College Bingeing, Drug Use Remains High
> 5/22/2008 3:49:00 PM


Those who believe that substance abuse among college students has subsided or leveled off in the last decade need to reconsider their positions in light of extensive data released by Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) in March of 2007. The harrowing numbers: 49 percent of surveyed college students admitted to binge drinking or abusing substances both legal and illicit. The fact that almost one in four qualified as suffering from a dependence on one or more of these drugs implies that the actual numbers may be even higher.

While the abuse of more commonly acknowledged drugs like cocaine and marijuana has not seen significant increases in recent years, the number of students using prescription drugs for recreational purposes has risen exponentially. For example, the presence of the powerful painkiller Oxycontin at American schools more than tripled in the years from 1993 to 2005. The fact that over 3 percent of all students reported taking drugs that can be extremely dangerous and highly addictive when not used in a proper medical context leads one to believe that such substances have begun to make their way into the mainstream on our college campuses. The rates of abuse for stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin doubled between 1993 and 2005, and these drugs are often used not to attain a pleasurable high but to aid in late-night study sessions. Innocent academic aids can quickly turn into debilitating addictions.

According to CASA researchers, unlike in the past, a central area of concern from this data is not a steep rise in the number of students who drink and use drugs on a regular basis, but the frequency and intensity of their indulgences. The number of monthly incidents reported by students who binge drink rose significantly during the 12 year period in question.

So how have so many underestimated the scope of this epidemic? Previous surveys indicate that parents are often very naive regarding the drug habits of their teenagers, and while school administrators generally have better- informed views on the issue, many clearly do not appreciate the prevalence of addiction on their campuses.

How can concerned parties respond to the issue? CASA's list of suggestions for administrators, professors, and parents anxious to address the epidemic, is constructive but very general. Students should be made more aware of the dangers inherent in using these substances, especially on a habitual basis. They need to understand that drugs like alcohol, prescribed stimulants, and synthetic opiates are in no way safer or more acceptable than their illicit counterparts. Underage drinking in particular has long been the standard for college students around the country, and the chances of reversing that trend are depressingly slim. Anonymous surveys, though hardly a solution to the problem, are crucial tools for assessment and public education, and we need to highlight more eye-opening stories like this one so that the average American can better understand the scope of this epidemic and the significant risks involved.

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