Are human beings more forgiving of their personal flaws or errors and less forgiving when others slip up? How do people’s views of certain decisions change when the person making the decision changes?

More specifically, how do people view their own substance use in college compared to that of others?

Being a college student often goes hand in hand with substance misuse, including drinking alcohol or taking drugs. That’s evident by the large number of people who try drugs or alcohol for the first time during their college years.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration conducted a survey regarding substance use among college students ages 18 to 22. Around 40 percent of full-time college students engaged in binge drinking at least one time within a month of the research being conducted. Around 22 percent used an illicit drug within the same timeframe.

The research focused on college students who are misusing drugs or alcohol for the first time. Some noteworthy findings include:

  • On an average day, 2,179 full-time college students drank alcohol for the first time and 1,326 of them took an illicit drug for the first time.
  • Around 5.4 million full-time college students, around 60.1 percent of this demographic, drank alcohol at least once within a month of the research being conducted.
  • Around 13.2 percent of full-time college students, or 1.2 million, participated in heavy alcohol use during the same timeframe.

The Recovery Village surveyed 400 people regarding the topic of substance misuse in college, and nearly 80 percent said they drank alcohol or tried drugs at least one time. The other questions ranged from which drugs people took to the impact their substance misuse had on them during college and after.

However, a noteworthy result emerged from the survey regarding how people viewed their own substance misuse in college versus that of others.

Beyond Just ‘Having Fun’

A lot of people in college drink or use drugs for the thrill of partying and being in that enjoyable area between childhood and full-fledged adulthood. However, there are other reasons.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University conducted a study in 2003 that reveals the top reasons teenagers might drink or take drugs. One was that high amounts of stress can make adolescents twice as likely to consume dangerous substances as a form of self-medication.

The survey results back up this research, as more people identified internal struggles as their motivation for substance misuse than any other reason. When asked why they personally used drugs or alcohol in college, the most popular answer people gave was “to deal with stress.” This option, which includes stress from schoolwork or relationship problems, was selected by 38.75 percent of the survey participants. The next-highest option was “to feel their euphoric effects” — meaning that of the drugs taken — at 33.13 percent.

When asked what other people’s motivations were to misuse drugs or alcohol, however, the answers were much different.

More than 50 percent of respondents said that other people used drugs or alcohol in college to “have fun.” “Dealing with stress” received the next-highest percentage at 28.75 percent.

Recognizing the Struggles of Others

Why are the explanations so different? Are people more inclined to be forgiving of their own substance misuse yet critical of when others take drugs or alcohol? Not necessarily.

previous survey conducted by The Recovery Village suggests that people live within a personal bubble and do not consider the struggles that others might face. People are more likely to believe that their stress is more difficult to deal with than what others might face.

According to numerous studies and research, more Americans than ever before are struggling with anxiety, depression, stress and other mental illnesses. These internal strifes can lead to drug or alcohol misuse as a form of self-medication.

So while someone who deals with stress and misuses harmful substances to temporarily escape from these burdens, they should also recognize others might be in the same position. Understanding and being more aware of the struggles of others can help people become less judgemental and more supportive during challenging times.

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.