What Are the Most Popular Drugs on College Campuses?

College is an excellent time to discover who you are and what you want to do in life. Many people have some of their best experiences in college with their friends and peers.

Often, college is the first time teens get complete independence from their families and hometowns. As a result, some may start experimenting with drugs and alcohol, which can get out of control. Below, you'll learn more about the most used drugs in college and their different effects.

The Popularity of Drug Use on College Campuses

Approximately 60% of college students consume alcohol, and 39% participate in binge drinking. Specific substances, such as marijuana, are also popular among college students. Other drugs college students use include:

  • MDMA
  • LSD
  • Cocaine
  • Prescription drugs
  • Opioids

College students are particularly vulnerable to alcohol and drug use because they're facing new academic and social stressors. Many students feel intense pressure from their parents, peers, professors and even themselves. The tension of adapting to a new lifestyle with less structure than they were once used to can cause college students to turn to substances to cope.

The Most Popular Drugs on College Campuses

Some substances are more widespread among college students than others. Below, you'll find a list of the most readily available drugs on college campuses and how they affect students.


Since alcohol is legally available and socially acceptable in the United States, it's easy to find on college campuses, even for underaged students. Many young people think of drinking to excess as a rite of passage, thanks to depictions in movies and TV shows.  

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 53% of college students drank alcohol in the last month, and 33% participated in binge drinking. While there's a common misconception that alcohol is safe because it is legal, it has severe consequences. Alcohol abuse can cause serious physical and mental health problems, which can lead to issues later in life.

Younger college students may be more vulnerable to alcohol abuse than older adults because they're still learning to manage their responsibilities away from home. Drinking is prevalent at college social events such as tailgating, fraternity and sorority parties, weekend celebrations and more. College students can be vulnerable to alcohol abuse because of how accepted drinking is on college campuses.


Marijuana is another widely used substance among college students. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that around 44% of college students use marijuana, a number that continues increasing as more states legalize the drug for recreational and medicinal use. Many college students use marijuana believing it's a harmless drug without the risk of addiction. However, people can develop a dependence on marijuana, and it can come with various effects, such as:

  • Problems with focus
  • Memory issues
  • Problems with information retention
  • Mental health problems

These effects of marijuana are less than ideal for students who need to attend class and focus on their studies. Marijuana can also cause college students whose brains are still developing to do risky things like driving under the influence or making irresponsible decisions.

Prescription Pills

College students may have access to many different types of prescription pills.

  • Stimulants: While some students have a legitimate need for ADHD medications like Adderall and Ritalin, other people under pressure to perform well in school obtain these “study drugs” hoping to sharpen their focus and reduce distractions while in class or working on assignments. Some students use medications like Adderall or Ritalin to cram for tests or finish a paper without realizing the potential for addiction. Students with a legal prescription for these stimulants may sell or give them to others who use them for nonmedical purposes.
  • Painkillers: Opioids have a high abuse rate among college students, with as many as 12% of students reporting that they've misused opioids at least once. Some students use opioids as party drugs, while others use them to relax. Some also combine opioids with alcohol or other substances, increasing the risk of a life-threatening overdose.
  • Sedatives: Some people living with conditions like anxiety and insomnia rely on medications like Xanax and Ativan. However, college students also misuse benzodiazepines. Since medications like Xanax can create a euphoric effect, they may be present at college parties.

Prescription pills have a high risk of misuse and dependency when used long-term, leading to adverse physical and mental health effects. Some college students who lack drug education may mix different substances, increasing their risk of overdose. 

Ecstasy and MDMA

Ecstasy and MDMA are well-known party drugs among college students, especially at clubs and music festivals. These drugs have mood-altering effects, including increased pleasure and empathy. In some cases, they can also produce hallucinations. While college students often take the two drugs to experience new stimuli, they can also impair judgment and coordination, especially when mixed with other substances.

Combining ecstasy or MDMA with other drugs can also harm a person's physical health, making a person more likely to experience hallucinations, panic attacks, heart problems, temperature spikes and dehydration. These drugs also affect serotonin levels in the body, increasing a person's likelihood of feeling depressed once the effects have worn off.


Cocaine is a stimulant popular among college students at parties for its euphoric effects and ability to keep a person awake. While college students may think cocaine adds to the party environment, it can cause severe physical and mental side effects.

Cocaine's desirable effects are short-lived, causing people to keep taking more to experience the same result. Cocaine use can increase heart rate, blood pressure and anxiety. People who use cocaine can also develop sleeping problems.

Cocaine is also highly addictive. Once a person becomes physically and psychologically dependent on cocaine, it becomes a priority in their life, severely affecting their relationships, health, career, finances and overall well-being.

How to Prevent Drug Use on College Campuses

Ending college drug use is essential to reduce the risk of addiction and preserve students' promising futures. There are many ways to prevent drug use.

  • Education: Providing students with detailed information about the adverse physical, mental and social effects of alcohol and drugs can help them take the dangers of these substances more seriously.
  • Rule enforcement: Laws enforce the drinking age and make drugs like cocaine strictly illegal. Enforcing these laws on and around campus can make it harder for students to get substances.
  • Bar restrictions: Bars and liquor stores close to campus make students more likely to drink. You can limit underage drinking by keeping young students as far away from these bars and stores as much as possible, such as having dorms in a specific location.
  • Thought challenges: Some students believe they need to use drugs to fit in or make friends. Deconstructing these beliefs can make college students less likely to use.

Seek Addiction Treatment at Diamond House Detox

Diamond House Detox is here to help if you're struggling with addiction. Our homelike, welcoming environment makes you feel comfortable and secure. Our residential treatment provides plenty of privacy from the outside world while giving you access to 24/7 care. You'll participate in various levels of care and treatment for co-occurring disorders if you have an underlying mental health condition.

Taking the first step and participating in addiction treatment can help reduce the physical, mental and social effects of substance use. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help!

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Diamond House Detox
Vicky is a board certified Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. She began her nursing career in healthcare by working in the intensive care unit, and then an inpatient psychiatric hospital. After realizing the mental health needs of both the patients and the families she served, she became a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Throughout her experience working with clients, she has developed a passion for those with dual diagnoses and specializes in helping individuals recognize the issues driving their substance use. This recognition has been crucial to the individual’s success in treatment. Vicky opened Diamond House Detox so that she can address these issues early on in a therapeutic environment to allow clients to transition to the next level in their recovery.
Vicky Magobet
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