How Do You Know If Your Drug & Alcohol Use is Too Much?
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Francine Mends, MD on June 13, 2020
Are you out drinking with friends every night? Are drugs a part of your social routine in college?
American culture says that college is a time for partying, but many colleges are known for overdoing it. If you go to a college that’s known for being a party school, then you might have a harder time seeing that you have a problem.
Because drugs and drinking are so prevalent on campus, you could have an addiction problem and never know. When it’s socially acceptable to use substances, you’re less likely to think that your behavior is signaling a problem.
Still, take a look at these stats:
- Over 1.2 million college students drink alcohol every day
- Over 700,000 college students use marijuana every day
- Over 11,300 college students use cocaine daily
- Over 4,500 college students use heroin daily
In a single month, 3.5 million college students binge drink, and another 1.2 million drink heavily. That’s nearly 40% of American college students binge drinking on a regular basis!
If almost half of the students are engaging in unsafe substance use, the chances are good that your substance use is a problem—and you might never know it by comparing yourself to your peers.
Here’s how to tell if your alcohol and drug use is overboard in college:
Is Your Alcohol Use Too Much?
It can be hard to recognize problematic alcohol use in college.
Plenty of college students are part of Greek life and drink alcohol as a part of hazing rituals or events. Even students who don’t go Greek are at risk, as drinking is common at parties. When everyone around you is drinking, it can be hard to know if you’re drinking too much.
You can tell if your alcohol use is too much by looking at your behavior. If there are situations where you choose alcohol instead of your health or responsibilities, then you could be in trouble. These signs can include:
Drinking to Keep Up With Your Peers
It’s common for Greek events and even non-Greek parties to have a drinking atmosphere that’s almost competitive. Drinking games celebrate taking shot after shot without considering your individual limit.
If you’re drinking just because everyone around you is, then you could have a drinking problem. That’s especially true if you push your limits to keep up with your peers.
Drinking in the Morning and During the Day
It’s one thing to drink when you’re relaxing after a long day. It’s another to drink between classes or first thing when you wake up.
If you’re going to classes or labs while under the influence, then you’re jeopardizing your school performance.
Being unable to go long periods without alcohol is a huge indicator that you have a problem. If you’re drinking throughout the day or as soon as you wake, then you could have alcohol use disorder (AUD).
Drinking More Than 4-5 Drinks in a Sitting
You can check your alcohol use against the guidelines for recognizing binge drinking. They are:
- 4 drinks in one day for women
- 5 drinks in one day for men
If you tend to drink more than that in one sitting, at least once a month, then you could have a drinking problem.
The same is true if you drink more than 3 to 4 drinks daily on a consistent, long-term basis. If you have 3 drinks on the weekend, that’s probably fine. But if you have 3 drinks every school day too, then you’re pushing the limits of what’s safe and healthy.
Drinking When There Are Social Repercussions
Plenty of college students have done something stupid while under the influence. You probably know someone who’s burned a bridge with friends, parents or exes because they were drinking too much at school.
When drinking starts to affect your social life, you’re at risk of developing AUD, if you don’t have it already.
If you keep drinking even though it affects your behavior and makes you treat your loved ones badly, then it’s time to admit you have a problem.
Other social repercussions of drinking include:
- Poor work or school relationships
- Developing a reputation that you don’t want
- Trouble following through on social commitments
Drinking When it Causes Problems With School
Believe it or not, drinking can lead to serious problems with your grades. When you overuse alcohol, it can affect your:
- Cognitive performance
- Executive function, i.e., ability to plan and follow through on complicated tasks
All of these factors are important parts of learning. If you have poor cognition or short-term memory problems, then you’re not going to have much success studying no matter how perfect your methods are.
When you drink too much, you’re putting all of this at risk:
- Your grades
- Your scholarships
- Your class attendance
- Your lab performance
- Your sports performance
Is Your Drug Use Too Much?
Just like alcohol, drugs are a big part of college culture on some campuses. You can find people using nearly any kind of drug on campus, including:
- Students who use drugs like molly (MDMA) and lucy (LSD) at raves and parties
- Student-athletes who started using oxycodone or other opioids after an injury
- Students who use prescription stimulant drugs like Vyvanse or Adderall to study
- Students who use marijuana socially or rely on it for stress management
That’s only a few examples of the types of student drug use you might encounter in college. There are many more—4% of college students use cocaine, and benzodiazepine use (like Ativan or Xanax) among college students is 7.8%.
