Drugs, Alcohol and Academics

The rising trends of substance use in school

Alcohol has long been a problem on the college campuses, not only stifling the educational growth of some but also leading to significant legal and medical consequences. Not only is this trend continuing, but we are now faced with the growing use of other substances including synthetic marijuana like K2 and Spice and the prevalence of opioids. Ramsen Kasha, the executive director of Hazelden in Chicago, walks through what these substances do to the body along with the signs and symptoms of use and some steps that can be taken to help curb this trend.

Access the on-demand recording of the webinar: Drugs, Alcohol, and Academics—The Rising Trends of Substance Use in School.

Key Takeaways


  • Alcohol is the only substance that can affect all organ systems
  • Binge drinking is defined as 3+ drinks for an average female or 4+ drinks for an average male
  • Withdrawal from alcohol is the most dangerous of all drugs
  • Once swallowed, it takes alcohol about 30 seconds to affect the brain

Short-term effects of alcohol abuse include:

  • Slower reaction
  • Blurry vision
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nausea
  • Loss of inhibition
  • Alcohol poisoning

Long-term effects of alcohol abuse include:

  • Heart: weakened, high blood pressure, risk of stroke
  • Brain: destroyed brain cells, permanent damage to movement, vision, hearing
  • Liver: Impaired ability to work, cirrhosis

In 2013, "39% of college students aged 18-22 engaged in in binge drinking" (five or more drinks on an occasion) in the past month compared to 33.4% of non-college students of the same age.

In 2013, 12.7% of these same college students reported periods of heavy drinking (binging on five or more occasions per month) compared with just 9.3% of non–college students of the same age.

  • Roughly 20% of college students meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder (AUD).
  • About one in four report academic consequences from drinking, including missing class, falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall.
  • 1,825 college students die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes.
  • 696,000 students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
  • 97,000 students report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.


Short-term effects of marijuana use include:

  • Initial sense of calm
  • Increased appetite

Long-term effects of marijuana use include:

  • Loss of motivation
  • Decreased attention span
  • Increased irritability
  • Withdrawal from friends, activities, and interests
  • Decreased high (tolerance)
  • Hallucinations possible
  • Bronchitis
  • Clogs up the parts of the body with highest fat ratio

Daily marijuana use:

  • College students: 5.9%
  • Young adults: 6.9%

Medical Marijuana Benefits:

  • Sense of calm
  • Increased appetite
  • Decreased nausea

Medical Marijuana Side-effects:

  • Decreased effectiveness of white blood cells
  • Increases likelihood of other health risks
  • Inaccurate dosing

Opioids (also known as opiates):

Effects of opioids:

  • Alleviate pain
  • Produce a high
  • Slows down heart rate
  • Painful withdrawal
  • Higher likelihood for overdose

Opioid use trends:

  • Drug overdose deaths from prescription opioids exceed deaths from automobile accidents
  • 125,000 opioid overdose deaths in last ten years
  • Prescription opioids have become the fastest growing addiction in the U.S.
  • Five-fold increase in treatment admissions for opioid dependence between 1998-2008
  • Overdose deaths have radically increased from 3000 (1999) to 15,000 (2008)
  • Opiate overdoses tripled in last 20 years
  • Highest risk group is age 15-24
  • In 2011, 219 million prescriptions for opioids were written in the U.S.
  • From 2001 to 2008, narcotics prescriptions as a share of all drugs used to treat workplace injuries jumped 63%, according to insurance industry data
  • Healthcare costs for those who abuse opioids are reported to be eight times higher than non-abusers

Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation's Experience:

  • Increased admissions for opioid dependence:
  • Adults: 19% (2001) increased to 30% (2011)
  • Youth: 15% (2001) increased to 41% (2011)
  • Problems with ASA (Against Staff Advice) discharges, treatment retention
  • Unit milieu issues
  • Use of opioids during treatment
  • Increased incidence of death following treatment


Stimulants like cocaine and others create euphoria, as well as enabling users to stay awake longer for studying and partying

Synthetic Drugs

  • Synthetic drugs are substances created in labs that mimic highs from other chemicals
  • Examples include K2 (Spice), bath salts
  • Biggest risks include accessibility, variability of ingredients

Why is There so Much Substance Use in College?

  • To feel good, or at least feel better
  • Boredom
  • Curiosity
  • To fit in
  • Increased freedom, for some, it’s the first time
  • Increased pressure to perform/responsibility
  • Social pressure/changed social "norms"
  • Misconceptions that are considered true by "groupthink"

What We Can Do to Help:

  • Earlier and more frequent education
  • College counseling/disciplinary boards work closer with addiction treatment centers
  • Train all pertinent staff on identifying signs of being under the influence
  • Train staff on use of naloxone, and include in emergency preparedness kits.
  • Grow and host groups that support sober activities.
  • Challenge misconceptions!

Find more information and register for our upcoming professional development webinars.

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