Male College Students More Likely to Abuse Drugs, Alcohol

Posted on October 7th, 2014
Posted in Young Adults

In the U.S., college enrollment is traditionally linked to a rise in alcohol consumption, as well as increased participation in binge drinking and other dangerous drinking practices. Significant numbers of college students also abuse drugs or medications; however, patterns of abuse are not necessarily evenly distributed among college men and college women. As part of an annual survey project called Monitoring the Future, federally sponsored researchers from the University of Michigan examined the differences in the patterns of abusive substance intake common to college students in each of the genders.

Monitoring the Future and College

The heart of Monitoring the Future is an annual examination of the substance use/abuse trends among American 8th, 10th and 12th graders. Every year, the University of Michigan researchers conducting the project supplement this main focus with ongoing follow-up surveys for each group of graduating high school seniors. This follow-up process began in 1976 and the project now includes year-to-year information submitted by people ranging in age from 19 to 55. In 2013 (the most recent available year), roughly 500 of these respondents were attending a community college, college or university full time.

College and Substance Abuse

Most college students drink alcohol. According to the 2013 figures from Monitoring the Future, 3.6 percent of students consume alcohol essentially every day, while 0.5 percent get drunk essentially every day. More than a third (35.2 percent) of all college students participate in binge drinking by consuming enough alcohol to get drunk in a single drinking session. Roughly 21 percent of all college students smoke marijuana monthly; approximately 5 percent of students seriously increase their risks for cannabis use disorder (diagnosable cannabis abuse/addiction) by using the drug essentially every day. Other substances most commonly abused by U.S. college students include stimulant ADHD medications, opioid medications, tranquilizers, cocaine, MDMA (Ecstasy, Molly), hallucinogens and barbiturates.

Binge Drinking and Gender

As a rule, men need to consume five or more drinks in quick succession to meet the binge-drinking standard, while women need to consume four or more drinks. However, binge drinkers often consume much larger amounts of alcohol. Monitoring the Future figures indicate that college men are more than three times more likely than college women to participate in extreme binging by consuming at least 10 drinks in a single drinking session. In addition, college men are almost five times more likely to consume at least 15 drinks on an alcohol binge.

Marijuana and Gender

The 2013 Monitoring the Future findings indicate that 40 percent of college men use marijuana at least once a year, while 33 percent of college women use the drug at least once a year. However, college men are much more likely than college women to seriously increase their cannabis use disorder risks by consuming marijuana daily or nearly daily. Almost 9 percent of men use the drug this frequently, while only 3 percent of women do so.

Stimulant Abuse and Gender

College men abuse amphetamine and the ADHD stimulant medications Adderall and Ritalin substantially more often than college women. Overall, this form of drug abuse occurs among roughly 12 percent of college men and 9 percent of college women. Between both genders, amphetamine-containing Adderall functions as a target of misuse more often than Ritalin, which contains another stimulant called methylphenidate. In college men and college women, stimulants are commonly abused as “study drugs” in an attempt to enhance academic performance.

Opioid Abuse and Gender

Roughly 7.4 percent of college men abuse an opioid medication, the 2013 Monitoring the Future figures indicate. In contrast, just 4.1 percent of college women participate in this form of drug abuse. Two commonly abused prescription opioids in the general population are hydrocodone-based Vicodin and oxycodone-based OxyContin. College men abuse both of the medications more often than college women. Both genders abuse Vicodin more often than they abuse OxyContin.

Hallucinogens and Gender

The authors of Monitoring the Future note that college men also abuse hallucinogens much more often than college women. Along with hallucinogen intake, the patterns of substance use revealing the largest gaps between the two genders include participation in extreme episodes of binge drinking and participation in daily or near-daily marijuana use. Broadly speaking, the authors note that, just like young men not enrolled in college, college men are considerably more likely to get involved in substance use/abuse than their female counterparts. This conclusion applies to both legally obtained substances and illegally or illicitly obtained substances.

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