An Online Guide to Mental & Behavioral Health

Resources for College Students

Bottles of pills

Recreational Drug Use and Addiction

People experiment with drugs for many different reasons. Many first try drugs out of curiosity, to have a good time, because friends are doing it, or in an effort to improve athletic performance or ease another problem, such as stress, anxiety, or depression. Use doesn't automatically lead to abuse, and there is no specific level at which drug use moves from casual to problematic. It varies by individual. Drug abuse and addiction is less about the amount of substance consumed or the frequency, and more to do with the consequences of drug use.

No matter how often or how little you're consuming, if your drug use is causing problems in your life at work, school, home, or in your relationships, you likely have a drug abuse or addiction problem. Addiction is a complex disorder characterized by compulsive drug use. While each drug produces different physical effects, all abused substances share one thing in common: repeated use can alter the way the brain looks and functions.

Why do some drug users become addicted, while others don't?

As with many other conditions and diseases, vulnerability to addiction differs from person to person. Your genes, mental health, family and social environment all play a role in addiction. Risk factors that increase your vulnerability include:

  • Family history of addiction
  • Abuse, neglect, or other traumatic experiences in childhood
  • Mental disorders such as depression and anxiety
  • Early use of drugs
  • Method of administration, smoking or injecting a drug may increase its addictive potential

In many cases, however, there is a fine line between regular use and drug abuse and addiction. Very few addicts are able to recognize when they have crossed that line.

If you're worried about your own or a friend or family member's drug use, it's important to know that help is available. Learning about the nature of drug abuse and addiction, how it develops, what it looks like, and why it can have such a powerful hold will give you a better understanding of the problem and how to best deal with it. See if you recognize yourself in the following signs and symptoms of substance abuse and addiction. If so, consider talking to someone about your drug use.

Common signs and symptoms of drug abuse

  • You're neglecting your responsibilities at school, work, or home (e.g. flunking classes, skipping work, neglecting your children) because of your drug use.
  • You're using drugs under dangerous conditions or taking risks while high, such as driving while on drugs, using dirty needles, or having unprotected sex.
  • Your drug use is getting you into legal trouble, such as arrests for disorderly conduct, driving under the influence, or stealing to support a drug habit.
  • Your drug use is causing problems in your relationships such as fights with your partner or family members, an unhappy boss, or the loss of old friends.

Common signs and symptoms of drug addiction

  • You've built up a drug tolerance. You need to use more of the drug to experience the same effects you used to attain with smaller amounts.
  • You take drugs to avoid or relieve withdrawal symptoms. If you go too long without drugs, you experience symptoms such as nausea, restlessness, insomnia, depression, sweating, shaking, and anxiety.
  • You've lost control over your drug use. You often do drugs or use more than you planned, even though you told yourself you wouldn't. You may want to stop using, but you feel powerless.
  • Your life revolves around drug use. You spend a lot of time using and thinking about drugs, figuring out how to get them, and recovering from the drug's effects.
  • You've abandoned activities you used to enjoy, such as hobbies, sports, and socializing, because of your drug use.
  • You continue to use drugs, despite knowing it's hurting you. It's causing major problems in your life, blackouts, infections, mood swings, depression, paranoia, but you use anyway.

Finding help and support for drug addiction

Recognizing that you have a problem is the first step on the road to recovery, one that takes tremendous courage and strength. Facing your addiction can feel frightening and overwhelming, but recovery is within reach. Don't try to go it alone. Whether you choose to go to rehab, rely on self-help programs, get therapy, or take a self-directed treatment approach, support is essential. You will need people you can lean on for encouragement, comfort, and guidance.

  • Visit a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in your area. See below.
  • Call 1-800-662-HELP in the U.S. to reach a free referral helpline from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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Study Drugs

Some college students turn to "study drugs" or "smart drugs" for an extra boost when taking tests or managing other academic challenges. Recent research found that 30% of students at a large state university have illegally used a stimulant, such as the ADHD drugs Adderall or Ritalin.

Adderall is an amphetamine and can be habit-forming. The federal government lists it as a Schedule II drug. Drugs in that category have, according to U.S. law "the highest abuse potential and dependence profile of all drugs that have medical utility." Taking drugs without a prescription or buying the controlled substances is illegal and students who use the drugs could face prosecution.

Health Risks of Misuse

Though effective for the treatment of diagnosed medical conditions, prescription stimulants are not without side effects and serious risks. This category of pharmaceutical is classified as a Schedule II drug in the amphetamine class. They have a high abuse risk, but also safe medical uses.

As such, prescribing physicians must assess an individual's risks versus benefits through medicale valuation, and must monitor for hazardous interactions with other medications. In the most general terms, the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA) cites the following risks associated with misuse of prescription stimulants:

  • Depression and other mental health problems
  • Criminal involvement
  • Abuse and dependence
  • Increased risk of mortality and morbidity

These drugs have a chemical composition similar to methamphetamine, and abuse is associated with negative impact on brain wave activity and compromised brain development. Withdrawal from prescription stimulants, once addicted, is associated with effects similar to cocaine withdrawal: severe depression, psychosis, restlessness, and extreme feelings of agitation.

Drug Abuse Resources

  • Narcotics anonymous: (510)444-4673
  • Drugs of Abuse: Learn the facts about the most commonly abused drugs. For each drug, get a brief overview, street and clinical names, the effects of the drug on the brain and body, statistics and trends, and relevant publications and articles. (National Institute of Drug Abuse)
  • Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs: Provides a list of prescription drugs commonly abused, including depressants, opioids and morphine derivatives, and stimulants, and provides their common and street names, how they are generally administered, and their potential health effects.
  • StreetTalk Pamphlets: A series of lively, informative articles on the ever-changing world of street drugs, including crystal meth, ecstasy, heroin, and club drugs. (Do It Now Foundation)
  • Addiction and the Brain's Pleasure Pathway: Beyond Willpower: Describes how the brain becomes addicted and why relapse is so common. (
  • Narcotics Anonymous: Worldwide services for overcoming drug addiction, including searchable database of local meetings and support groups.

General Mental Health Resources

The menu on the right will link you to information on specific mental health topics. -->
Below are additional links to excellent websites for mental health information:

  • Go Ask Alice: Website operated by Columbia University to answer the questions of college students on issues related to physical health, mental health, and sexuality.
  • Half Of Us: This engaging youth-oriented site uses video stories of students and high-profile artists to increase awareness about mental health issues and the importance of getting help.
  • This website of the American Psychiatric Association offers a broad array of information on topics related to mental health.
  • Helpguide: Website operated by a non-profit organization offers information and resources on a broad range of mental health topics.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): An advocacy group for people living with mental illness and their loved ones. Good source of information and resources on mental health topics.
  • An information and support service using evidence based principles and technology to help teens and young adults facing tough times and struggling with mental health issues.
  • An online resource for college students with information about protecting your emotional health and what to do if you or friends are struggling with mental health issues.
  • Student Health 101