College Culture and Substance Use

College is supposed to be a transition from teenage years to adulthood, but often the culture creates challenges – and consequences – that result from alcohol and drugs. This week’s guest blogger provides a candid overview of what’s going on, including some valuable sources for more information. Thank you, Sonia! MWM

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College is a time of change and new experiences. College freshmen, being away from their families, tend to latch onto their newfound relationships for support and guidance. While peers are important during the transition from living at home to living on campus, this time in a person’s life leaves room for peer influence.

Peer pressure is a key factor in the development of risky behaviors. Peers may be negative influences, encouraging risky behaviors, supplying dangerous items or introducing their friends to questionable new activities. Many college students, being vulnerable and impressionable, begin modelling these behaviors and regard the abuse of substances as a positive and socially acceptable experience.

A 2014 Monitoring the Future survey, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, reported that college students smoked marijuana more often than they drank alcohol on a daily basis.

From 1994 to 2014, daily alcohol use among college students increased from 3.7 percent to 4.3 percent, while daily marijuana consumption increased from 1.8 percent to 5.9 percent. Although Adderall use is decreasing among college students, cocaine use increased from 2.7 percent in 2013 to 4.4 percent in 2014.

Alcohol use is higher among college students than among their non-college peers. An article published in the NYU Applied Psychology OPUS attributes this factor to the social identity theory, which states that an individual’s self-concept is based on the groups they associate with.

Because they want to be socially accepted, students think they must mingle with a certain group. If that group consists of substance-using individuals, it is likely that the college students end up using drugs or alcohol to fit in. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, college freshmen are the most vulnerable to substance abuse influences during the first six weeks of college.

The Three Dimensions of Peer Pressure

College students experience three dimensions of peer pressure:

  • Direct influence
  • Modeling other people’s habits
  • Perceived habits

Active offers of drugs and alcohol to college students make up direct influence. It can be in the form of a simple suggestion to continual encouragement to use substances in order to fit in the group. While the individual has no intention of consuming drugs or alcohol, they usually cave from the peer pressure.

Contrary to the first dimension of peer pressure, the second dimension is an indirect influence, which the NYU article defines as a temporary imitation of peers’ habits. The article mentioned that college students were more susceptible to consuming more alcohol if they were exposed to heavy-drinking models, as opposed to lighter or no models. College freshmen tend to be candidates for heavy alcohol consumption, but the article noted that this behavior decreases by the time they graduate.

Stemming from a misconception by the individual, perceived habits — the third dimension of peer pressure — is arguably the most dangerous. Perceived drinking norms influence college students through the observation and comparison of their peers’ drinking levels. Students typically end up overestimating the amount of alcohol their peers are drinking, thus engaging in hazardous drinking practices.

The NIAAA’s College Fact Sheet mentions that students attending schools with core Greek systems and prominent athletic programs are more likely to drink more than students who attend other schools. Similarly, alcohol consumption is higher among students living in Greek houses than among those living at home with their families.

However, research revealed that students whose parents previously discussed the dangers of drugs and alcohol with them had a lower incidence of frequent drinking. This reinforces that parental guidance has a great role to play in college students’ substance using behaviors.

Aside from parental support, colleges should implement awareness and prevention strategies that target at-risk students, including freshmen, student athletes and members of Greek life. These strategies should aim to prevent and reduce incidences of substance abuse by educating the students and changing their perceptions about drugs and alcohol.

Colleges should also look into implementing collegiate recovery communities to help current student struggling with substance use disorders through their recovery journey.

Sources:

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015, September). College-Age & Young Adults. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/college-age-young-adults

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2015, December). College Fact Sheet. Retrieved from http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/CollegeFactSheet/CollegeFactSheet.pdf

Palmeri, J.M. (n.d.). Peer Pressure and Alcohol Use amongst College Students. Retrieved from http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/appsych/opus/issues/2011/fall/peer

By Sonia Tagliareni

sonia-imageSonia Tagliareni is a writer and researcher for DrugRehab.com. She is passionate about helping people. She started her professional writing career in 2012 and has since written for the finance, engineering, lifestyle and entertainment industry. Sonia holds a bachelor’s degree from the Florida Institute of Technology.

Guest blog posts are welcome additions to the content on this website. Guest blog posts represent the views, opinions and experiences of the author and do not necessarily represent Our Young Addicts. Together, we provide parents and professionals with a variety of perspectives and information.

©2016 Our Young Addicts   All Rights Reserved.

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