5 Risk Factors for Addiction Faced by College Students

College is one of the greatest transitional periods of our lives. It is a time of increased responsibility as well as exciting new opportunities. For many students, attending college is the first time living away from home, and the first time they are expected to act like an adult. This new freedom can be exhilarating, but may also carry complex emotions and increased stress. Many elements of college life can combine to create an environment in which addiction can take hold. By recognizing some of the greatest risk factors, you may avoid a lifetime of substance abuse issues, or determine that it is time for you to seek professional help.

Sudden Absence of Parental Supervision

If you have left home to attend college, it is likely the first time you don’t have at least one parent monitoring your daily activities. For teens that have parents on the strict side, the sudden freedom of college life can feel like a rush of adrenaline. Whether you were the type of teen that followed every rule or one that tended to rebel on occasion, suddenly being entirely free to make your own choices can make risky decisions seem very appealing. Drugs and alcohol are easy to come by on most college campuses, and it is likely you will make friends that use one or both. What is important to remember is that while you may be able to hide alcohol and drug use from your parents temporarily, you will not be able to hide an addiction. Once an addiction develops, it will affect everything in your life and change your behavior in a way that will almost certainly cause you to hurt the people you love, especially your parents. While you may suddenly have more choices than ever before, know that your choices also matter more now than ever.


College life is stressful! Not all of us are well equipped to handle high degrees of stress, and even those of us that usually work well under pressure can become overwhelmed by the adult-level stressors of college. For some students, college marks a dramatic increase in the amount of time spent on schoolwork. This shift can catch some students off guard and result in slipping grades and anxiety about failing. Additionally, being away from home and friends can cause loneliness and social isolation, which can make coping with heavy workloads and tough professors even more difficult.  Many students turn to recreational drugs or alcohol use to manage their stress. By numbing themselves temporarily, they can forget about their homesickness or upcoming exams. However, drinking and using drugs will almost certainly be detrimental to your academic success and relationships, and can put you at risk for developing an addiction.

Mental Health

For many people, college age is when mental health issues first present themselves. Hormonal changes in your teen years can increase symptoms of anxiety and depression, and young adulthood can reveal lifelong mental illnesses as the brain begins to settle into a natural chemical balance. For some college-aged adults experiencing mental health issues for the first time, it can be difficult to recognize the symptoms and know when to ask for help. Anxiety and depression are two of the most common co-occurring disorders alongside addiction. Many people make the misguided decision of attempting to self-medicate to cope with their symptoms. Unfortunately, alcohol and drug use make mental health issues worse, and much more difficult to treat. 


For students who live on campus or in dorms, the environmental aspect of substance abuse can be a serious issue. This living situation is often full of distractions and partying. Many students feel pressured to make friends and fit in with their peers by saying yes to most offers and prioritizing their social life above their academic ones. Binge drinking is a common occurrence in college dormitories, and this is especially true for many sorority and fraternity houses. While pop culture portrays binge drinking as a normal part of college life, what it doesn’t often address is the increasing epidemic of addiction among college students. 

Substance Use in High School

While anyone can develop an addiction at any age, research shows that people who began drinking or using drugs in their teens are more likely to develop an addiction as an adult. While college students who never used substances in high school might be enticed by the thrill of something new, those that have a history of drug and alcohol use are more likely to find that recreational use quickly spirals out of control in college. It is important to remember that even if you used drugs or alcohol in high school, college is a unique opportunity to start over and make better choices so that you can make the most of your college experience and avoid the cycle of addiction.


College is a challenging time, and while the experience can be very rewarding, it also presents unique obstacles to your happiness and success. At Burning Tree West, you will find a team of compassionate, knowledgeable professionals ready to coach each client through the 12-steps and beyond.  By structuring treatment to fit individual needs, including the identification of co-occurring disorders, Burning Tree West facilitates an environment of healing and holistic wellness. Here, our clients tackle their addictions head-on and harness the power to restructure their lives in a way that fosters lasting sobriety. We believe that active recovery doesn’t have to mean an end to educational or career goals, but instead can become a fundamental part of a successful and fulfilling life. For more information on how we can help, call us now at 972-962-7374.