When you see so many people using substances every day, it can normalize substance use to some degree. You might not realize when your drug use becomes a problem because it doesn’t look that different from your peers’ habits.
Still, there are some signs that indicate you have a drug problem. Take the time to look at your drug use objectively and see if any of these signs are true for you:
When Drug Use Affects Your School Performance
Remember that even though college is a social experience too, you’re there for academics. If drug use affects your ability to perform at school, then your grades will be affected.
You could have a drug problem if you use drugs when you should be:
- Attending class
- Taking an exam
- Going to labs
Even if you do manage to go to class, exams, and labs, your grades can be affected.
Drug use has effects on your cognition, memory, executive function, and ability to learn. You can be doing everything right and still fail school if your drug use is out of control.
If you have trouble keeping your grades up because you can’t focus on school, then your scholarships or grants could be affected. You could even get academic probation.
When You Hang Out Just to Do Drugs
If your friend circle only gets together to party with molly or smoke weed, then you could have a drug problem.
When most of your social connections revolve around getting or using drugs, that’s a clear sign that your substance use is getting out of control.
People tend to take on traits of the people they surround themselves with, especially during formative times like college.
If you’re upping your drug use to keep up with your friends, then it may be time to start looking for other social connections. The same is true if you’ve decided not to quit using substances because you were worried you’d lose your friends.
When You Use Drugs in Higher Doses Because of Tolerance
Are you noticing that your drug use has been creeping up over time? When you use drugs long-term, some of them can cause tolerance.
Tolerance happens when your body gets used to the typical dose of a drug. You’ll need a higher dose of the same drug to get the same effect that you used to.
This is usually a feature of addictive drugs like opioids, stimulants, or benzodiazepines. If you keep increasing your dose over time, you can end up with an addiction. In the worst case, an overdose can happen, since you’re taking larger-than-usual doses.
If you see tolerance creeping in as an effect, it may be time to stop using drugs.
When Drug Use Gets You Into Legal Trouble
If you’re getting into trouble over drugs, then you should think about whether it’s worth it to find help.
It’s very common for problematic drug use to lead to legal trouble, such as:
- Drug charges, including possession and distribution
- Driving-under-the-influence charges (DUI)
- Criminal charges for other related crimes, like stealing to get drug money
Legal problems related to drug use can affect your college career and the rest of your life. Some schools will suspend or expel students who receive criminal charges. And those charges will follow you through adulthood, affecting your ability to get a job or buy a house.
When Drug Use Causes Adverse Health Effects
Last but not least, your drug use could be overboard if you keep using despite having negative health effects.
Many illicit and prescription drugs have negative health effects when you abuse them. For instance:
- Heroin that’s injected can cause abscesses, infections, and other vein problems
- Prescription opioids can cause stomach problems, immune system problems, and hormone problems
- Molly can cause heart problems
Even cannabis can cause health problems. Smoking excessively can cause lung problems, while dabbing or vaping can cause heavy metal ingestion or vitamin E poisoning.
No matter what the drug, if you’re getting sick and still using it, then that’s a good indicator that you might have a problem.
What to Do if You Have Problematic Drug or Alcohol Use
You think you have a problem, but you’re not sure what to do about it? You can take steps to find help, starting with social support, campus resources and treatment options.
You’re not alone. Last year, 2.4% of college students went into treatment for drug or alcohol abuse. Getting help boosts the odds that you’ll be able to recover from this setback and take back your college career.
The next step is the most important one—getting treatment for your substance use problem.
At treatment, your options may include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Group therapy
- Medication-assisted treatment
Getting treatment might sound scary, but it’s actually the first step toward the rest of your life! Check our directory to find treatment centers near your campus or hometown.
- A Day in the Life of College Students Aged 18 to 22: Substance Use Facts
- Drug and Alcohol Use in College-Age Adults in 2017
- Alcohol Facts and Statistics – Alcohol and College Students
- Drug and alcohol use treatment among college students by year US 2010-2019
- Opioid-addicted students pose new challenges for colleges
- Correlates of nonmedical use of prescription benzodiazepine anxiolytics: results from a national survey of U.S. college students
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