“Animal House.” “Revenge of the Nerds.” “Old School.” “Van Wilder.” The film industry has created an entire genre featuring young, attractive, college kids binge-drinking, misusing drugs, and engaging in potentially dangerous behavior. These movies are often comedies and while the portrayal of a typical American college experience is slightly exaggerated, they’re funny because they’re relatable. According to the report by Academic Opportunity Costs of Substance Use During College, 40 percent of college students drink alcohol excessively on average.

Despite what Hollywood may have us believe the number of alcohol poisonings, drug-related deaths and violence on and off college campuses is no laughing matter. The tragedy is that is even after students leave college, their drug and alcohol use during college can have long-term impacts on their 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 participant’s drug and alcohol use decreased when they left college. While this statistic is a positive improvement for the participants, many may not realize the impact their past use of drugs and alcohol can have on their chances of 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 that can lead to liver disease and the damage done to the brain can cause seizures and severe memory loss. In addition to the damage done to their health, some additional long-term consequences could include the possibility of the impact on opportunities to secure 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 employment postcollege for a number of reasons. Having serious substance use problems during college has been found to 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 necessary skills to gain employment postcollege.

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. The importance of understanding the possible role of heavy drug and alcohol use in restricting applicants employment opportunities cannot be overstated. While it’s not solely their responsibility, colleges and parents should relay the information to students to educate them that excessive drinking and substance use can interfere with obtaining skills and experiences required to be a competitive applicant in the current job market.

Several research studies examined the relationship between substance misuse throughout college and academic performance and retention. Some researchers describe the effects of excessive drinking and drug use during college as a cascade because the problems resulting from substance misuse accumulate over time. Students who drink alcohol and misuse substances exceedingly tend to spend less time studying and skip more of their classes. This cascade of consequences is similar regardless of what type of substance students are misusing.

One study showed that college students who misused prescription stimulants and analgesics tended to skip 21 percent of their classes and students who didn’t misuse prescription stimulants only tended to skip 9 percent of their classes. In addition, another study found that the greater amount of alcohol a student consumed on an occasion, the less time they spent studying which resulted in negative effects on their grade point average. The cumulative misuse of drugs and alcohol by college students can lead to disruptions in college enrollment, a greater likelihood of delayed graduation or a failure to graduate. The accumulation of consequences can go beyond college and affect when a student leaves college, in postcollege these students may experience poor employment outcomes and lower lifetime earnings.

The National Center for Education Statistics reveal the troubling realities of the country’s college graduation rates, 56 percent of male and 61 percent of females as full time students who earned a bachelor’s degree at a four-year university completed their degree at that institution 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 a 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.

Welcome to the Real World

The connections between drinking alcohol and substance misuse and employment status has been widely researched, with most researchers were unable to reach a consensus that alcohol and drug misuse can result in negative productivity-related outcomes. These outcomes make it problematic for employers to hire or retain employees who heavily misuse or misused alcohol and substances during college.

Besides affecting academic performance and the acquisition of skills and experience required to gain postcollege 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.

The Recovery Village’s survey showed that when college students leave college, their tendency to drink as heavily and as frequently decreases. Some researchers refer to this change in substance misuse pattern as “maturing out” and acknowledge it coincides with developmental changes in potentially dangerous behaviors. It’s suggested that young adults 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, they’re engaging in other adult-related milestones like buying a home, getting married and having children.

It can also be suggested that young adults aren’t immersed in the college culture anymore, there isn’t a party to go to every weekend or a bar with cheap beer specials. However, even with the decrease of alcohol and substance misuse in their lives, these young adults may still feel the effects of their heavy misuse of substances during college.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an alcohol use or substance use disorder, help is available. Call and speak with a representative about treatment options that suit your individual needs. At the Recovery Village, we believe in creating an individual treatment plan for each client. The call is free, confidential and there is no obligation to enroll.


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When the Party’s Over: How Drug and Alcohol Use During College Affects Post-College Employment
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