A Concerned Parents’ Guide: When College Partying Turns to Substance Abuse
Some college students lead a double life. They come home for holidays and text enough to let parents know they are OK, but their academic pursuits and their day-to-day lives are progressively falling apart.
Without realizing it, loving and well-meaning parents may end up enabling their children’s addictive behaviors. One way this happens is financially. They continue to support their kids’ education and give them money, but indirectly they’re funding their child's drug or alcohol habit.
With continued family support, there’s no reason for the young adult to change. Why should they? They’ve got it made ― for a while.
Parents may have an inkling, or direct information, about drinking and drugging, but they still worry their children will starve or not have enough money for emergencies. What they may not realize is that when drug and alcohol use is involved, the money goes to one thing — feeding the addiction.
How Addictions Develop in College
It may help parents to have a greater awareness of how an addiction can start (or progress) in college and what to do. Here are a few key points:
- It’s the culture. When young adults arrive on a typical college campus, they are faced with a new world they must master. There is pressure to succeed in school, but also a strong drive to fit in socially. It’s the most freedom they’ve ever had, coupled with the fact that the social environment at college is often about partying, bars and experimentation with drugs.
- Substance use begins. Beneath every addiction is a reason for using. It can be related to many factors — from childhood trauma and mental health issues to a fear of failure at school. And sometimes they just desperately want to fit in. Young adults may also feel overwhelmed by personal issues and begin to look for ways of resolving them on their own. From their perspective, alcohol and drugs are the easiest way to self-soothe because they are effective in the short term and readily available.
- Compulsivity takes over. Reaching for a substance to quell difficult feelings becomes a habit that can lead to cognitive issues, struggles with school and legal problems. Light partying and experimenting can turn into substance abuse.
- Peers are a strong influence. College students are still young and even the smartest and most motivated kids may go along to get along. They can quickly lose control. Life becomes all about partying, hooking up and hanging around with people who are doing the same.
- College life unravels. Once addiction takes hold, parts of the brain are altered. The young person may no longer be able to maintain grades and fulfill their responsibilities. Some of the signs of addiction in college students are:
- Missing classes
- Sleeping late because they’re hungover and feel sick
- Lethargy, laziness and lack of motivation to do schoolwork
- Missing assignments, turning in inferior work and/or avoiding their professors
- Avoiding communication with parents and other family members
- Lying and pretending everything is fine
Steps to Substance Abuse Recovery
Many people begin struggling with drug or alcohol abuse in their youth. Once they step onto that path, for some it becomes a lifelong battle. With people in this age group, there is a great deal of hope if they can address the problem early on.
Here are some of the important parts of working toward a solution:
Stage an intervention. Left to their own devices, a college student may not be able to find the kind of consistent support that is needed to give up drugs and alcohol. An intervention can help them recognize that they have a problem and enter rehab or a therapeutic environment. In the company of other people of similar age and circumstance, they can begin to work toward recovery.
Uncover the reason. There is an underlying reason for drug or alcohol abuse and it is important they explore and discover it. They may have an understanding of the problem, or may be completely unaware. Therapy can offer a safe way of digging deeper and getting to the source of the problem.
Reconnect with family. Separation from family gives some young adults carte blanche authority to go wild. For others, missing home and feeling far away or lonely triggers drug and alcohol abuse. Healing time with the family and family therapy may help them break destructive behavior patterns.
Find hope and encouragement. Young people in recovery have to accept that they will no longer be able to party and drink like their peers. But they need encouragement to know that if they address this problem now, in 10 years it’s going to be nothing but a bump in the road during their youth. They can start fresh, with their whole life ahead of them.