Crossing the Line

The college experience has become a rite of passage for many American teens. From a young age, they’re conditioned to expect to attend college, and they expect it to be a party.  It’s as American as anything, and many incoming students look forward to consuming alcohol and other substances while at college as much as or more than getting an education.  But what happens when this acceptable tradition leads to substance misuse and addiction?  

  Those who partake in this aspect of ‘the college experience’ all too often end up worse for it.  Like some large-scale hazing ritual, college partying is often encouraged, and friends, family and society will frequently minimize the consequences. Those who can’t ‘handle’ their liquor or don’t enjoy heavily consuming substances are often pressured into it and made to feel different.  Issues and incidents may even be swept under the rug and deemed age-appropriate by authority figures and administrators. This can make college an intimidating experience full of pressure to experiment.  

  Even the term ‘experimentation’ implies innocence and normalcy to dangerous behavior, and many teens and young adults take this to heart, doing lots of experimentation with different substances. Many of them become addicted.

  Addiction arises from experimentation frequently. It’s far less common for someone struggling with a substance use disorder to begin their drug use with a legitimate prescription taken as directed. Though this does happen, even these people often have a history of some form of substance misuse.  

  When partying gets out of hand, it becomes a problem. According to, approximately half of college students aged 18-22 binge drink or abuse drugs.  And nearly one out of four students meets the criteria for substance abuse or dependence. These figures illustrate the problem, but it’s the solution where help is needed.  

  It can be very difficult for a college student to get help when they’re struggling with substance misuse. They’re often embarrassed to admit they have a problem.  If they do admit their problem, they may be met with ridicule from their peers, or their friends may be going through the same struggle and will minimize it, telling them it’s normal. Even those close to them may think it’s not a major problem and that they should just focus on their studies more.  

  However, the longer something like drug use is ignored, the worse it gets. When people are ashamed and feel the need to hide addiction, they can begin spiraling out of control. They’re forced to begin to lie and avoid others, and soon their grades and attendance will be affected. Without intervention, the person can quickly go from a successful student to failing and needing rehabilitation.

  Gambling with addictive substances regularly isn’t normal.  Colleges are supposed to be educational institutions where young adults can prepare for a life of success, not addiction.  When future leaders struggle to ask for help, paying closer attention and extending a hand are needed.  Let’s change the viewpoint that substance use is a normal part of college because it doesn’t have to be.  


About the Author

Robert Newman is an intervention professional who has been helping families with addicted loved ones for over 20 years. He has worked in one of the largest treatment facilities in the United States, doing drug prevention, counseling and intervention work during that time, and has been all over the world helping addicts. He has educated over 135,000 people on the dangers of drug and alcohol addiction, and has helped thousands of addicts enter treatment.