Struggling With Substance Use Disorder

Pursuing an Education While Struggling With Substance Use Disorder

Table of Contents

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.

Why Are Students Struggling?

What’s causing college students to struggle with life on campus? While it’s normal for students to feel the pressures of college such as exams and adjusting to more independence, today’s kids are facing even greater pressures to achieve and out-perform their classmates – causing major anxiety. Other issues causing stress include:  

  • Transitioning to college life – in the Time article, Anne Marie Albano, director of the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders states, “In elementary and high school there’s lots of rules and lots of structure. Now that [life is] more free-floating, there’s anxiety. That’s perhaps why, for many students, mental health issues creep up for the first time when they start college. (The average age of onset for many mental health issues, including depression and bipolar disorder, occurs in the early 20s.)”
  • Pre-existing conditions – students already have a mental health disorder when they enroll, many of which may be undiagnosed.
  • Course load – students feel overwhelmed by course workloads and feel lost in classes where he or she is one student out of hundreds. 
  • Lack of resources – colleges may not have enough counseling resources or staff to keep up with student demand, causing many students to fall through the cracks and not get the mental health services needed.
  • Parental pressures and financial stress – many students feel parental pressure to achieve and feel shame, isolation, and anxiety if they are struggling or failing course. Students are also concerned about their growing debt and paying back student loans.

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 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?

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.

Strategy to Stop College Drinking

 Rutgers University recently did a study that was published in Scientific America about how universities can take on a new approach to stop college drinking.

Personalized Normative Feedback

University administrations have tried to address the unhealthy trend of college drinking through Personalized Normative Feedback (PNF). PNF is when students are exposed to the true rate of alcohol consumption at their school in hopes that they will change their drinking behaviors. Students are asked to estimate the percentage of alcohol they think that they consume regularly. After the students answer, they are given a true percentage based on nationally representative surveys. They are also shown the results through a graph to visually illustrate the difference between their guess and the actual answer. Often, it turns out that the respondent’s guess is much higher than the actual answer. 

Psychological Resistance

Coined by Psychologist Jack Brehm, the term ‘psychological resistance’ refers to the rebellion observed when someone is told what to do. Think back to your mom telling you to clean your room when you were a little kid. Chances are you didn’t do it or at least fought doing it, simply because your mom ordered you to. Often, we don’t listen because, subconsciously, we want to be our own bosses. It is an emotional response to believing that our rights to free-thinking are being threatened. This feeling often causes us to go out of our way to break the rules as a way of reclaiming our freedom

Going Back to College During Recovery

As classes resume in the fall, you may find that academic stressors are depreciating your mental health. Returning to the routine of school may prove to be more stressful for individuals in recovery from a substance use disorder (SUD) and comorbid disorders like depression and anxiety. Since completing rehab and enrolling in recovery programs, your goals, motivations, and strategies to achieve may have changed. Once you return to campus, it’s important to locate resources, such as mental health counseling and personal support groups, to promote sobriety, prevent unhealthy behaviors, and accompany you on your recovery journey. 

SUD in the LGBTQ+ Community

Rates of tobacco, alcohol, and drug abuse are all higher in the LGBTQ+ community than among heterosexual-identifying individuals. Members of these minority groups often experience hardship related to their sexual orientation and gender identity, in addition to the difficulties of everyday life that we all face. The lack of representation in the medical field leaves members of the minority at a further disadvantage. Without specialized treatment options, LGBTQ+ youth and adults are less inclined to seek treatment for substance use disorders (SUD) and any comorbid disorders, and those who do pursue treatment may not receive proper care, leading them to relapse. Until members of this community have access to treatment programs dedicated to promoting positive mental health and sobriety among LGBTQ+ individuals, rates of SUD and its comorbidities will continue to climb.

Final Thoughts

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.