desk covered in crumpled post-its, a laptop, and notebooks representing Adderall drug use in college

Drug Use in College

College: the best years of your life. You’re free from parental control but sheltered from many responsibilities. Many students take advantage of this newfound freedom to experiment with alcohol and drugs. While drug use in college may sound like old news, it’s far from old fashioned.

A 2016 Monitoring the Future survey found marijuana use among full-time college students is at an all-time high. In 1996, 2.8% of college students were using marijuana; in 2016, that number was 4.9%. The survey also revealed that the misuse of amphetamines is much higher in college students than their non-college-attending peers. Those in college were about 1.5 times more likely to abuse drugs such as Ritalin® and Adderall®.

Why Do College Students Use Drugs?

Drug use in college is prevalent for a number of reasons. If you or a friend is concerned about drug use in college, reach out to the Massachusetts drug rehab center for professional advice.

Common reasons for drug use in college include:


Simply put, it’s easy to find drugs on college campuses. Students often sell to their peers the most commonly prescribed drugs. The growing demand drives up the price. Adderall®, for instance, sells for up to $15 per pill. This makes peer-to-peer drug deals a very profitable venture, despite the hefty legal risks.


College life comes with its fair share of stressors besides the standard expectations of getting good grades. Some students are tasked with paying tuition on their own. That means making time to hold a consistent job that pays well. Even making friends can become a stressful endeavor when you’re thrown onto campus with tens of thousands of students. Add to that any emotional or physical stress outside of school, and substance abuse can feel like an escape. If you feel overwhelmed by stress or anxiety, reach out to the mental health treatment center in MA.


There are high expectations at the collegiate level when it comes to academic performance. Some students must maintain a certain GPA in order to retain their scholarships or positions on the sports team. Others feel immense pressure from their parents. As a way to keep up with the demands, college students seek help in stimulant drugs, both prescription and illegal.


DNA can play a role in a student’s likelihood of abusing drugs or alcohol. There is a strong connection between genetics and addiction that cannot be ignored, especially in college-age adults. With Greek life, sporting events, peer pressure, and 30-page essays to deliver, colleges offer a number of triggers for someone predisposed to substance abuse. A history of mental health issues also leads college students to drug use.

Which Drugs Are Most Popular on College Campuses?

Alcohol abuse is a well-known and widespread issue, but the misuse of illicit and prescription drugs should not be overlooked. The most common drugs found on college campuses are:

  • Marijuana
  • Prescription Adderall or Ritalin
  • MDMA
  • Cocaine


According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), 38% of college students use marijuana annually. Why? They claim it helps relieve stress and anxiety. The cannabis plant contains a mind-altering chemical called THC, which can cause someone to see brighter colors, feel an improved sense of mood, and experience slower reflexes.

Marijuana can be detrimental to students’ health and academic performance. Over the decades, THC levels in cannabis have increased steadily. According to, “For a person who’s new to marijuana use, this may mean exposure to higher THC levels with a greater chance of a harmful reaction.” Long-term use of marijuana could lead to:

  • Breathing problems
  • Increased heart rate
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Child development issues should the user become pregnant

Marijuana can also affect mental health by worsening symptoms of schizophrenia, inducing paranoia and causing dangerous hallucinations.


The DEA reported that “college students misuse or abuse stimulants the most.” Adderall and Ritalin are amphetamines, which is a class of stimulants. They are also known as “study drugs” because their stimulating effects cause users to stay awake and focused. These drugs are prescribed specifically for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which is a health condition that makes it difficult to concentrate. Misuse or abuse of these drugs can have serious consequences.

The most common side effect of Adderall is insomnia. This may be a desirable effect, at first, because it keeps you awake to cram for an exam. But sleep disturbances can continue even after stopping Adderall, making it difficult to maintain a sleep schedule—a crucial part of a successful college experience. Ritalin and Adderall can also cause:

  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Increased blood pressure

Taking Ritalin or Adderall with a pre-existing heart condition can lead to heart arrhythmia or heart failure.

