Many people reflect on their time in college with great fondness. Some call this time the best years of their lives. While in college, individuals meet new people, experience new adventures and learn valuable life lessons.

However, some of the people that students meet in college can negatively influence them, some adventures can compromise their safety, and valuable lessons can be gleaned from troubling mistakes. An error in judgement can bring about health, social and legal issues.

For many students, their biggest mistakes in college involve drugs and alcohol. The moment they arrive on campus, students are surrounded by peers who engage in substance use. In many instances, students glorify or encourage drug or alcohol use.

In recent years, prescription drug misuse has been particularly problematic. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, 559 full-time college students in the United States use prescription drugs, like Percocet, for nonmedical purposes in a given day. In addition, nearly 12 percent of students used at least one prescription drug that was not prescribed to them in the past year.

The Recovery Village recently conducted a survey that examined patterns of substance use among college students. While most individuals did not misuse prescription medications in college, many of those who did mixed these drugs with alcohol.

Mixing Prescription Drugs and Alcohol High Across All Age Groups

The Recovery Village surveyed 400 people. About 77 percent of these individuals attended college at some point in their life. More than half of survey participants used alcohol or illegal drugs during their time in college.

According to the survey, about 70 percent of participants did not use prescription drugs for recreational purposes while in college. However, 70 percent of people who did use prescription drugs combined them with alcohol. Mixing prescription drugs and alcohol can create intense euphoric effects, but it can also harm your health.

The prescription drugs used by participants ranged from opioids, like OxyContin, to anti-anxiety pills, like Klonopin:

The survey found that participants ages 45 to 54 had the highest percentage of people who mixed prescription drugs and alcohol (83.3 percent). Most of these individuals were in college in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which suggests that combining drugs and alcohol may have been problematic during that time.

Today, mixing prescription drugs and alcohol continues to be an issue. In The Recovery Village’s survey, nearly three out of four participants ages 18 to 24 who used prescription medications mixed them with alcohol.

Alcohol and prescription drugs are highly prevalent on college campuses. People use drugs, like prescription medications, or alcohol for various reasons. According to The Recovery Village’s survey, about 38 percent of people used drugs or alcohol in college to reduce stress.

The survey also indicated that mixing prescription medications and alcohol was more common among men than women. Men were more likely to use prescription opioids while women were more likely to use prescription stimulants, like Adderall.

Consequences of Mixing Prescription Drugs and Alcohol

Combining prescription drugs with alcohol can affect a person’s physical and psychological health. However, different medications produce different side effects.

For example, mixing prescription opioids with alcohol can induce slowed or arrested breathing, lowered blood pressure, unconsciousness or coma. Combining these substances can also increase the risk of overdose, which can lead to death.

Mixing prescription stimulants with alcohol can be particularly dangerous because alcohol can conceal the effects of the stimulants, which increase alertness and activity, while alcohol depresses the central nervous system. People may use higher doses of stimulants while drinking because they are not experiencing the effects that they desire.

When combined, prescription stimulants and alcohol can cause:

  • Loss of coordination
  • Impaired judgement
  • Blackouts
  • Unconsciousness
  • Overdose
  • Death

Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs used to treat anxiety by depressing the central nervous system. When someone mixes benzodiazepines, like Xanax, and alcohol, he or she could experience dizziness, an inability to control bowel movements, memory loss or an overdose.

Research has shown that drivers who mixed prescription drugs and alcohol were more likely than drivers who consumed just alcohol to drive erratically. One study indicated that people who went to the hospital for using Ambien were more than twice as likely to be admitted into the intensive care unit when mixing the sleeping medication with alcohol.

Misusing prescription drugs or alcohol can increase a person’s tolerance to the substance. A higher tolerance can cause someone to need more of the drug in order to feel its euphoric effects, which can lead to dependence or addiction.

Additional Survey Findings

Another key finding from The Recovery Village’s survey was that marijuana was the most popular Schedule I drug (77.5 percent) among people who engaged in substance use in college. The next most popular substance was cocaine (6.88 percent), followed by heroin (0.63 percent).

The report also found:

  • About 72 percent of participants said they knew someone who used drugs or alcohol in college.
  • More than half of respondents who engaged in substance use in college said peer pressure contributed to their drug or alcohol use.
  • About 78 percent of people said that their substance use decreased upon leaving college.
  • Fifty-two percent of respondents said off-campus housing, like student-living apartments, was the living situation that put students most at risk of using drugs or alcohol.
  • About 40 percent of participants believe that 50 to 75 percent of college students engage in substance use.

The prevalence of substance use in college indicated by The Recovery Village’s survey reflects reality. According to the 2016 Monitoring the Future survey, daily marijuana use among college-aged adults was at its highest point since the early 1980s. Additionally, alcohol use appeared to be higher among college students than their counterparts who did not attend college.

Resources for College Students

Many academic institutions try to help students who are experiencing addiction, including those in recovery. Some colleges across the United States offer collegiate recovery programs, which provide students with a safe space to socialize without drugs or alcohol, attend support group meetings and receive counseling.

Most college students dealing with a substance use disorder do not seek professional assistance. These individuals may not think that they have a substance use problem, or they might fear the stigma associated with addiction.

However, their dependence or addiction can worsen without treatment. Through treatment, people can learn the root cause of their drug or alcohol misuse and ways to handle stress. They can also learn how to better manage their substance use disorder.

The Recovery Village offers evidence-based treatment for people of all backgrounds. With facilities across the United States, The Recovery Village uses the latest innovations in addiction treatment to help people heal. Contact The Recovery Village to learn how treatment can help you manage your addiction.

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Mixing Prescription Drugs and Alcohol Common in College
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Matt Gonzales

About Matt Gonzales

Matt Gonzales is an award-winning content writer. A former journalist, he is dedicated to spreading awareness about substance misuse and sharing inspiring stories of people in recovery. He lives in Orlando, Florida, with his wife and son.

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