Student Substance Abuse

The epidemic of student alcoholism and drug addiction has remained transparent for as long as university partying has existed. The onset of addiction is often initiated in the early years of secondary and post secondary education and can continue into adult life, causing detrimental effects. It would seem an obvious conclusion that no person would willingly initiate either alcoholism or drug addiction. However, in correlation with routine habits practiced throughout university careers, both alcoholism and drug addiction are realistic problems that can affect us long after graduation.

An article by the National Council on Patient Information and Education stated that “although most college students use prescription drugs properly, about one in four people aged 18-20 report using these medications non-medically at least once in their lives.” The questions that arise from these statistics are twofold. Firstly, what causes students to initiate the intake of prescription drugs for recreational purposes, and secondly, are students more susceptible to drug addiction due to age and location?

In regards to how the recreational intake of pharmaceuticals arises in students, there are a few hypotheses presented by the National Council on Patient Information and Education. Students often gain access to prescription drugs either through relatives, friends or, most commonly, by being prescribed them by a family doctor upon injury. The legitimated access to prescription drugs creates the potentiality for misuse which can then be furthered by a patient’s inability to adhere to clinical advice or recommended dosage.

As tolerance builds in a patient, the dosage may be further increased until the patient chooses to cease the intake of medication, the clinical specialist ceases to prescribe further refills on the medication, or in the most unfortunate of cases the patient overdoses. With this observation noted, it is easy to arrive at a clear understanding of how abuse of prescription drugs is initiated and maintained among students.

The social acceptability of alcoholism also requires attention, particularly as it exists amongst university students. Due to the age range of entry level undergraduates and the recently gained legal privilege of purchasing alcohol, alcohol is entrenched in popular perceptions of the “university experience”.

However, in an uncontrolled environment many do not have the self moderation necessary for appropriate consumption. The potentiality of over consumption along with issues of prescription drug abuse create a dangerous combination that increases the lethality of both habits exponentially. This fact is unaided by an overwhelming lack of knowledge on the lethal results of combined substances. An anonymous student told Arthur about his experience combining Tylenol 3 and alcohol in an incident that occurred in January 2011:

“It started when I had sustained an injury from a varsity sport I was involved in. At first I was strictly following the guidelines of my dosage and being very cautious of my consumption of alcohol at the same time. However, as time went on and my injury was healing slowly, I decided to both up the dosage myself without clinical advice, and drink a little while along with this. It was probably single-handedly the worse decision I’ve ever made. Even though it was one pitcher of beer and two T3s it was enough to cause a reaction in my liver. I had tremendous pains in my side, it happened upwards of four hours after I’d left the bar and I was home alone at the time. If it wasn’t for my friend who drove me to the hospital I probably would be dead right now. I was in the hospital for four hours hallucinating because my liver had failed and my brain was being fuelled with unfiltered toxins. I thought there were dogs running though the hospital, waiting for me to die. I had no idea such a small amount could cause such a horrifying reaction.”

When heavy drinking is involved, it seems commonplace that Tylenol or Advil be taken to relieve dizziness and restore a clearheaded perception. However, over-the-counter pain killers don’t specify the amount of medication it takes to cause a negative reaction with alcohol, as this varies tremendously from person to person depending on factors such as weight and substance tolerance. Many students fail to realize how little it takes to cause a deadly reaction when it comes to the combination of drugs and alcohol.

Partying may be part of university life, but the line between excessive partying and future addiction is drawn by one’s self-awareness regarding their personal limits and recklessness of consumption. A stronger focus on the severity of substance abuse both in the short and long term is necessary for all of those who choose to partake.