MDMA (AKA Ecstasy or “Molly”)

The National Survey of Drug Use and Health reported that from 1996 to 2002, “the use of ecstasy by 18-to-25-year-olds increased more than 200%.” College students are drawn to MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine), or ecstasy, because it’s best known as a “rave drug.” The synthetic combination drug acts as a stimulant and hallucinogen, leading to an increase in mood, pleasure, and energy.

The synthetic nature of ecstasy makes it a risky experience. Even one-time use can be extremely dangerous, as ecstasy can contain a number of different drugs in various, unknown concentrations. Continued use can lead to irritability, depression, anxiety, as well as memory and attention problems—none of which are conducive to schoolwork or maintaining relationships in college. More serious side effects include a spike in body temperature that can lead to liver, kidney, or heart failure.


Between 1996 and 2007, past-year use of cocaine increased from 2.9% to 5.1%. The study followed 1,253 students (male and female) over the course of 4 years of college. By year four, “36% of students had been offered cocaine at least once in their lifetime, and 13% had used cocaine.” Cocaine is often used as a stimulant or energy booster and is a popular choice in Greek life and nightclubs. That’s not the only place you’ll find cocaine, though. Some students report using it to help them push through a big paper or study for finals.

Since cocaine changes the brain’s chemical balance and reward system, it is highly addictive. Overdosing in young adults is a serious concern, as cocaine can be “cut” with any number of other drugs or harmful substances. Sourcing cocaine on college campuses comes with increased risk. Long-term use of cocaine can cause:

  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Wasting away of brain cells (cerebral atrophy)

Getting Help for Drug Addiction in College

When you’re busy making friends and pulling all-nighters, it can be easy to forget the consequences of your decisions, especially if your friends are experimenting with drugs. But what comes up must come down. That’s why it’s essential to understand the risks and side effects of illicit and prescription drugs alike. If you do find yourself dependent on drugs at college, know that you’re not alone, and help at an addiction treatment center in MA is within reach. Programs include:

Take advantage of these resources to stay safe, sober, and successful as a college student:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

This is an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Through its national helpline, SAMHSA offers free and confidential support for those facing mental and/or substance use disorders. You can call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Collegiate Recovery Programs (CRP)

The Association of Recovery in Higher Education have CRPs across the country. These programs offer counseling, peer-to-peer support groups, and safe social activities for students struggling with addiction. Simply visit to see if your university has a CRP!

Sober Greek Life

On some college campuses, there are sororities and fraternities focused on providing supportive communities for college students in sobriety. Alpha 180, for instance, provides Master’s level clinicians, recovery meetings, life skills classes, and case managers that can help you navigate a demanding academic schedule.

College Counselors

Visit your health services center on campus, and you’ll find a counselor ready and willing to help. These trained professionals see students in similar situations every day. Counselors can also lend a confidential ear if you just want to talk and relieve some stress.


You might feel more comfortable speaking to your family about a substance use disorder or your mental health than you would with a counselor. Family members know your health history and have a vested interest in your well-being. If you’d prefer to keep your drug use private, lean on the people you know and trust.

Treatment Centers

A treatment facility like Washburn House provides personalized care. You’ll be supported by medical professionals who can guide you through medical detox in MA and then into a lasting recovery. That might mean an inpatient drug rehab program, day treatment or intensive outpatient program in Worcester that allows you to go to school while you work on your recovery.

Enjoying College Life Without Drugs

If you’re trying to avoid drugs and alcohol completely during college, ask yourself: who, what, where, and how?

Who Can I Trust?

According to a 2015 SAMHSA study, approximately one in seven 18- to 22-year-old full-time college students were classified with a substance use disorder. Socializing with students who use or abuse drugs can heavily influence your decision to use the. Choose your friends wisely, and don’t be afraid to distance yourself from someone who doesn’t fit in with your goals of a healthy lifestyle. There are plenty of students who aren’t interested in using drugs and alcohol.

What Do I Look—and Listen—For?

Marijuana is a green mixture of dried leaves and flowers from the hemp plant. It can also be found in wax or edible form. Slang terms or street names for marijuana include:

  • Bowl, bud, or blunt
  • Chronic
  • Dabs (usually refers to the wax form) or dope
  • Ganja or grass
  • Hash
  • Joint, or J
  • Mary Jane, or MJ
  • Pot
  • Reefer or roach
  • Skunk, smoke, or spliff
  • Vape (can also refer to tobacco)
  • Weed

Adderall and Ritalin are typically found as tablets, sometimes crushed up into a fine powder that can be snorted. The exact appearance of a tablet varies by dosage and depends on if it’s the generic version or brand name prescription drug.

