10 Signs Your College Student is Struggling with Addiction


You may know from personal experience or from watching television, but college is frequently a time for heavy substance abuse. Binge drinking, drug experimentation and risky behavior in general are all closely linked to the college years and often considered rites of passage. Although it would be great if there was no alcohol or drug abuse happening on college campuses, this is closer to a fantasy than a reality.

Many parents have experimented with drugs or alcohol in the past and may think that it’s no big deal. But addictions are often formed before a person turns 21, and bad habits developed in young adulthood can plague a person into old age. Rather than waiting years for an addiction to become increasingly severe, be mindful of the warning signs now so that you can stop a small problem from turning into a catastrophe.

Early Intervention is Essential

Nearly 70 percent of high school students have tried alcohol and about half have taken an illicit drug by the time they are seniors. People are most likely to begin using and abusing drugs and alcohol as adolescents and young adults.[1] Some do it to try to have fun, others do it to fit in and some also do it to help academic performance. Whatever the reasons, young adult and adolescent substance abuse can prove problematic later in life.

“The majority of people who have an SUD developed it before age 20.”

This is a critical window for the development of substance use disorders (SUDs), as the brain is still developing. Although most teens and young adults will not progress past experimentation to a fully developed SUD, even experimentation can be dangerous. The majority of people who have an SUD developed it before age 20, and the likelihood for developing an SUD is greater for individuals who begin using as teenagers.[2]

It’s critical for parents, siblings and close friends of college students to watch out for potential signs of drug or alcohol addiction. However, without being around the person 24/7, how can you be sure if a person is abusing drugs or alcohol?

10 signs of addiction in college students

The number 1.

Failing Grades

Academics will often be the first thing to suffer when a student is struggling with substance abuse. Drug and alcohol use can cause sleeping problems and disrupt a person’s life to the point where there is little time for school work.

The number 2.

Skipping Classes

This is related to academic performance and could be indicative of shifting priorities; meaning that your student may choose to get high or drunk over going to class. This is problematic for an endless number of reasons. Several studies have found that a large percentage of college academic problems and dropouts are alcohol and/or drug related.[3]

The number 3

Sleeping During the Day

It’s hard to stay awake and be alert during the day if you spend your evenings and early morning hours abusing drugs or alcohol. Finding your college student asleep at 3:00 pm on a weekday could be a sign that something’s up.

The number 4.

Unexplained Financial Difficulties

We all know that most college students have very little money because they are spending their time in school instead of working. However, you may have an idea of how much money your son or daughter makes at a part-time job, or you may even be their income source. Try to be aware of what he or she is spending money on; having no cash and nothing to show for it may indicate they’ve been spending on drugs.

The number 5.

Sudden Mood Swings

Continuous drug and/or alcohol use will cause changes in the brain and negatively affect a person’s mood. Alcohol abuse can lead to increased depression, anxiety or anger, just as different drugs can lead to symptoms of mental distress.

The number 6.

Questionable Hygiene and Appearance

When a person is focused on doing drugs and drinking alcohol, it can be easy for him or her to neglect basic hygiene. If your son or daughter seems to always be unkempt, substance abuse could be the reason.

The number 7.

Mixing Drugs

You may not have a problem with your son or daughter drinking because it’s legal. But if your college student starts mixing those drinks with prescription pills or over-the-counter-drugs, it could be a sign that he or she has developed tolerance and needs more substances to achieve the desired high. This is one of the tell-tale signs of an addiction forming.

The number 8.

Family History

A person’s family history is strongly linked to his or her propensity to develop an addiction. If you or someone else in your family has a history of addiction, be sure to pay extra close attention to your college student.

The number 9.

Lack of Motivation

Has your college student gone from trying to join every club possible to just sitting on the couch? Continuous drug and/or alcohol abuse will lead to lethargy and a lack of motivation to do anything else but get intoxicated.

The number 10.

Inability to Make Contact

Have you been getting the feeling that your son or daughter avoids making eye contact with you? Does he or she not return your phone calls or avoid spending time with family? Substance abuse and addiction can cause a person to withdraw from those who are closest. If your daughter has suddenly become difficult to reach, it could be because she’s hiding substance abuse.

Whether you uncover a substance abuse problem in a 20-year-old or a 70-year-old, immediate treatment is the best possible option. The longer you let an addiction run wild without professional rehab, the worse it will get. Unity Behavioral Health works with patients of all ages and their families to help them reclaim their lives and achieve lasting sobriety. Contact us today to begin the road to sobriety.

[1] http://www.monitoringthefuture.org//pubs/monographs/mtf-overview2016.pdf
[2] https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/treatment-research/principles-drug-abuse-treatment-adolescents-summary
[3] https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=203650