Back to college? Know the dangers of these common drugs

Drugs ilegal

Going off to college is a time of new-found independence. Third level students get to take their own adventures, face their own challenges and make their own choices without the oversight of a parental figure. Unfortunately, this also means making decisions about whether to drink, to experiment with illicit substances, or to misuse prescription pills to get through an all-night assignment.

The chances of young adults using drugs at university are high. According to a 2016 study, 43% of students used an illicit drug over the last year. This is the highest prevalence we’ve seen among college students in three decades. But what drugs are they using, exactly? Are our young people putting themselves at risk for longer-term issues, like an addiction?  Here, we outline some of the most commonly used drugs by third-level students today.


Alcohol, while not illegal, is by far the most widely-used addictive substances on campuses today. Over 32% of students drink heavily or “binge” drink, recently having had five or more drinks in a row. 11% of college students partake in extreme drinking, which involves more than 10 drinks in a row. These figures are much higher among full-time college students than other young adults in their age group.

The problem is, alcohol is especially detrimental for college students. Not only does it put them at higher risks for drug addiction down the road, it also can negatively impact their academic performance. Alcohol is a factor in 40% of academic issues, including missing class, falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers, and getting lower grades overall.

Binge drinkers have a greater risk of suicide, high blood pressure, heart attack, inflammation of the stomach, pancreas, brain, or spinal cord, unsafe sex and STIs.


Each year, the use of marijuana among college students continues to increase, with nearly 40% of full-time college students having used marijuana in the last year. About 5% of students use marijuana on a daily basis.

Most undergraduates are in college from age 18 to 22. The brain does not stop fully maturing until about age 25, which means any mind-altering substance could interfere with the development process. This could lead to a substance use disorder and longer-term memory and learning issues.

Because marijuana has negative effects on attention and memory, smoking weed makes it difficult to learn new things or do complex tasks that require focus and concentration. Some young people believe that they do complex tasks, like driving a car, better when they are stoned because they think their ability to focus is increased. But, research shows that the perceived heightened focus is usually short-lived and marijuana users have trouble maintaining concentration throughout the task.

Smoking weed can harm your athletic performance because it affects your timing, movement, and co-ordination. If your abilities are impaired even slightly, it can make a big difference in the outcome during the heat of sports competition.

Studies show that smoking marijuana can alter your ability to make sound judgements, like most other abused substances. If your judgment is impaired, you are more likely to become involved in risky behaviours like having unsafe sex or getting behind the wheel of a vehicle while impaired.

Ecstasy and other MDMA Drugs

Party and club drugs are still all-the-rage across college campuses, with MDMA use among college students having doubled in the last decade. MDMA drugs can be extremely dangerous for anyone of any age. Not only are they highly addictive, but they are also associated with severe health risks such as seizures, hallucinations, panic attacks, heart failure, dehydration, and dangerous spikes in body temperature.

Risks have worsened since the Seventies when these drugs first gained popularity. Today, ecstasy and related drugs are commonly laced with other toxic substances: Rat poison, detergent, and aspirin are just a few. Yet still, college students continue to take these drugs, despite the dangers, to enhance their partying experience.


Once the preserve of the very wealthy, cocaine has become increasingly more popular with students, mainly because it is easy to come by – with reports that it has become part of a ‘debs budget’ for students in some secondary schools.

Cocaine is a white powder, which makes the user feel alert, super confident, and gives a feeling of superiority mixed with happiness. Apart from being expensive, it is highly addictive (there is an immediate craving for more after a single use) and it produces a very bad come down.

Cocaine use, of any degree, can lead to sudden death, depression and aggressive mood swings. Heart disease and more importantly, psychosis, are side-effects of the drug and because cocaine removes the need to eat or sleep, the user’s health greatly suffers.

Prescription Amphetamines

Ever hear of the ADHD drug Adderall? Did you know that it is also known as a “study drug,” and is one of the most widely abused substances among college students today? This prescription drug is commonly used by college students to increase concentration and improve academic performance. Composed of amphetamines and dextroamphetamines, Adderall triggers a rush of adrenaline in its users, leading to enhanced energy, focus, and productivity levels. While all sounds fine and safe, what many college students don’t know is that prescription amphetamines like this are also highly addictive.

Adderall, along with the similar drug Ritalin, has a strong potential for abuse and addiction. This is especially true among college students, who are crushing and snorting these pills to obtain a faster and harder high. With increased wakefulness a side effect, prescription amphetamines are being used as both ‘study drugs’ and ‘party drugs’.

Common side-effects include headaches, nausea, appetite loss, agitation, restlessness, sleep problems and changes in sex drive. Over a longer period of abuse, they can cause anxiety, confusion, blurred vision, dizziness, insomnia and delusions.

If you feel that you, your child, or your friend, has developed dangerous habits or signs of addiction, it is vital to seek the direction of a professional. College students are one of the most diagnosable demographics for substance use disorders. Yet 37% of them will not pursue professional addiction treatment out of fear of the social stigma. You might need to step in.

Tabor Group

If you, or someone you love, is struggling with addiction, get help not only for yourself, but for your children as well.

Tabor Group is a leading provider of residential addiction treatment services in Ireland. We provide support and care to hundreds of clients suffering from addictions to alcohol, substances, gambling and eating disorders. For more information on Tabor Group’s services, click here.