Beyond Getting Drunk and High: Drug Abuse and College Women

With celebrities like superstar Lady Gaga admitting to past hard drug use (in the September issue of Vanity Fair), the idea of hard drug usage for young women has taken quite a turn in the past two decades.  Women are no longer expected to politely refuse the booze and drugs that their male counterparts have been partaking in. In fact, finding drugs may no longer be just an underground trend anymore.  
“Finding someone with drugs is even easier than finding a bar you can get into with a bad fake,” says Andrea, a University of Missouri student.
In fact, A 2007 report published by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) found that prescription pill abuse has been on the rise in the past twenty years. The study found that “between 1993 and 2005, the proportion of students reporting current abuse of prescription opioids like Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin was up 342.9 percent; abuse of prescription stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall, up 93.3 percent; abuse of prescription tranquilizers like Xanax and Valium, up 450.0 percent; and abuse of prescription sedatives like Nembutal and Seconal, up 225 percent” (CASA).
Regardless of why and how these girls take these drugs, one thing is clear: getting drugs is no longer a difficult process. In fact, it may be just as easy as getting a guy to buy you a drink.Picking up a tab at the bar is usually non-existent, as the nightlife etiquette tends to revolve around guys buying women drinks.
But a new alternate drug of choice for a night out is hitting college campuses and harder than it did in the past two decades. It does not come in a liquid form. No bongs, flasks or shot glasses need apply. It’s the tiny drug that can fit in the palm of your hand yet still cause major damage—it’s pill popping and on college campuses it’s happening more than you may think.

Prescription Pills: The Glamorous Drug
“It was sort of like a glamorous-type thing.”
Sarah, a Georgia Gwinnett College freshman described Xanax, a drug normally used to treat anxiety and panic disorders, as a way for her to escape her self-esteem and body issues.  A recovering alcoholic, bulimic and addict, abuse was anything but the “phase” her parents thought she would grow out of in sixth grade.
 For Andrea, prescription pills were a way for her friends to jumpstart a night out.
“I have several friends that used to take prescription drugs, like Xanax, before we would go out drinking at bars or in public,” the Journalism and Political Science major said. “They always described the experience as basically roofie-ing themselves because the combination was like an immediate black out. They would forget whole nights,” she said.
The “black out effect” caused by prescription pills is not the only alcohol-type effect suffered by many users.
“Lortabs [a less severe combination version of a narcotic pain reliever] actually made me feel a little drunk without being drunk and having blackouts,” Sarah said. “It was sort of like a safer way.”
Like Sarah, many college women seem to think that pills are not as dangerous as harder drugs. Not quite, according to an article on the website for the Partnership for a Drug Free America. Painkiller abuse was compared to abusing heroin because of the similarity of both drugs’ ingredients. Both heroin and painkillers are opiods, and their side effects can be equally as similar.
 “I actually suffered from opiate withdrawals—not anything bad—but sweating and irritability. I actually suffered all of these withdrawals after doing hydrocodone for only four days but just doing a lot,” Sarah said.
But the problems did not stop there. In fact, they just began and in a new variety—prescription pills.
“I did uppers, [and] I did a lot of Adderrall and cocaine. I did those because I had low self esteem before I got into Alcoholics Anonymous. I didn’t like who I was, and I was messed up. With uppers it made me feel like I was better than other people. I didn’t have to sleep or eat.”
During her time hooked on these prescription drugs, “I basically lived off of sugar-free Red Bull and Stride gum while I was doing those things. People didn’t want to be around me because I was so bitchy.”
With uppers, she experienced even more serious effects and just as quickly.
“Not even a week of doing that, because I would never come down because of the uppers, my hands and feet turned purple from lack of circulation. My skin got really bad, [and] I was irritable.”
Her scary ride on the dark side led to three arrests, four hospitalizations and a quick addiction that began to consume her—a problem many young women have.
“By the time you’re in the addiction, all you can think about is how you’re going to buy some more Adderrall and how you’re going get some more Xanax. It’s like you become inhuman—it’s all you think about.”
In fact, in CASA’s book Women Under the Influence, published by the Johns Hopkins University Press, statistics showed that  “women are almost twice as likely as men to become addicted to sedatives and tranquilizers, controlled prescription drugs.”
