There are behavioral changes you can look for if you suspect your college student may be struggling with substance abuse.

College is a great place to explore and learn about future career options. Students also have opportunities to grow as young adults and learn life lessons away from home. Unfortunately, college also presents the opportunity to experiment with drugs and alcohol. When college students return home for the summer, some may show signs of substance misuse or possibly an addiction.

College and Substance Abuse

Not every young adult who goes to college parties is going to be vulnerable to binge drinking or drug abuse. However, there is the potential for using negative coping skills while away at school. College adds many changes to a student’s life. Academic pressures, being away from home and struggles with independence can create added stress.

Some students will grow and thrive in these conditions. But these changes can be especially difficult for students with underlying mental health conditions. These young people have an even higher risk of developing substance use disorders.

At first, drinking or drugs may be used as a way of letting off steam during school. Substance use may be seen as a socially acceptable way of letting go of stress and escaping their problems for the moment. Some students try drugs that help them stay awake during long study sessions.

Students who use substances to get through tough times may start relying on them more heavily as the months pass. The substances may seem to help at first, but continued use only causes more problems in the long run. Over time, students who misuse substances will experience many negative consequences in college.

Some students who try substances during college may resume healthier habits when they are surrounded by family. However, others may carry dangerous habits and substance misuse back home with them. This may be a shock for parents who were not aware of their child’s drug or alcohol use. Parents should be alert for behavioral changes that may indicate a struggle with substance use.

Behavioral Changes To Lookout For

Neglecting Responsibilities

Students who misuse substances may struggle with normal responsibilities like work, chores or other social commitments. Family members may find a normally reliable student dropping the ball much more frequently.

Changes in Appetite, Weight and Physical Appearance

Weight changes are not uncommon for young people living away from home. However, a significant, unexplained change can mean something is wrong. Excessive alcohol use can cause a person to gain weight, while other drugs suppress appetite and can cause a person to lose weight. A person who is misusing substances may also look much less healthy in general.

Poor Self-Care and Hygiene

Substance misuse affects a person’s ability to focus on self-care and personal habits. A student who misuses substances may not worry as much about taking regular showers or brushing their teeth. The young adult may be more focused on getting a chance to use or recovering from the effects of a recent binge.

Signs of Intoxication, Especially at Unexpected Times

A parent might observe signs of intoxication in their child such as bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, loss of coordination and tremors. This situation may be even more concerning if the symptoms occur during the daytime or on a regular basis.

Poor Grades or Unwillingness to Talk about Grades

A student who misuses substances may be unwilling to discuss their college grades. Or, they may briefly talk about them but try to brush off poor grades. While there are many possible reasons for low grades, substance misuse can interfere with a student’s academic performance.

Unexpected Change in Friends, Hangouts and Social Behaviors

When a student moves away, family and friends often remember friendships and hangouts from when they lived at home. While social changes are expected after living away from home, extreme change can signal a problem. Dropping long-time friends and adopting an entirely different social scene could be a sign of substance misuse.

Changes in Sleeping Patterns

College students sometimes adopt irregular sleep habits to work around classes and the demands of studying. However, sleeping patterns that are vastly different from the norm may be a red flag for substance misuse. A person misusing substances often has an unusual sleep schedule that interferes with daily life.

Changes in Mood

Teenagers are prone to mood swings at times. However, substance misuse can cause a person to have disruptive mood swings and problems getting along with others. This misuse can also cause a person to be more irritable and to have more angry outbursts.

Unexplained Problems with Money

Excessive substance use can put a significant strain on finances. A student who misuses substances may realize they have money problems, but may also give excuses and odd explanations for their trouble.

If you are a parent and you have concerns that your child may have a substance use disorder, contact us at The Recovery Village. We have staff available around the clock to answer questions and help you learn more about treatment for substance misuse.

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By – Renee Deveney
As a contributor for Advanced Recovery Systems, Renee Deveney is passionate about helping people struggling with substance use disorder. With a family history of addiction, Renee is committed to opening up a proactive dialogue about substance use and mental health. Read more
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.