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College Drinking, Drug Use Grows More Extreme

One in Four Students Meet Criteria for Dependence

By

Updated February 12, 2014

Since 1993, the number of college students who drink and binge drink has remained about the same, but the intensity of excessive drinking and rates of drug abuse have jumped sharply, according to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in New York City.

A four-year study of college alcohol and drug use, Wasting the Best and the Brightest: Substance Abuse at America's Colleges and Universities, reveals that each month 49 percent of full-time college students, about 3.8 million, binge drink and/or abuse prescription and illegal drugs. In 2005, approximately 1.8 million of those students, 22.9 percent, met the medical criteria for substance abuse and dependence.

In the general population, an estimated 8.5 percent meet the criteria for substance abuse and dependence, making the proportion almost three times higher for college students.

Partying More Intense

Despite prevention efforts on campuses over the past several years, the report found that there has been no change in the proportion of students who drink (70 compared with 68 percent) and binge drink (40 compared with 40 percent) from 1993 to 2005.

Perhaps more disturbing, the study found that the frequency of excessive drinking has increased sharply:

  • Between 1993 and 2001, the proportion of students who binge drink three or more times in the past two weeks is up 16 percent.

  • Students who drink on 10 or more occasions in a month, up 25 percent.

  • Students who get drunk at least three times a month, increased 26 percent.

  • Students who "drink to get drunk," rose 21 percent.

Drug Abuse Up Sharply

But those increases pale in comparison to the increases of the percentage of students abusing drugs between 1993 and 2005:

  • 343 percent for opioids like Vicodin and OxyContin.
  • 93 percent for stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall.
  • 450 percent for tranquilizers like Xanax and Valium.
  • 225 percent for sedatives like Nembutal and Seconal.
  • 100 percent for daily marijuana use.
  • 52 percent for cocaine, heroin, and other illegal drugs.
According to the CASA report, an estimated 310,000 U.S. college students smoke marijuana daily and 636,000 students use illegal drugs (other than marijuana), such as cocaine and heroin.

Consequences of Abuse

Consequences of this trend to more extreme substance abuse on college campuses has been costly. According to the CASA report, those consequences include:

  • 1,717 deaths from unintentional alcohol-related injuries in 2001, up six percent from 1998.

  • A 38 percent increase from 1993 to 2001 in the proportion of students injured as a result of their own drinking.

  • A 21 percent increase from 2001 to 2005 in the average number of alcohol-related arrests per campus. In 2005, alcohol-related arrests accounted for 83 percent of all campus arrests.

  • 97,000 students were victims of alcohol-related rape or sexual assaults in 2001.

  • 696,000 students were assaulted by a student who had been binge drinking in 2001.

Acceptance Is Inexcusable

"It's time to get the 'high' out of higher education," said Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA's chairman, in a news release. "Under any circumstances acceptance by administrators, trustees, professors and parents of this college culture of alcohol and other drug abuse is inexcusable. In this world of fierce global competition, we are losing thousands of our nation's best and brightest to alcohol and drugs, and in the process robbing them and our nation of their promising futures."

"College presidents, deans and trustees have facilitated a college culture of alcohol and drug abuse that is linked to poor student academic performance, depression, anxiety, suicide, property damage, vandalism, fights and a host of medical problems," said Califano.

Finding Solutions

"By failing to become part of the solution, these Pontius Pilate presidents and parents, deans, trustees and alumni have become part of the problem. Their acceptance of a status quo of rampant alcohol and other drug abuse puts the best and the brightest -- and the nation's future -- in harm's way."

In response to the increase in intensity of drinking and drug abuse on college campuses, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse has issued Ten Key Actions for Colleges and Universities to Prevent and Reduce Student Substance Abuse.

Sources:

National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. Wasting the Best and the Brightest: Substance Abuse at America's Colleges and Universities. March 2007.

National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. Statement by Joseph A. Califano, Jr. on release of Wasting the Best and the Brightest: Substance Abuse at America's Colleges and Universities. March 2007.

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