Higher Education: A Look at Drug Use in American Colleges

college drug addiction

Is College Drug Addiction Really a Large Problem?

Between the mounting academic pressures, the desire to cut loose, and the newfound freedom of being away from home, college is prime time for people to experiment with drugs and to potentially develop a college drug addiction. For many students college is their first experience with substances; others come to campus ready to party.

To get an inside view of what college drug use is really like on campus today, we surveyed 1,000 current and former college students. What types of drugs are they using? How easily can they access them? And how do college drug use and college drug addiction correlate with factors such as academic success and the person writing the tuition check? Keep reading for surprising insights straight from students themselves.

Drugs Are Easy to Come By in College

how easy it is to purchase drugs in college?

If college students want to experiment with drugs, they first have to get their hands on some. However, more than 75 percent of our survey respondents report that it’s “easy” or “very easy” to score what they want…leading to potential college drug addiction. Fewer than 5 percent report it’s “difficult” to access drugs, and only around 1 percent think it’s “very difficult.” Many students don’t have to go far to buy drugs either: Just over half of our respondents say that they’ve purchased drugs on campus.

Drug access for college students soars compared with perceived availability for high school students. According to the 2016 Monitoring the Future survey, around 20 percent of 12th-graders say it’s easy to get heroin, 28 percent say it’s easy to get LSD, 29 percent report it’s easy to get cocaine, and 33 percent report they can easily get ecstasy. Slightly more available drugs include narcotics other than heroin (39 percent can easily get them) and amphetamines (41 percent). Marijuana, naturally, is the easiest to obtain:, with 81 percent of high school seniors reporting it’s “fairly easy” or “very easy” to buy weed.

Trading Sex for Drugs in College

sleeping with the dealer

“Literally all the time.” That was a campus drug dealer’s response when asked by a reporter if people ever offer sex in exchange for drugs during a 2015 interview. Among our survey respondents, 14% percent said they’ve had sex with their dealer for drugs.

14% of the college students have slept with their dealers for drugs

Which drugs do college students deem worth the trade? Nearly 43 percent of people who say they’ve had sex with their dealer did so for cocaine. This drug is considered one of the most addictive, as it affects the brain’s use of dopamine, activating the powerful reward pathways. According to the 2017 Global Drug Survey, it is also—on a gram-for-gram basis—the most expensive frequently used drug in the world.

Around 17 percent have traded sex for opiates such as Oxycontin, while another 7 percent each have done so to score ecstasy and benzos (such as Xanax). However, fewer than 3 percent of respondents had sex for LSD or meth. If you or anyone you know has agreed to sleep with someone in order to score drugs, please consider whether or not you have a college drug addiction and need assistance with college drug addiction recovery.

The Cost of Drugs for College Students

how much do drugs cost college students?

Higher education brings plenty of expenses: tuition and fees, housing, food, textbooks and supplies, transportation, and more. According to the College Board, a student at an in-state public college can expect to spend nearly $25,000 per year, while a student at a private college might spend nearly $50,000.

However, for some students, the cost of illegal drugs may also factor into the equation. Among every college we looked at, students who used drugs at Florida State University spent the most on drugs—nearly $300 per month. Students at California State University spent slightly less (around $262 per month), followed by Florida International University students ($253) and University of Central Florida students ($208).

On the other end of the spectrum, students who used drugs at University of Georgia averaged only around $27 per month expenditures. The school is known for its strict alcohol and drugs policy. Also on the lower end, students at University of California, Davis, spent $65 per month, and students at California State University, Long Beach, spent nearly $69.

How Does College Drug Use Affect Grades?

drugs and gpa

Using drugs can cause functional and structural changes in the brain, particularly for adolescents. Substance use also makes students more likely to oversleep, skip classes, and struggle with academics. Among our survey respondents, surprisingly, students who took benzodiazepines averaged the highest GPA (3.8) compared with those who took other drugs.

People who used ketamine averaged the lowest GPA (3.0). This powerful anesthetic is generally given to patients before operations and is recently being used to treat depression. However, consumed without medical supervision, this club drug can cause hallucinations, make people feel detached, and even change their sense of sight and sound. LSD, inhalants, opiates, and marijuana were also linked with slightly lower GPAs, according to our survey. If you find that your GPA is suffering due to college drug use, consider whether or not you have a college drug addiction or are experiencing college drug abuse.

Paying Tuition and Drug Use

who's paying for it?

Funds for college tuition come from a variety of sources—parents or guardians, scholarships, student loans, or the students themselves. We asked survey respondents which drugs they took most commonly and compared the results with their payment methods, and their responses yielded interesting insights.

Regardless of how they paid for college, cocaine was the drug of choice for many of our respondents, a substance that could quickly surface as a college drug addiction, but can be helped with drug addiction recovery. However, one fact stood out: Among those who use cocaine, nearly 37 percent have parents paying for college (compared with 31 percent paying their own way, 26 percent on scholarship, and 23 percent using student loans). This may signify that students with families footing the bill have more room in their budgets for the pricey substance.

Opiates (such as OxyContin) were the most popular drug among those paying for college with student loans. Mushrooms were disproportionately popular for students paying with student loans as well as those with scholarships. For students using a combination of payment methods (such as student loans and family assistance), amphetamines stood out for their popularity.

Battling College Drug Addiction

College is a challenging time, and it’s natural for students to turn to drugs in order to cope. But using illegal substances can have devastating consequences that go well beyond flunking out. If you or someone you know struggles with addiction and is in need of drug addiction recovery, visit The Florida House Experience, a South Florida addiction treatment facility, and a premier mental health facility, today to get the help you deserve.  


We surveyed 1,082 people who reported using drugs while attending college. Our respondents chose to participate in the survey and the only qualifiers were that the people surveyed had to have used drugs while in college. Marijuana was left out due to its varying legality in some states in the U.S.


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