While alcohol is the drug of choice for most college and university students, they also misuse illicit and prescription drugs and the use of “date-rape drugs” is on the rise.
The annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) studies by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research show that the use of illegal drugs by college students declined during the 1980s, but began creeping up again after 1990. Students who misuse drugs are at higher risk of physical and sexual violence, poor school performance, and a host of physiological and psychological consequences. These risks are magnified when illicit drug use is coupled with high-risk drinking. Additionally, student drug use is linked to increased crime and declining academic performance, and this in turn affects the entire campus and its surrounding community.
Increased prevention efforts on campus are helping to reduce drug use behaviors among students. College students are much less likely than their non-college peers to use all illicit drugs except for rohypnol, ketamine, and Ritalin. According to the MTF studies, drug use among teenagers may have peaked in 1996, with a subsequent decline in use.
As with the prevention of alcohol use, campus officials should use an Environmental Management Approach to other drug use on campus. A comprehensive approach that combines educational and environmental prevention programs along with measures to address the needs of users is desirable. Fully integrated and complementary programs will serve to change the broader environment with respect to these substances, sending the message that using these drugs is neither expected nor necessarily accepted among students, and that policy violations will be consistently and stringently enforced. At the same time, students in crisis who are in need of treatment and referral services can be addressed in such a way that acknowledges their desire to change their behavior. Campus administrators can address this problem in concert with several constituencies, working with faculty, students, campus and local law enforcement, and members of the surrounding community to prevent drug use by students. The Higher Education Center’s Environmental Management approach to prevention is a sound framework for comprehensive drug prevention efforts in higher education.
The drugs most frequently used by college students can be broken into the following four categories:
Many illicit drugs that have long been part of the street scene are a noticeable presence on campus as well. Marijuana is the most frequently used illicit drug in the United States, and its use among college students has increased over the past several years.
Anabolic steroids are misused by students who want to enhance their athletic performance and improve their appearance. Ephedra, commonly abused as an over-the-counter weight loss substance, has many dangerous side effects.
The most widespread illicit drugs used for sexual assault are GHB, Ketamine, and Rohypnol. These drugs, along with Ecstasy, LSD, and Methamphetamine, are considered club drugs.
In recent years, Ritalin has become one of the most abused prescription drugs, with many college students using the drug to stay alert to study and while partying. OxyContin has recently gained notoriety as a commonly misused prescription narcotic pain reliever.