Drug use in college students

9 Signs of Drug Use in College Students

Drug use in college students is at an all-time high. A study done by The Future National Survey on Drug Use found that 45% of college students use an illicit drug.

If you’re worried if you or a friend in college is abusing drugs or alcohol or just using them socially, learn the 9 signs to recognize if there’s a problem:

  1.  Binge Drinking
  2. Failing Grades
  3. Reckless Behavior
  4.   Appearance
  5.   Lack of Interest
  6. Sleep Disturbances
  7. Changing Social Circles
  8. Sudden Mood Swings
  9. Social Withdrawal

Binge Drinking

How do you determine the difference between someone addicted to alcohol and someone that drinks socially? According to statistics, college students often engage in binge drinking which can make the behavior appear normal. However, a key sign of addiction to look out for is binge drinking on a regular basis.

What defines “binge drinking?” It’s frequently defined as five drinks or more in a two-hour period for men and four drinks or more in that same two-hour window for women. While no binge drinking situation is healthy, the regular occurrence of it, specifically in college students, is a sign there might be a more serious problem. Left untreated, Binge drinking often leads to addiction.

Failing Grades

Have you noticed a college student’s grades suddenly plunge for no apparent reason? Then it’s time to start looking at how much they’re drinking or using. While missing a class or two every few weeks isn’t abnormal, the student that is drinking or using every night and never showing up to class is a sign of a problem.

Oftentimes, to make up for time lost to substances, students will begin to try stimulants to give them more energy and stay awake to study, attempting to maintain their academics. However, this can lead to an unhealthy use of drugs or even to the use of prescription drugs, like Adderall. These prescription drugs can also lead to drug addiction.

Reckless Behavior

As the substance abuse grows stronger the decision-making process starts to slip and you or a person you love may begin to act unlike themselves. Look out for the following traits or signs in a person that has never shown them before:

  • Emotional, physical, or verbal abuse.
  • Neglectfulness of both property and people.
  • A greater likelihood to start fights or assault others.
  • A greater likeliness to say mean things.
  • Driving drunk.
  • Unprotected sexual activity.
  • Committing sexual assault.
  • Sex with zero recollection.
  • Putting their own safety at risk.
  • Putting other people’s safety at risk.

If any of the above is happening in your life, seeking help is the best course of action.


A student abusing drugs or alcohol will start to show changes in their appearance. A common sign of a student abusing booze or marijuana is weight gain.With other drugs, sudden weight loss may occur. Other common signs of abuse also include dark circles around the eyes, a lack of color in the face/cheeks, sallow skin, bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils, loss of personal grooming habits, tremors and more.

Lack Of Interest

An uncharacteristic lack of interest is another sign of excessive drug use. If a student is suddenly not attending extracurricular activities like clubs, sporting events, meetings with friends, etc., it could be because they are struggling with substance abuse. Isolating themselves may be for many reasons, some being depressing or anxiety, and is a common sign of drug misuse.

Sleep Disturbances

When a student shifts their entire lifestyle around a sleeping pattern that has them up all night and sleeping most of the day, take notice. Continuous drug and/or alcohol abuse will lead to lethargy and a lack of motivation to do anything else but get intoxicated.

In college, this can be tricky to observe due to the nature of going out at night and sleeping in the next morning. What’s important to distinguish is if there’s a change from before of the individual’s habits, how often this unhealthy sleeping pattern is occurring, and how it’s affecting their lives and the lives around them.

Changing Social Circles

A sure sign that something’s going on is when people who are abusing change their social circles – meaning the good friends are out and the newer, poorer influences are in. If their new friends are all about partying, you should be able to sense that something is afoot.

Again, this can be hard to know if this is due to a dangerous drug habit, since relationships naturally change and evolve, especially in college years. It’s important to take all factors into consideration, but still be wary about a dramatic change in friend groups.

Sudden Mood Swings

Continuous use of drugs and/or alcohol use causes changes in the brain and negatively affects a person’s mood. The National Institute on Drug Use explains that, “drugs interfere with the way neurons send, receive, and process signals via neurotransmitters.”

That’s one reason that alcohol abuse can lead to increased depression, anxiety, or anger, just as different drugs can lead to symptoms of mental distress. Withdrawal symptoms will cause agitation – when they are using, they seem happy, when they are not, they instantly become depressed.

Social Withdrawal

If a college student begins to withdraw and act secretive, there is a possibility that they are abusing substances or alcohol. Generally, it’s due to shame at their own behavior and their unwillingness to confront what they’re doing. The question is whether they should stop or if they simply are just not ready to quit. Noticing this and addressing it with the individual early is key in getting them the help they may need.

Getting Help for an Addiction

Once loved ones notice signs that a student has a problem, they should talk to the student about their concerns. With alcohol drug education and a quality rehab, the student can begin their recovery and stop fueling their addiction. Contact our skilled addiction and mental health professionals at Emerge Healing Center to learn more about our treatment and program options.