Pursuing an Education While Struggling With Substance Use Disorder

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Developing a substance use disorder (SUD) can hinder plans to finish high school, college, or graduate school. Yet, the high-stress environment of an academic institution may be one of the underlying causes of the SUD.

High School Students and SUD

Alcohol and drug use and abuse are prevalent on high school campuses due to increased access to illicit substances as well as the high volume of stress endured by students. Negative peer pressure, bullying, academic stress, and turmoil in personal relationships are all potential factors that lead teenagers to pursue alcohol, non-prescription drugs, or recreational drugs.

High school students abuse alcohol more than any other substance. A study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that 58.5% of high school seniors have tried alcohol within the last two years. Alcohol use disorders (AUD) diagnosed in adolescents and teenagers are more likely to persist or return in later years than AUD diagnosed in adults.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that “underage alcohol use is responsible for 119,000 emergency department visits and 4,300 deaths each year among people under the age of 21.” High school students are also at risk of developing an addiction to illegal and non-prescription drugs. According to CDC, “nearly 20% of high school students have been offered, sold or given drugs, on school property, in the past year.”

Students pursue stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin to enhance academic performance. These drugs are oftentimes made accessible by peers with legitimate prescriptions who are willing to share or sell the substance. Marijuana is also popular among teenagers. The same NIDA study also found that 16% of twelfth-graders have used marijuana in the past month.

The negative perception of the substance has decreased in recent years, making marijuana more appealing to students than ever. The advent of the vaporizer pen, or vape, has allowed teenagers to consume the drug in a way other than smoking or consumption. The liquified substance used in THC vape pens is largely unregulated and may have dangerous health effects on users.

Undergraduate and Graduate Students and SUD

Students enrolled in full-time college programs are twice as likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than non-students, according to AddictionCenter.com. Like high school students, the pressure to meet high academic standards and succeed socially may cause undergraduate and graduate students to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.

Substances may facilitate social interactions by diminishing inhibition, but continuous and unchecked use of drugs or alcohol can cause reliance on the substance to function in any social situation. A SUD will cause decreased interest in self-care, low motivation, isolation, difficulty sleeping, and other negative behaviors that will inevitably lead to strained relationships with new friends.

Alcohol is often a major fixture in the undergraduate lifestyle. Four out of five college students regularly drink alcohol, and nearly half of students who consume the substance have engaged or currently engage in binge drinking. Drinking and drug use is more common among students involved in Greek life. The US Department of Education’s Higher Education Center finds that students who are part of the Greek life system are up to 26% more likely to binge drink.

Individuals with eating disorders may rely on alcohol or drugs to curb hunger or replace food and, as a result, develop a co-occurring SUD. Studies show that up to 25% of college students struggle with an eating disorder.

Undergraduate and graduate students enjoy more freedom than younger students, allowing them to hide symptoms of a SUD with greater ease. When the purchase and consumption of alcohol or certain drugs are both legal and socially acceptable, a SUD may go unnoticed for months or years. High-functioning young adults do not often view their patterns of behavior as substance abuse, thereby diminishing the chances that these students will seek help.

What Are Some Resources for Students Battling SUD?

A 2009 publication titled ‘College Students Rarely Seek Help Despite Serious Substance Use Problems’ records high rates of SUD in third-year undergraduate students and low rates of seeking medical help to treat a SUD. Researchers found that “college students have high rates of substance use problems but rarely recognize a need for treatment or seek help.

Results highlight the opportunity for early intervention with college students with SUD.” Only 3.6% of participants who met the DSM-IV criteria for a SUD perceived a need for help, and 16.4% admitted that another person encouraged them to seek help. The results of this study show that students who perceive a need for medical intervention are far likelier to seek assistance than those who do not and the percentage of students with a diagnosable SUD who believe that they need help is low.

Educational programs within a high school or college setting and external resources offered by local mental health organizations are good treatment options for teenagers and young adult students. Raising awareness about SUD and treatment options is the best way to combat the spread of SUD among young people. If you are a student currently struggling with a SUD, check out literature published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), NIDA, and the CDC.

At Silver Lining Recovery, we believe that understanding your addiction is the first step to treatment. We want to walk beside you as you address your underlying causes of SUD and AUD, providing you with the emotional and spiritual support you need in your earliest stages of recovery. Your recovery is our priority and we want to provide you with the tools you need to sustain self-care in a balanced and healthy life. We will also accommodate any financial needs though Health Net insurance services. If you are interested in tracking control of your addiction, call us today at (866) 884-5758 for a consultation.