Why (And How) To Resist Drug Use in College

Four teens walking down a hallway, away from the viewer, with school bags on their backs and shoulders.


If you plan to go to college, you have a lot of things to look forward to: learning new subjects, making new friends, and becoming more independent. There will probably be some new challenges, too, and one of them may be related to drug use. 

Know the risks
At college, you may be offered drugs—possibly for the first time. Maybe you’ll hear about drugs you didn’t know about. You may be around people who use drugs. Any of these experiences can make using drugs seem like no big deal.

Plus, it isn’t unusual for college students to experience uncomfortable feelings like loneliness or anxiety. Some students become homesick or even depressed. In these situations, drug use may look like an easy escape.

The fact is, drug use is a big deal—a very risky deal. It can change the entire course of your college experience. And using drugs is not an escape; it’s a path to much bigger problems.

Protect your brain
Here are a few things to consider:

  • Your brain continues to develop until you’re about 25 years old. For example, the prefrontal cortex, which has been called “the CEO of the brain,” is the last brain region to mature.
    • It’s the region that helps you to “self-regulate,” which means it helps you decide not to join in activities (like drug use) that may look interesting, but you know are dangerous.
    • So, drug use can affect your ability to protect yourself from possible harm—among many other problems.
  • Regular use of some drugs is associated with decreased motivation and drive. College students can’t afford to lose their motivation to attend classes, study hard, and perform well.
  • Some people might encourage you to take stimulant drugs “to help you study.” There’s no evidence that students who use these drugs get better grades, and there are risks associated with stimulant use.

Be proactive
How can you be prepared for the risks of drug use in college?

  • One way is to talk about those risks with your parents, another adult you trust, or student counseling services. You can ask them to check in with you from time to time and see how things are going; you can reach out to them, too. You can let them know if you’re feeling stressed, isolated, or hopeless.
  • If you’re worried about your grades, discuss strategies that could help—for example, drop a class to make your load lighter, or find a tutor or mentor who can help.
  • Remember that it takes time to figure out how best to manage your new life away from home. 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) is another place you can talk about those feelings. You can call this number even if you’re not feeling suicidal.

You can also share the video below with an adult you trust and talk with them about it. It’s an interview with NIDA’s Director, Dr. Nora Volkow, about the risks of drug use in college and how parents and other adults can help college students cope with those risks.

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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