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41 Essential College Drug Abuse Statistics: 2020 Data & Demographics

Category: B2B News

College often represents a major turning point in a young adult’s life. For many individuals, college brings a sense of freedom, and with this newfound freedom comes a willingness to explore new experiences.

More often than not, these experiences involve experimentation with substances such as alcohol, marijuana, and illicit drugs like ecstasy and cocaine. With the easy availability of these substances on campus, though, experimentation can easily turn into drug abuse.

The relevance of college drug abuse statistics is critical to policymakers whose task it is to find realistic solutions to this long-running college education scourge. With data like these, it is easier to formulate solutions that could address this issue.

In this article, we list down the latest, most important drug abuse statistics for current college students. We’ve also compiled some numbers on alcohol abuse as well as the effects of substance abuse on college students today.

college drug abuse data

General Statistics and Facts on Drug Abuse in College

While it’s difficult to pin down student crime statistics and the exact percentage of college students who do drugs, drug abuse is widely considered to be an epidemic on US college campuses today. Young adults in college today experience exposure to a wider range of substances. Aside from alcohol and marijuana, prescription pills like Adderall and Ritalin have become popular among college students, too. For instance, studies revealed that many college students report misuse of pain medications, sedatives, and stimulants.

This becomes more unfortunate in the face of mounting debt among college students.

  • One in four college students meets the standard for substance abuse. (ACPA)
  • More than two out of five college students used an illegal drug over a 12-month span. (Turnbridge)
  • Male students have higher rates of substance use compared to female students. (Indiana Prevention Resource Center)
  • 27.5% of college students felt the need to cut down on their drug and alcohol use while receiving mental health treatment. (Pennsylvania State University)

Source: Monitoring the Future

Marijuana Abuse in College

The US accounts for an overwhelming majority of the global marijuana market—90%, to be exact—and there’s a good chance that college students make up a sizable portion of this majority. Despite the dizzying selection of illicit drugs available to college students today, marijuana remains the most commonly abused drug among college students. Experts attribute the continued popularity of marijuana to students who have been using the drug since their high school years.

These numbers may also increase in the coming years as more Generation-Z youth enter college.

More worrying still, a recent study revealed that the age group is poised to become a generation of cannabis consumers.

Cannabis or Marijuana Use by Generation

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Source: Morning Consult

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Prescription Drugs Abuse in College

Prescription drugs include pain medication such as OxyContin or Vicodin. Adderall, used to treat ADHD, is also a commonly abused drug among college students because of its stimulant effect, which can improve focus. The numbers on prescription drug use may again be exacerbated by the growing population of Generation Z on college campuses, especially as education statistics say that this generation prioritizes achieving a college degree.

  • Around a third of students will abuse prescription drugs while they’re in college. (DoSomething)
  • 15.9% of college students admitted misusing stimulants, 9.4% reported sedative misuse, and 9.1% misused pain medications. (Ohio State University)
  • Most students who abuse prescription drugs obtain these drugs from their friends (79% for stimulants, 57% for sedatives, and 79% for stimulants). (Ohio State University)
  • The most common reason that college students provide for abusing stimulants is to study or improve grades (79%). (Ohio State University)
  • A study of 1,300 college students found that 25% of them used stimulants as a study aid, but only 9% had a prescription from a physician or psychiatrist. (Michigan Daily)
  • Furthermore, 4.3% of college students reported having abused Xanax. (The Haven at College)
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Top 5 Reasons for Non-Medical Use of Stimulants Among College Students

Top 5 Reasons for Non-Medical Use of Stimulants Among College Students
Improve grades: 79.2

Improve grades

Top 5 Reasons for Non-Medical Use of Stimulants Among College Students
Curiosity : 22.6


Top 5 Reasons for Non-Medical Use of Stimulants Among College Students
Enhance social situations: 21.9

Enhance social situations

Top 5 Reasons for Non-Medical Use of Stimulants Among College Students
Get high: 15.0

Get high

Top 5 Reasons for Non-Medical Use of Stimulants Among College Students
Like the way they feel : 12.4

Like the way they feel


Source: Ohio State University

Designed by

Alcohol Abuse in College

Aside from drugs, alcohol is one of the most widely abused substances among college students. Studies reveal that alcoholism remains a major problem for millions of college students each year. Moreover, surveys found that as much as 50% of college students are no stranger to binge drinking.

