Movies like “Animal House,” “Revenge of the Nerds,” “Old School” and “Van Wilder” show young, attractive college kids binge drinking, taking drugs and engaging in risky behaviors. Although these comedies portray an exaggerated American college experience, they’re funny because they’re relatable. According to the report Academic Opportunity Costs of Substance Use During College, on average, 40 percent of college students drink alcohol excessively.

Despite what Hollywood may dismiss, the number of alcohol poisonings, drug-related deaths and reports of violence that occurs on and off college campuses is no laughing matter. Even after students leave college, drug and alcohol use during college can affect post-graduate employment opportunities and performance in the workforce.  

The Recovery Village® recently conducted a survey that examined patterns of substance use among college students. According to this survey, 78 percent of participants reported that their drug and alcohol use decreased when they left college. While this statistic is an improvement for the participants, many people may not realize how their past drug and alcohol use affects their post-college employment.

After the party is over, the mess gets cleaned up, but what about the damage done to these students’ bodies? Damaged cells in the liver can lead to liver disease and the damage done to the brain can cause seizures and severe memory loss. In addition to decreased health, some additional long-term consequences could include difficulties in securing post-college employment.

College Students Aren’t There For a Long Time, They’re There For a Good Time 

Drug and alcohol use during college could decrease the chances of post-graduate employment for various reasons, including:

  • Having serious substance use problems during college may inhibit graduating, and employment that provides a living wage can be difficult to find without a degree.
  • Drug or alcohol-related legal issues from college, like a possession charge or DUI, may also make it difficult for someone to find a job after college.
  • Drug and alcohol use may also cause students to disengage from extracurricular activities, academic pursuits like internships and networking resources that could help them obtain the necessary skills to gain employment post-college.

Substance Abuse Affects Graduation Rates

The National Center for Education Statistics reveals the troubling realities of the country’s college graduation rates. Of full-time students at four-year universities, approximately 56 percent of male and 61 percent of females completed their bachelor’s degrees within six years.

The extended amount of time it took for students to complete their programs can be attributed to excessive drug and alcohol misuse. According to researchers at Tel Aviv University and Cornell University, heavy drinking six times a month can reduce the probability that an unemployed individual in the workforce will obtain a job by 10 percent. The researchers also suggested that each additional instance of binge-drinking during a 30-day period can lower the odds of gaining full-time employment post-college by 1.4 percent.

Graduates with a history of heavy drug and alcohol use in college may face limited options in the current workforce where employment opportunities are increasingly difficult to come by. Since the recession of 2008, jobs have been harder to find for college graduates. Employers are offering fewer positions for less pay, so it’s important for applicants to stand out among their peers. Excessive drinking and substance use can interfere with obtaining the skills and experience required to be a competitive applicant in the current job market.

Welcome to the Real World

Besides affecting academic performance and the acquisition of skills and experience required to gain post-college employment, heavy substance use during college can also influence the job search. Job search processes are often highly autonomous, self-motivated, loosely structured and ill-defined undertakings. If a student isn’t able to motivate themselves to work through the puzzle that is locating and applying for an entry-level position, they’ll have less success obtaining a job after college than someone approaching the situation with a clear, focused mind.

Our survey found that when college students leave college, their tendency to drink as heavily and frequently decreases. Some researchers refer to this change in substance misuse pattern as “maturing out,” and acknowledge that it coincides with developmental changes in potentially dangerous behaviors.

It’s suggested that young adults who are trying to enter the workforce no longer feel the need to rely on potentially dangerous behavior like binge drinking or drug misuse to feel like an adult. For some young adults, “maturing out” involves engaging in other adult-related milestones like buying a home, getting married and having children.

It’s also possible that this decrease happens when young adults aren’t immersed in the college culture anymore – there’s no longer a party every weekend or a bar with cheap drink specials dedicated to you. However, even with the decrease of alcohol and substance misuse in their lives, these young adults may still feel the effects of their heavy drug use during college.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.