With drugs as cheap as Adderrall, it’s not surprising to hear that women can become so hooked. Sarah said when she first started using, she was able to find the pills for as cheap as one dollar, and after her stay in rehab, she was able to still find the pills for less than ten dollars. Compared to buying handles of alcohol, the price of a pill addiction may be what’s causing college women to reconsider a “drug free” stance.
Ecstacy: The Party Pill
The opportunity to live out a modern day Woodstock drug-a-palooza is easy with the popularity of huge music festivals, like Coachella, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, that have an even bigger drug scene. Campus music scenes are not far behind in terms of rampant drug use and abuse at music shows or raves. In fact, Tracy, a University of Georgia junior, said that the Athens’s popular music atmosphere helps perpetuate usage of hard drugs, like Ecstasy, for females trying to fit in at these events. With the popularity of raves thrown by fraternities and sororities and DJ shows and concerts, obtaining “E” becomes almost “the thing to do.”
“You can get whatever you want at one of these shows,” the 20-year-old Marketing major and Consumer Economics minor said. “Somebody’s going to be there with something because they’re trying to make a buck. They’re trying to make money with whatever they have.”
 The tablet drug, often referred to as “Playboy bunnies,” “CK,” or “Nike Swoosh,” is popular in the rave atmosphere because one of its main effects is mood enhancement, according to the Partnership for a Drug Free America website. For shy girls who are familiar with the oh-so-popular “lonesome corner” at parties, Ecstasy may help them feel more confident. Users of the drug have reported feelings of confidence while experiencing “feelings of peacefulness, acceptance and empathy. Users say they experience feelings of closeness with others and a desire to touch others,” the website reported.
While the drug can have these positive effects, the negative effects can hit and hit hard. Behaviors like “involuntary teeth clenching, a loss of inhibitions, transfixion on sights and sounds, nausea, blurred vision, chills and/or sweating, [and] increases in heart rate and blood pressure, as well as seizures, are also possible,” the website reported. And that’s not the worst of the effects. Some users have even experienced things as severe as liver and kidney failure, hyperthermia, depression, and anxiety.  Cardiovascular failure has even been a factor of many Ecstacy-related deaths.
With these shocking after-effects, Tracy still notes that what’s even more dangerous is that many girls [at these music events] may get caught up in something they’re not even aware of just because of peer pressure.
“I feel like most people go to these [shows] and listen to this music so they can take drugs and get f***ed up and jump on that bandwagon, like ‘oh these people are doing it so I’ll experiment,’” she said.
With experimenting, though, she believes that there are still limits.
“I feel experimentation is a step that you should go through but if you can’t handle that then you don’t need to do it, you don’t need to do it all the time.”
Getting Help
For women who have become addicted, getting help is possible, but may not be as easy as you think.
For Sarah, a rehabilitation program did help, but a full stay was not an option because her insurance did not cover it. She said that this is an issue for many young women looking for help.
“It’s a really bad thing about the rehab. A lot of insurances have poor mental health coverage, “ she said.  “I was there in the eating disorder/ substance abuse unit, and I would see girls coming in there that had been on feeding tubes, and they had to leave because their insurance wouldn’t cover it.”
Some of the easiest ways to get help are to contact family members and friends. As well, utilizing campus health or psychological services are just as useful. If your problem is more severe, help lines like 1-800-662-HELP and Narcotics Anonymous ( are great resources. Some of the best ways to get clean, though, may involve an even easier method of inner reflection. Stepping out of denial and into a new scenario can be just the change needed for the road to recovery.
 “You can’t make people get sober if they don’t want to get sober,” Sarah said.
“It really helps they say to change your playground and playmates.”
What’s the drug culture like at your school?  Have you or your friends ever experimented with hard drugs?  Start the dialogue in the Comments section below.
Names have been changed to protect privacy.
Andrea, Mizzou student
Sarah, Georgia Gwinnett College student
Tracy, University of Georgia student
“Wasting the Best and the Brightest: Substance Abuse at America’s Colleges and Universities” The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University
The Partnership for a Drug-Free America