The harmful effects of substance abuse on college students

Micahel McShane
Staff Writer

College students must go through many challenges before they walk down the stage to retrieve that diploma, but over the course of many years now, a new challenge has fallen on the laps of countless college students throughout the nation – substance abuse.

Substance abuse, which can range from alcoholism to addition to a wide variety of dangerous and addicting drugs such as heroin and prescription pills, have increased alarmingly in the past decade.

Around one in four college students have used an illegal drug in the past month, according to a study done in 2015 by the Institute of Drug Abuse. Illegal drug use by college students have risen from 34 percent in 2016 to 43 percent in 2016.

Young adults finally finding freedom out of their parents’ homes find themselves tested by their new-found freedom to try new things with new friends. The adrenaline of letting go, having fun and trying new things can place many college students in serious danger. 

The reality of the situation is that many drugs are not only addictive, but deadly. Three North Mankato residents were hospitalized after they overdosed on heroin. All three are expected to survive, but it should be a reminder that such drugs do not consider the age of the person taking it.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, opioid overdose deaths reach well into the thousands nationally in the college age group.

Thad Shunkwiler, a professor at Minnesota State University, Mankato who teaches drug education said, “Drug overdose is a serious medical situation. Whether it be a friend who has had too much to drink or a complete stranger who cannot respond to you, calling emergency medical professionals could be the difference between life and death.”

Legally accessibly to many, alcohol remains on the top of substances abused by college students worldwide. Around 32 percent of college students reported binge drinking in a two-week timeframe. 

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that about 1,825 college students die year-round, with thousands of students being sent to the emergency room due to alcohol poisoning.

Students walking the hall may have noticed a pamphlet taped to the walls addressing how to detect if someone is going through alcohol poisoning. Going through the list of signs which each first letter spelling out “MUST HELP”, it represents the grim part of student life.

“Alcohol remains the number one substance that college students abuse,” said Shunkwiler. “Alcohol remains number one in part by access, there just as many liquor stores as bookstores around campus, and also by our culture which has normalized excessive use of alcohol by college students.”

Teachers themselves must deal with students coming to class either in morning classes when students had a little too much the night before or at night classes after students return after a trip to “happy hour” at the bar. 

However, this way of living could have serious repercussions further down the road that is more severe than a bad grade. Students using illegal drugs to combat a rough day or to simply get that high are at risk of putting their future on the line. 

“There will always be a portion of students who want to change the way they feel for recreational purposes,” Shunkwiler states. “What’s been growing in the past several years are students who are changing the way they feel because they aren’t feeling well.”

Stress and depression are just a few of the many causes as to why students drift toward dangerous addictions. Drugs are seen as that escape from the outside world. Shunkwiler himself hits the nail on the coffin when he said, “People lack non-chemical coping strategies in life.”

Students who do see themselves with an addiction shouldn’t feel afraid to find help. Minnesota State has multiple different avenues students can go through to find help. Student Health Services and the counseling center have the ability to help students going through substance abuse as well as any underlying issues that got them into that addiction.

“Students in college will always see drugs as a recreational way change the way you feel,” said Shunkwiler. “But far too many are leaning on these drugs to cover up the real problem, and that is where we need to focus our efforts in combating substance abuse on this campus and on college campuses everywhere.”

Header photo courtesy of Flickr.

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