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The Troubling Persistence of Substance Abuse on the College Campus

Unfortunately, substance abuse on college campuses is nothing new, but we have actually seen a troublesome rise in recent years. The following trends are worrisome, but this information is useless if we do not put it into the proper context. More than teaching youth about drugs and alcohol, we need to address the real reasons behind alcohol and substance abuse on the college campus. Conversations with your children need to include not only what is happening but also why.

Designer Drugs

Dragonfly, also known as Bromo Dragonfly, is a designer drug that was developed in a laboratory in 1998, but it is currently enjoying popularity on college campuses. This synthetic hallucinogen is designed to last a long period of time, generally two to three days, and it can take about six hours to begin to feel its effects. College students have experimenting with Dragonfly and other designer drugs because of its availability, misinformation, and unfamiliarity. All you need is a computer to obtain these powerful hallucinogens. Designer drugs are frequently advertised as being safe and legal on the websites that sell them. This lulls young people into a false sense of security.

Dragonfly is certainly not safe; some people have died after their first exposure. The long lasting hallucinating effects make it dangerous if the high turns negative, or if a user has negative reactions. The user will remain in a state of terror until the effects ware off.  While technically legal, its core structure is similar to hallucinogens that are considered Schedule 1 substances in the U.S. and Europe and could potentially be prosecuted. . It is important to emphasize that unless prescribed by a doctor, no drug is safe, and while the law may be a step behind in terms of prosecution, it will catch up eventually. A temporary, though extended, high is simply not worth the risk of death, irreversible physical damage, addiction, and criminal penalties.

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking continues to plague campuses in spite of efforts to curtail underage and excessive drinking. Clearly, the messages about alcohol we are relaying to our children have not been effective. Brimming with a sense of newfound freedom and agency, young people want to dive headfirst into the fun parts of adulthood, and alcohol is definitely associated with that. Telling them to simply not drink and drive does not curb their drinking. Instead they think binge drinking is okay as long as they walk home, a norm on college campuses. Reshape the conversation to include other consequences of excess alcohol consumption.

 “Wasting the Best and the Brightest,” a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, reported that due to alcohol abuse each year approximately 100,000 women are sexually assaulted, 700,000 students are injured, and 2,000 students die from violence and accidents. The same study also found that 15.1% of students had unprotected sex, making them vulnerable to STDs and pregnancy. Academic problems are also associated with alcohol consumption. Students with an A average tend to have 3 to 4 drinks a week, while students with a D or F average consumed 10 drinks or more each week. While the physical risks of binge drinking are very real, it is easy for a self-confident and smart college student to dismiss death, and addiction as unlikely. On the other hand, sexual and physical assaults, accidents, STD’s, pregnancy, and poor academic performance may seem far more in the realm of possibility. The chances of eliminating underage or binge drinking are slim, but we can encourage our children to make better choices.

Prescription Drugs

Another form of substance abuse that sadly does not show any sings of abating is using prescription drugs for ADHD, such as Adderall and Ritalin, to improve academic performance. One recent study indicated that 25% of students enrolled at competitive universities have taken “smart drugs” as a study aid. While these powerful stimulants are also controlled substances, many students view occasional use as harmless. Another study at the University of Kentucky reported that students consider Adderall slightly more dangerous than Mountain Dew and nowhere near as risky as drinking beer and smoking. If these medications are not a medical necessity, however, they can open the door to mood disorders, impaired cognition, and, of course, addiction.

Taking and possessing a schedule II medication that is not prescribed to you is a serious crime that is punishable with prison time. Adderall is an amphetamine after all.  Essentially, college students are taking speed in the name of academic achievement, and dismiss the very real dangers, both physical and criminal, associated with its use. Is it a lack of understanding, pressure to perform, or valuing achievement over integrity? It is difficult to say, but just as with Dragonfly and alcohol, students are choosing to abuse drugs and alcohol without fear of consequences.

If we want to make a difference when it comes to substance abuse on campus, we need to make sure students are educated and truly comprehend the risks associated with their actions. While more extreme consequences like death or prison time may be difficult for them to fathom, repercussions that they can relate to may prove to be more effective in the end. The most important thing we can do for our students is to impress upon them that each of is ultimately responsible for our own well-being and all of us are just one poor decision away from life altering events that can irrevocably damage our futures.