Covering Addiction: How Common is Drug Use in College?

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Young man asking a question

Last February, NIDA held its first "Covering Addiction" Roundtable discussion for college journalists. Fifteen students from universities around Washington, D.C. picked the brains of NIDA scientists and professional health reporters, asking them about careers in science and health journalism. The student journalists got tips from pros who have worked for ABC News, the Associated Press, and the Washington Post on how to write about sensitive health topics like drug abuse and addiction.

Overall, students said they got a lot out of the experience, but some said they would have liked more time for questions about addiction and the health effects of drugs. So to follow up, here are some answers to common questions about drug use in college.

Girl interviewing man.

-Is everyone using illegal drugs in college?

No. Many college students drink alcohol, but most of them are not using other drugs.

-How common is drug use in college?

It really depends on the drug. The most common drug used in college is alcohol (yes, it's a drug). A survey asking college students about their past-month drug use found that about 2 out of 3 drink alcohol, and about 1 in 5 students smoke cigarettes. Marijuana comes in third, with about 1 in 6 students smoking it in college. (Interesting fact: full-time college students actually use less tobacco and marijuana on a regular basis than people of the same age who don't go to college.) As for other illegal drugs, very few college students are using them. For example, fewer than 1 in 100 college students have ever used heroin or steroids.

Two women on a panel.

-How do you know?

NIDA's Monitoring the Future Survey asks middle school students, high school students and high school graduates about drug use. If you want to see the real data for yourself, you can go to the Monitoring the Future website and look at all the 2007 results for college students (PDF, 2.13MB).

-Stay tuned...

If you're studying for a journalism career in college, or planning to study journalism when you go, stay tuned! We'll announce the next college journalist roundtable here at the Sara Bellum Blog.

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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