6 Factors Contributing to Substance Use Among College Students

college substance use

When you hear the word college, what mental picture slips into your mind? Often, it’s something painted with the figments of young adulthood, independence, and freedom. This freedom creates room for many kinds of experiences and some may even dabble into college substance use.

A study on college substance use showed an increase in alcohol and marijuana use between 2015 and 2018. In this blog, we’ll discuss the various factors that contribute to alcohol consumption and drug use among students including prevention tips and resources for support.

peer pressure
Source: Roots Through Recovery

6 Factors That Contribute to Substance Use Among College Students

Social and Peer Influences

Away from home, the desire for a sense of belonging in the new environment is higher than ever. Peer pressure does not make this any better. 

Students who find themselves in cliques where substance use is a norm may try it out to feel accepted. Others may be pressured into it with exclusion threats or teasing. 

Then there are sororities and fraternities, and the desire to identify with them worsens the pressure. Heavy drinking and competitive drinking games are a culture in these groups especially during parties hosted by members. 

The hazing rituals before acceptance into these sisterhoods (sororities) and brotherhoods (fraternities) often involve heavy alcohol or drug use. This may desensitize students from the risks involved and raise their chances of developing an addiction. 

Academic Stress and Mental Health

Rigorous academic work and the pressure to perform well in a competitive academic environment may breed feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.

Self-judgment may set in and the comparison of oneself to peers who are doing better could worsen the stress and anxiety. The schedules, tight deadlines, and cumbersome workload can create a sense of lost-control and hopelessness.

Alcohol and drug use may offer a temporary escape from these emotions and the short-lived relief often leads to continued use. If the underlying issue is not addressed, one’s mental health may deteriorate and some students may self-medicate or use stronger drugs to cope with the anxiety, sleep problems, or depression. 

Accessibility and Exposure

The high prevalence of college substance use is largely tied to easy access to these substances. When students can get drugs or alcohol from their friends or social circle, there’s a higher tendency to experiment and even see substance use as normal. 

Over time, the use of these substances start to impact their health, academic performance, and relationships. And with social circles who indulge in similar habits, getting help can be difficult. 

Stringent campus policies and the enforcement of consequences can help reduce the accessibility of substances on campus. A collaboration between law enforcement agencies, mental health professionals, and support services will ensure the right laws are enforced with adequate treatment options for students struggling with substance use. 

party culture
Source: Unsplash.com

Transition and Independence

Starting college is like treading unfamiliar waters. While settling into the demands of academic life, there is the need to build a social life too. 

College social life is rife with party culture. These parties are a form of stress management for many students but alcohol consumption and drug use appears to be a common part of these parties. With a backdrop of peer pressure, resisting substance use may mean an end to one’s social life.

Due to loved ones and support systems being far away, building a home away from home and being accepted among popular groups may become a priority. So for many, alcohol consumption and drug use starts out in these circles and over time morphs into dependence. 

Media and Cultural Representations

Though the effect of media and culture representation is often underestimated, it’s a powerful tool that shapes our perceptions and behaviors, and college life is no exception.

The depiction of parties and celebrations involving alcohol and drug use as a part of the college experience could lead to the normalization of its use. There’s also the glamorization and the portrayal of substance use as something cool people with thriving social lives do. 

The dark side of substance use like dependence and associated health issues is often soft-pedaled by the media. It is sometimes displayed as some sort of coping mechanism for dealing with things like stress, anxiety, or boredom.

The media presentation of incomplete information can contribute to indulgence in these risky behaviors and users may fail to fully fathom the consequences of their actions. 

Prevention and Support Strategies For College Substance Use

While there are no perfect strategies, there are simple prevention and support strategies that can be implemented to manage substance use. These strategies include:

Spread Awareness

There are gaps in awareness on how much harm alcohol and substance use brings. Campaigns that focus on shedding light on these habits would be effective in reducing substance use rates.

stress management
Source: Roots Through Recovery

Promote Healthy and Inclusive Social Events

Social networks and events that offer alcohol free activities and are inclusive of students from diverse backgrounds will provide students with opportunities to interact with like-minded people and build healthy social lives.

Advocate For Access Restrictions

Limiting alcohol outlets near campuses and the enforcement of drinking and drug sale laws will reduce access and by extension, use of these substances. The implementation of clear policies on substance use within campuses will also reduce indulgence. 

Building Emotional Resilience

College is tough and life can hit hard. Developing healthy coping mechanisms will equip you with the needed skills to navigate rigorous activities.

Access to Mental Health Services

A soft landing is not impossible and with access to the right mental health services, transitioning to college shouldn’t be so difficult to navigate.

How to Maintain Sobriety in College

Maintaining sobriety all through college is achievable and definitely something you should prepare for. Yes, the prevalence rates may sound discouraging but all you need is to be armed with the right prevention strategies. 

Above all, know your triggers. This could be people or emotions or situations. Map out the strategies that’ll help you avoid your triggers. Develop strategies to help you cope with stress and relax. It could be meditation or anything you find soothing.

Invest in building a support network by connecting with people interested in staying sober. Consider therapy if there are underlying issues you’re dealing with and most importantly, don’t be afraid to say no to things that make you uncomfortable.

When you find yourself in tempting situations, remind yourself of your goal and the benefits of staying sober such as a good academic performance and stronger emotional well-being.

prevention strategies
Source: Pexels.com


Vulnerability lies at the core of college substance use. With adequate awareness, support networks, and commitment to healthy lifestyle choices, this lingering issue in college environments can be drastically curtailed.

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol or drug use, know that you can overcome it with the right support. It’s no battle for a lone ranger! Reach out to Roots Through Recovery today to take the right steps towards becoming fully sober again.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


“I am so grateful to be an alumni of Roots. Roots took me from my darkest of places, to the brightest and most beautiful part of life I've ever lived. They genuinely care about their clients. You will not be a number or a paycheck here. After discharging in February, I still receive help and words of wisdom whenever needed. Roots helped me battle things I'd been struggling with for over 14 years and finally put them behind me. I love roots with all my heart, and always will.”


“Just got 365 days sober today all thanks to these people at Roots. And saved my marriage.”


“It's great to see such a high quality of care program in Long Beach! The entire staff shows great care and compassion for their clients. The therapists are among the best around. Their admissions and case management is compassionate and driven to help you succeed! If your looking for help with trauma or substance abuse, this is the place for help!”


“Very serene setting, you feel right at home when you walk in. The staff are super nice and really care about their clients.”


“The most compassionate and knowledgeable staff! Roots Through Recovery offers the best addiction care and treatment available. They use multiple disciplines to cater to a wide variety of clients. Music therapy, art therapy....you name it, Roots has it! Do yourself a kindness and check them out. You'll be glad you did.”