Texas Tech University

Substance Use

By: Neetha Devdas, M.A.

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College is an exciting time for many reasons – you're learning more than ever in your life, meeting new people, and becoming more independent. You may be away from family for the first time and may finally be able to try out some things on your own. You are also likely to be faced with challenges that may or may not have been known to you before. One such challenge includes making decisions about using alcohol and other drugs.

Almost half of all full-time college students abuse some type of drug, including alcohol, at least once a month. There are many reasons why people use alcohol or other drugs. In the beginning, many students begin using because they are curious or are looking to do something “fun.” Many students also say they drink or use drugs in order to relax, relieve stress, or hide from their problems. However, when people continue to use drugs excessively it is usually because they feel pressure from others or they begin to feel a dependence on a drug. Drug dependency or abuse is apparent when a person feels uncomfortable or anxious when they have not used their drug of choice for a short while or when they try to quit and experience these symptoms.

Substances most commonly used among Texas College students:

  • Tobacco – 52% of college students in Texas use some type of tobacco product. The majority of college students smoke tobacco in cigarettes. However, other products sometimes abused include cigars or chewing tobacco.
  • Alcohol – About 84% of Texas college students admit to drinking alcohol at some point in their lifetimes. Alcohol is the most commonly used substance among college students.
  • Inhalants – 5% of Texas college students admit to using some type of inhalant. Inhalants include any product that is sniffed or inhaled through the mouth (often referred to as huffing). Such products include glue, paint, hair spray, gasoline, or Freon.
  • Marijuana – 37% of Texas college students reported that they used marijuana in their lifetime. Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug
  • Cocaine – 9% of Texas college students reported that they had used cocaine at least once in their lives. Male college students were more likely to report that they used cocaine than female college students.
  • Stimulants – 10% of Texas college students reported that they have tried or used some type of stimulant. Stimulants include methamphetamines, Ritalin, speed
  • Hallucinogens – 10% of Texas college students reported using some type of hallucinogen in their lifetimes. Hallucinogens include LSD, mushrooms, and PCP
  • Heroin/Opiates – 5% of Texas college students reported using some type of opiate based drug. Such drugs include heroin, morphine, Vicodin, etc.

Consequences of Alcohol, Prescription Drug, and Illicit Drug Use

Hangovers are the most common immediate consequence of excessive alcohol use, and the one that students think of most commonly. However, there are additional problems of which students are sometimes not aware when using alcohol or illicit drugs. For example, about 23% of students who drank alcohol and 17% of students using illicit drugs, reported regretting something that they did while intoxicated. Many students reported that having temporary memory loss, arguing with friends, having blackouts, and not feeling in control when intoxicated.

Common academic problems related to excessive alcohol and drug use

Approximately one-quarter of students indicated that excessive alcohol and drug use has affected their academic careers. The following are common problems that students have indicated:

  • Interrupted sleep
  • Not sleeping enough
  • Sleeping too much
  • Missing classes
  • Forgetting assignments
  • Not being able to concentrate
  • Poor memory
  • Doing poorly on exams

Legal issues related to excessive alcohol and drug use

There are numerous legal issues that arise from students' use of alcohol.

  • Citations for underage drinking
  • Drunk driving (DUI, DWI)
  • Increased risk of unwanted sexual contact
  • Increased risk of vandalism
  • Public intoxication
  • Vandalism/Property Damage

Personal consequences

In addition to academic and legal issues related to alcohol use, there are also numerous personal consequences. For example, health related problems include weight gain, possible damage to the liver or brain, and risk of alcohol-poisoning. Over half a million students report sustainingsome type of injury while under the influence of alcohol, and about 400,000 students admitted to having unprotected sex while intoxicated. Approximately 100,000 could not remember giving consent, which would indicate a sexual assault had occurred. In the worst case scenarios, but unfortunately not totally uncommon, approximately 1,700 college students die each year from alcohol-related injuries. Many of these students died in car accidents while driving under the influence, being a passenger of someone under the influence, or being the victim involved in an accident with an intoxicated driver.

What to do if you think you have a problem with alcohol, prescription drugs, or illicit drug use

Remember that the most important thing about seeking help is acknowledging that you are struggling with your drinking or drug use. You may have noticed physical changes such as not sleeping well or gaining weight or losing weight. You may have noticed emotional changes such as feeling anxious or depressed. If you are unsure whether or not you have a problem, consider the following guideline:

Use of drugs is a problem if it is causing you physical, mental, social, legal, or financial problems. You may be taking it too much or too often. You may also feel you have been taking certain drugs for too long a period of time. You should also be concerned about your drug use if you feel it is not only you that is being impacted. For example, are you losing friends or is your family concerned about you?

Consider the following checklist when determining if you have a problem:

  • You have increased your drug use since you first started.
  • You are using drugs that are illegal or you are having drugs prescribed a doctor when you do not need it. You may also have more than one doctor prescribing for you.
  • Your friends and acquaintances are individuals who use drugs.
  • In social situations, or when you are stressed by changes in your life, you feel the need to take drugs.
  • You forget things that you said or things that you did while using drugs.
  • You lie a lot about your drug use.
  • You have have been unable to cut down or stop your drug use on your own.
  • You have increased your involvement in behaviors that are damaging to you.
  • You don't keep your word to others and find yourself lying a lot because of your drug use.
  • Individuals have told you that they are concerned about you because of your drug use.
  • You are falling back at work or school because of your use of drugs.
  • You are having problems with your close friends and family because of your use.
  • Your are having financial problems as a result of your use of drugs.
  • You are having legal problems because of your drug use.
  • You have hurt someone close to you or even yourself while on drugs.

If you can agree with any of the above statements, it is most likely that you are having an issue with your drug use.
Simple Steps to Help Yourself:

  • Be honest with yourself about the drug use.
  • Get educated on symptoms, recovery, and assistance.
  • Stop using your drug. You will most likely need help with this, so contact your health care provider for medical/mental health assistance.
  • Find supportive people to help you in your recovery.

For more information on the use of drugs among college students in the State of Texas, please refer to the “2005 Texas Survey of Substance Use Among College Students: Main Findings Report” by the Texas Department of State Health Services


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