  • Over a two-week period, 14.2% of college students have five or more alcoholic drinks. (NCHA)
  • 28.9% of college students drank alcohol for 3 to 4 hours the last time they went to a party. (NCHA)
  • Likewise, 28% of college students report having five or more drinks in a row at least once inside the last two weeks. (Monitoring the Future)
  • 54.9% of full-time college students drank alcohol in the past month, compared with 44.6% of other individuals in the same age group. (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA))
  • Similarly, 36.9% of college students reported binge-drinking in the past month. (NIAAA)
  • 9.6% of college students reported heavy alcohol use, defined as binge-drinking, for 5 or more days in the past 30-day period. (NIAAA)

Source: NCHA

Consequences of Alcohol Abuse in College Students

Alcohol abuse causes a myriad of serious consequences for college students. For instance, the poor academic performance associated with alcohol use may affect a student’s employment prospects. According to surveys, recruiters consider a 4-year degree a competitive edge for entry-level applicants.

  • About 20% of college students meet the criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol use disorder. (NIAAA)
  • 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related injuries, including automobile crashes. (NIAAA)
  • 97,000 college students report receiving alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape. (NIAAA)
  • 1.8% of college students believed that alcohol use contributed to lower exam grades, while 26.8% believed that their academics were not affected. (NCHA)
  • Additionally, nearly 150,000 college students develop health problems annually related to alcohol use. (Alcohol Rehab Guide)

alcohol consumption and college performance

Nicotine Abuse in College

  • Cigarette smoking among college students has declined to 7% in 2018, from its peak level of 31% in 1999.  (Monitoring the Future)
  • The 30-day prevalence for vaping nicotine among college students jumped from 6.1% in 2017 to 15.5% in 2018, the largest increase in any young-adult age group. (Monitoring the Future)
  • 1.4% of college students reported smoking cigarettes daily. (NCHA)
  • Meanwhile, 3.5% of college students used e-cigarettes daily. (NCHA)

Popularity of Vaping Substances among College Students

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Source: Monitoring the Future

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Hallucinogens and Methamphetamines Abuse in College

  • 4.1% of college students annually use LSD, and this figure has been steadily climbing since 2006. (Monitoring the Future)
  • 4.8% of college students report having used hallucinogens such as LSD and PCP, but not regularly. (NCHA)
  • 8.9% of college students used amphetamines annually. (Monitoring the Future)
  • Additionally, 1.2% of college students reported having used methamphetamines, though not on a regular basis. (NCHA)

LSD use among college students

Cocaine and Other Party Drugs Abuse in College

Due to rave culture at college campuses, party drugs like cocaine and ecstasy have gained popularity among college students today. Studies say that MDMA use in colleges has quickly increased over the past decade. Many of these drugs are consumed for their perceived effects like improved extroversion, increased confidence, and euphoria.

  • Cocaine use began to decline among college students in 2007; as a result, annual prevalence levels for the drug are at less than 1%. (Monitoring the Future)
  • 4.2% of college students have used cocaine, but not regularly. (NCHA)
  • 1 out of every 10 college students has experimented with ecstasy (MDMA). (Addiction Center)
  • Incidentally, 98% of college students who had used ecstasy are also marijuana users. (Addiction Center)

Source: NCHA 2018

Gender Differences in Drug Use among College Students

Interestingly, studies have revealed some significant differences between male and female college students’ drinking habits and illicit drug use. This gender disparity appears to hold true for binge drinking, marijuana use, and cigarette use, among other habits.

  • Annual and 30-day use of marijuana was higher for men (21% and 9.2%, respectively) than for women (16% and 6.7%). (Monitoring the Future)
  • Moreover, the annual prevalence of hallucinogens for men (8.2%) was more than twice the figure for women (3.2%). The same significant difference can be seen in MDMA use between male and female college students (7.2% and 2.7%, respectively). (Monitoring the Future)
  • More male college students (15.1%) participated in extreme binge drinking compared to female college students (6.1%). (Monitoring the Future)

Source: Monitoring the Future

Treatments for Drug Abuse

Despite the widespread abuse of drugs and alcohol on college campuses today, few college students have received treatment for their addictions every year. In fact, the number has been steadily declining since 2010, with only 2.4% of college students receiving treatment in 2019.

However, even with a small percentage of college students seeking treatment for drug or alcohol abuse, colleges and organizations all over the country offer counseling, rehabilitation services, and mental health resources for college students.

Jenny Chang

By Jenny Chang

Senior writer at FinancesOnline who writes about a wide range of SaaS and B2B products, including trends and issues on e-commerce, accounting and customer service software. She’s also covered a wide range of topics in business, science, and technology for websites in the U.S., Australia and Singapore, keeping tabs on edge tech like 3D printed health monitoring tattoos and SpaceX’s exploration plans.

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