8 Strategies to Address Substance Misuse on Campus

8 Strategies to Address Substance Misuse on Campus

College marks a pivotal moment in students’ lives as it can be the first time that many of these young adults are living independently and away from home. With this newfound independence comes additional responsibility, such as adjusting to a new environment, meeting new people, managing the academic workload, and participating in extracurriculars.  Although this can be an exciting time in one’s life, it can also produce pressure and stress, which if not managed correctly, can lead to unhealthy decision-making. 

One major area of concern for colleges and universities is substance misuse. The temptation of substance use can increase as people are more confident in unfamiliar settings while intoxicated. More recently, rates of alcohol consumption among college students have increased as a result of campus closures and the transition to remote learning caused by COVID-19. Due to these increases in alcohol and drug use, it is important for students to be aware of the dangerous consequences that can arise from substance misuse. Below are a few statistics that provide better insight of the prevalence of alcohol and drug use with college students:

  • Approximately 80% have abused alcohol.
  • Approximately 31% report symptoms of alcohol abuse.
  • The proportion of students who abused tranquilizers like Xanax and Valium increased by 450%, between 1993 and 2005.
  • An estimated 110,000 students are arrested every year for an alcohol-related violation, such as public drunkenness or driving under the influence.

Alcohol Misuse

Research shows roughly 4 out of 5 college students drink alcohol. Out of those students, it’s estimated that 50% of them engage in binge drinking. Binge drinking involves drinking a dangerous amount of alcohol in a small amount of time. Even with research showing the dangers of excessive drinking, the number of students who binge drink continues to increase. Binge drinking can significantly increase the risks of developing health problems, mental illnesses, and reduce personal safety. 

Over-drinking can also lead to alcohol poisoning which can lead to long term effects on a student’s life such as liver damage, high blood pressure, inflammation of the pancreas and other health complications. Possibly the worst outcomes from binge drinking are accidental injuries or fatalities. About 1,519 college students die each year due to drinking. These fatalities from drinking can be due to binge drinking as well as various other accidents. It is important that colleges and universities promote safe drinking on campus.

Substance Misuse

Even though alcohol is the most popular substance to circulate on college and university campuses, there are a variety of other substances that students use, such as adderall, nicotine, marijuana, cocaine, MDMA, and LSD. 

Study drugs are prescription stimulants, like adderall or vyvanse, that are misused by students to help them focus or stay awake. Even though these are prescription drugs and are utilized to treat medical conditions, most students acquire adderall without one. Studies show that 74% of students receive their Adderall from friends

Party drugs (or club drugs) can be a mix of stimulants and depressants, such as cocaine, MDMA, LSD, etc, which are commonly found in party scenarios. However, the average use of these substances are lower at 5.2% (cocaine), 2.8% (MDMA), and 4.2% (LSD). 

There has also been a dramatic increase in students vaping, either with marijuana or nicotine. According to the National Institutes of Health, usage of marijuana and nicotine has more than doubled among college students in recent years. Research indicates that 1 out of 17 college students reports daily or nearly daily use of marijuana

How Substance Misuse Can Increase Safety Issues

Substance misuse can lead to a variety of long term effects that students may not be aware of as they begin and/or continue their academic experience, such as: mental illness, hazing, assaults, suicides, unintentional injuries, violence, or accidental deaths. 

Mental Illnesses

Substance misuse can be a key factor into the development of mental illnesses as well as cause them to worsen. It can trigger signs of depression, anxiety, mood disorders, increased suicidal thoughts, and other mental illnesses. In addition, substance misuse can affect one’s decision making process, which can lead to irreversible mistakes. Mental illness has become a prevalent issue on college and universities campuses, even more so with the COVID-19 pandemic. Read our Best Practices to Support Mental Health on Campus blog to learn more about how you can better support faculty, staff, and student mental health at your institution. 


Substance misuse is also a strong factor that contributes to hazing throughout student organizations. Hazing is becoming a huge issue on college campuses due to the fact that most individuals are hazed by being forced to consume large amounts of alcohol. Research shows that 60% of students are subjected to hazing while on campus and 82% of hazing-related deaths involve alcohol. To prevent hazing on campus, it is important to educate students on the consequences of hazing, implement anonymous tipping solutions, develop anti-hazing policies, and implement hazing education courses. To learn more about hazing, please visit our blog: National Hazing Prevention Week 2020

Violence and Assaults

Chances of violence can also increase when alcohol or other drugs are used. More than 690,000 students have been assaulted by someone who has been drinking. Additionally, about 97,000 students report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape. Reasons why alcohol and drugs could increase assaults are: alcohol affects a person’s ability to make logical decisions, people are easier targets if they seem intoxicated, and people are more vulnerable when under the influence. For more resources and information regarding sexual assualts on campus, visit our blog: Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2021

Academic Failures

Not only does substance misuse increase the chances of all of the horrible incidents listed above, it can cause students to do poorly in their classes. About 1 in 4 college students report academic consequences from drinking. Drinking or doing other drugs can even become a priority over attending classes, completing homework, or studying for exams. These three things can cause a student to fail a course which can cost thousands of dollars and push back that student’s graduation time. An even worse outcome would be, the student failing out of college altogether.

Prevention Strategies on Campus

As tragic as these statistics are, they can be prevented. Since we know 80% of students drink alcohol, it is important that institutions provide students with resources to help guide them on how to drink responsibly. If students do not engage in responsible alcohol and drug use, there is a higher possibility that dangerous outcomes can occur. Below are a few strategies colleges and universities can implement to make their campuses safer from substance misuse:

  • Create sobriety groups that encourage other activities than going out.
  • Offer resources such as how to drink responsibly.
  • Eliminate disciplinary actions against students seeking help for themselves or others.
  • Offer incentives to those who do not drink such as scholarships or free housing. 
  • Promote healthy alternatives for coping; through social media, common areas, email blasts, and more. 
  • Ban alcohol at school functions.
  • Require students to read your institution’s policies and procedures related to substance misuse and make them acknowledge their understanding.
  • Educate students on substance misuse through prevention education on an annual basis or on a frequency that makes the most sense for your institution.

Here’s How Vector Solutions Can Help

Vector Solutions offers various unique student courses for substance misuse. Implementing substance misuse prevention education courses can help educate students on the risks of experimenting with alcohol and other drugs. These courses are utilized to give students accurate information so that they are able to make better decisions when it comes to drug and alcohol use.

Our popular course, AlcoholEdu® for College is an interactive online program that uses the latest evidence-based prevention methods to create a highly engaging learning experience, inspiring students to make healthier decisions related to alcohol and other drugs.

This course has been taken by more than 11 million first-year college students since its launch in 2000.

We also updated our course, Cannabis: What You Should Know, which offers information to help students make informed decisions about cannabis use or non-use, including how to know when someone’s usage has become problematic.

Preview Our Substance Misuse Prevention Training

Alcohol Abuse Product Shot-500

Vector Solutions offers a variety of substance misuse programs that educate students on the risks of alcohol and other drug misuse and its detrimental effects.

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