  • 5 mg Adderall – An oval-shaped, blue tablet that’s imprinted with AD 7.5
  • 10 mg Adderall – A round, blue tablet imprinted with AD 10
  • 20 mg Adderall – A round, orange tablet imprinted with AD 20
  • Extended-Release Adderall (Adderall XR) – Capsules with tiny blue pellets inside

Slang terms/street names for Adderall:

  • Addy
  • Beans or black beauties
  • Dexies
  • Plan C
  • Smart pills, speed, or study buddies
  • Uppers
  • Zing

All Ritalin pills are small tablets, about the size of an aspirin. Their colors vary by dosage.

  • 5 mg Ritalin – Pale yellow
  • 10 mg Ritalin – Pale green
  • 20 mg Ritalin – White and pale yellow

Slang/street terms for Ritalin:

  • Diet Coke
  • Kiddie cocaine/coke
  • Poor man’s cocaine
  • R-ball or rids
  • Skittles or smarties
  • Vitamin R

MDMA can be found in many forms, including:

  • Capsules
  • Powders
  • Injectables
  • Crystals – They have a glimmer to them and look a little like beach sand, but they can also come in large chunks.

Slang/street terms for MDMA:

  • Adam
  • Beans
  • Ecstasy or E
  • Molly
  • Rolls
  • X or XTC

Cocaine is extracted from the leaves of the coca plant as a paste. It’s further extracted to take on a rock formation before being purified and pressed into a fine, white powder. Cocaine is often sold as bricks (one solid kilogram) or crack. Crack is off-white or pink and looks like small chunks or chips of cocaine. Slang terms/street names for cocaine:

  • Big flakes, big rush, blow, or bump
  • Coke, crack, or cola
  • Dust
  • Base or baseball
  • Flake
  • Line
  • Nose candy
  • Pearl or powder
  • Snow
  • White
  • Toot
  • Yeyo

Where Am I Safe?

Staying cooped up in a dorm room is not the college life you expected, it’s not what you deserve, and you don’t need to do it to avoid drugs! Besides finding like-minded friends, several nonprofits and student-run organizations are dedicated to drug-free socializing.

DanceSafe is a nationwide organization that was founded on promoting health and safety within the nightlife and electronic music scenes. At music festivals and events across the country and in Canada, DanceSafe creates safe, drug-free spaces; provides water and electrolytes to prevent dehydration; and supplies free safe-sex tools to prevent the spread of STIs. Their services are specifically directed toward non-addicted individuals, as they are an often underserved population.

For more drug-free daytime activities, turn to your local community. Look for a museum, amphitheater, or recreation center. Hike nearby trails, or grab a bike and take a tour of a nearby town on wheels. You could even spend your free time volunteering at a library, food pantry, or animal shelter. These are all great places to meet people and have fun doing it.

How Do I Say “No?”

Just say, “No.” As simple as it sounds, this can be one of the most challenging conversations you have throughout your college life. While many of the tips above will help you avoid drugs and alcohol, you may still find yourself in a tough spot. Not to worry. You can casually and confidently turn down an offer without offending anyone or making your peers feel judged by your decision.

  1. Offer to be the DD or “mama bear” for the night. You’ll make sure everyone gets home safely while staying completely sober yourself.
  2. Save yourself with a busy schedule. It’s easy to say you have an exam or presentation the next day that requires you be straight as an arrow. This excuse works with other engagements, as well. Maybe you have family in town visiting or scheduled a meeting with your advisor.
  3. Play DJ or doorman. Keep yourself preoccupied by welcoming guests into the house or taking charge of the playlist. People will think you’re the life of the party without having to take a single hit.

You can enjoy college without abusing drugs and alcohol. If you have questions or are currently living with a substance use disorder, contact Washburn House. Call 855.298.3104 to speak with professionals about drug and alcohol abuse treatment options.

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