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Treating Substance Abuse Among College Students


Treating Substance Abuse Among College Students

As parents, we have high hopes and dreams for our children. From the moment we see their trusting eyes looking up at us with wonder and adoration, we want to give them the very best the world has to offer. We plan thoughtfully for their education and make decisions to ensure their safety and well-being. We hope that they will be successful, but more than that, we want them to be happy and fulfilled. We sacrifice so that they will have what we did not and work hard to offer them the best possible start in life.

But what happens when our best-laid plans fall through—when that child on whom we have pinned those dreams fails to launch? When kids are derailed by substance abuse, our initial disappointment may give way to despair and hopelessness. And while this reaction is completely natural, you should not indulge it for long. Grieving the life you had planned for your child may prevent you from taking action that can help them to recover. If your college-aged child has become sidelined due to substance abuse, now is the time to turn your attention toward finding a specialized treatment program focused on substance abuse among college students.

The Challenges to This Special Population

As they move into adult roles and must make important decisions, college students face a number of developmental and social challenges. These may figure prominently in the onset of substance abuse disorders and will certainly complicate their treatment. Understanding these factors will help you to appreciate the treatment requirements necessary to increase the likelihood of successful recovery.

Incomplete brain development

The human brain reaches maturity around the age of 25. Prior to that time, teens and young adults may be more inclined to risk-taking behaviors and may be subject to impulsive decisions. There is a heightened reaction to rewards, an attraction to novelty, and a decreased inhibition that may lead to thrill-seeking and chasing a “high.” The immaturity of the prefrontal cortex, one of the last parts of the brain to develop, may figure prominently in the dangerous and potentially self-destructive behaviors involving substance use and abuse.

Besides receiving treatment for their addiction, they require support for the life challenges that may complicate their recovery. The best, most successful treatment programs are those informed by clinical knowledge of the developmental and social characteristics of young adults.

Social culture

Teens and young adults place increasing value on relationships with peers over their family members as they strive for independence. In part because of their incomplete brain development, but also due to the growing influence of peers as they begin to experience independence from their families, young adults of this age group may engage in dangerous behavior to gain social acceptance. The social culture among high school and college students may be skewed toward risky behavior by this peer pressure. Binge drinking and substance use are common in social settings at this age and in this environment.

Culpability for their own choices

For college students who may be away from home for the first time, many are just learning how their actions impact others. Perhaps they are having to make difficult decisions or deal with consequences on their own without the help of a parent. With limited experience and capacity to push through adversity, kids of this age group may struggle to take responsibility. Low self-esteem and lack of confidence may create additional barriers that must be overcome.

Lack of experience with adult responsibilities

A lack of experience with adult responsibilities may result in stressful situations that have legal or financial consequences. Substance abuse may cause students to miss classes or earn failing grades. When adult demands pile up, they may lack the skills to solve problems or the maturity to move past them. They may be taking on more financial responsibilities, living on their own, and learning the pressures of having a job. Young people may not yet have the capacity to deal with life stressors and may resort to substance abuse to help them cope, thus contributing to a negative cycle.

Co-occurring mental health conditions

One in five young adults in the US experiences a mental health issue each year, and according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 75% of these appear before age 24. Unfortunately, a strong connection exists between mental health and substance abuse with an estimated 30% of those experiencing substance abuse also suffering a co-occurring mental health issue.

Optimal Treatment Options for Substance Abuse Among College Students

College students are at a particularly vulnerable point in life: not yet fully mature but increasingly expected to take on more responsibility and make independent decisions. Treating substance abuse among college students presents some unique challenges. Besides receiving treatment for their addiction, they require support for the life challenges that may complicate their recovery. The best, most successful treatment programs are those informed by clinical knowledge of the developmental and social characteristics of young adults.

Optimal treatment programs:

  • Approach addiction recovery with a comprehensive continuum of care
  • Focus on helping young adults grow their emotional intelligence
  • Empower young adults to develop responsible decision-making practices
  • Implement active therapies to capture their interest and their need for novelty
  • Emphasize social interaction since peers figure so prominently in young people’s lives
  • Prioritize family involvement to encourage the best chance for successful recovery
  • Provide strong and ongoing case management that supports students as they complete treatment and return to the demands of their lives

As college students recover from substance abuse, they may also need help handling consequences and may require additional support as they move forward in life. Look for a program geared toward this special population, one that holds them accountable while providing real-life skills. Helping them experience responsibility and understand reciprocal accountability will set them up for success and get them back on the path to the life they are beginning to chart for themselves.

New Choices Treatment Centers has developed specialized programs for vulnerable populations. If you are concerned about substance abuse in your college student, contact us online or by phone at (726) 888-7003. Our staff members understand the unique developmental characteristics of college students, and we structure treatment around their needs. We will partner with you to get them back on solid footing.