The Mental Health Series: Substance Abuse & Addiction

College: stress, distress, and drinking.

College is a transitional stage into the real world, often involving alcohol and drug use. Misuse of alcohol and drugs are rampant among college populations and have become a serious issue.

Though alcohol is a legal substance (at 21), it is still dangerous. Alcohol is a depressant, meaning that it lowers serotonin levels in the brain, so it can exacerbate symptoms of depression or anxiety. It can also lead to long-term defects in the liver or brain and overuse can lead to brain damage or death.

But alcohol consumption isn’t all bad. It is important to know your limits and always know what is in your drink, so that you can avoid the possibility of being slipped anything else that could compromise your system or lead to sexual assault.

While alcohol is legal above age 21, most drugs are not. Even as marijuana is starting to be decriminalized in the U.S., it is still not completely legal. But marijuana is just one drug. Other common drugs found on campuses include cocaine and prescription drugs—often stimulants.

Cocaine is a stimulant, which means that it revs up your system and exhibits a sympathetic response—the fight in the fight-or-flight reaction. It increases heart rate, blood pressure, and general brain activity. Overuse of cocaine can result in heart attacks and strokes, and even death resulting most commonly from cardiac arrest.

While cocaine seems less heard of, prescription drugs are not, especially stimulant drugs like Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse, prescribed primarily for Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse are able to slow down hyperactivity and impulsivity in individuals with ADHD.

But they have the opposite effect on people who don’t have ADHD.

Prescription stimulants keep people without ADHD more alert. Misuse can cause someone to sleep and eat less, but extended use can lead to heart and respiratory problems. If a prescription drug is not prescribed to you, it isn’t yours to take.

Taking un-prescribed drugs is illegal and incredibly dangerous. There is a high probability for abuse, which can lead to health problems, like those listed above.

Stimulants become an issue especially around finals and midterms. Dealing and buying of prescription ADHD medications isn’t unheard of on campuses at all. It can lead to major health problems and legal issues.

If one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, there are support groups and counseling services that can help someone go through recovery.

More information on drug abuse and addiction can be found at the National Institute of Drug Abuse website.

This article was just a first of several in a series on mental health. Look towards the future for more information on psychological issues present on college campuses.