol to help them with anxiety. Anxiety is more common than you’d think; a 2013 survey of college students revealed that 57% of women and 40% of men reported experiencing episodes of “overwhelming anxiety” in the past year.
• School Pressures: Some students find a rigorous college schedule difficult and overwhelming. This is why Adderall, and different forms of speed are sometime popular among the college crowd. Competitive athletes may also use performance drugs so that they can be more competitive.
• Peer Pressure: It may sound like a cliché, but many students who are on their own for the first time are doing their best to fit in. There are usually a lot of parties in college life, especially at the time that students are pledging themselves. Making new friends in school is important, and young adults often drink and use drugs to fit in with the crowd.
• Dependence/Addiction: For many people, experimenting with drugs soon turns to dependence on their drug of choice. Dependence occurs when it takes more of the same substance to feel the effects you felt before. Addiction is a disorder that occurs when a drug or alcohol significantly changes their life. People with opioid use disorders often find themselves breaking the law or being dishonest in order to get more of their drug. Addiction can occur with any mood or mind-altering drug, and it has more ups than downs.
Getting Help for Substance Abuse Problems and Co-Occurring Diagnosis
There are a lot of reasons people may pick up their first drug or start to abuse alcohol regularly. When it starts to affect your life and schoolwork negatively, it’s time to quit. You don’t have to go it alone, however. There are a ton of resources at your disposal to get the help that you need.
If you can’t quit even though you have tried, then you need professional help. If you want to quit but you aren’t sure how to get the support you need, then it’s time to reach out.
Having a Dual Diagnosis – Mental Health Matters
Mental health is an important aspect of your overall well-being. Sometimes, it’s important to take some time to really get help if you feel overwhelmed with symptoms of a mental health disorder.
Alcohol and drugs can often be a form of self-medication. If you’ve been feeling depressed or anxious and you’ve also been using drugs, you may need to get clean in order to begin learning new coping mechanisms. Treatment centers will also usually screen you for symptoms of a mental health issue and will monitor you after you get clean as well.
Take care of your mental health and get treatment and help when you start to feel overwhelmed with symptoms. (If you were diabetic, you’d go back to the doctor if you were always feeling unwell, right?) It is worth the effort to take the time to get the coping tools you need to do well in school, feel strong and be able to take on the challenges of your schoolwork.
Staying Clean in College
If you’re getting clean or planning to get into recovery, you may be worried that you won’t be able to return to school. Many schools are very understanding about substance abuse disorders and will offer students time off for a semester or two to get help for a mental health issue or enter a treatment center. If not, there is always the possibility of transferring to another school.
Ask your school about resources for students in recovery or with mental health challenges. Many college campuses host 12 step meetings or their own support groups for students in recovery. Some colleges have even started to offer recovery/sober housing for students who are in recovery or simply want to stay far away from the college party life.
If you’re in school and worried you may have a mental health disorder or a problem with drugs, please reach out to one of the treatment center hotlines. All calls are 100% confidential.