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Students don't usually set out to develop an addiction to alcohol or drugs. Rather, the addiction process often sneaks up on them and takes them by surprise. Due to the psychological and physiological processes involved, what starts out as moderate use can transform into higher and higher tolerance for the substance, which then leads to a requirement for a larger amount of the drug or drink to achieve the same effects. This process is involved in the early stages of addiction, and it can sometimes go by almost unnoticed to the user.

Here are some common alcohol and drug-related problems that students may experience:

  • Diminished academic performance
  • Conflict in intimate relationships
  • Depression
  • Sleeping problems
  • Unwanted sex, sexual coercion, or sexual difficulties
  • Indifference to appearance and behavior
  • Legal or judicial entanglements
  • Health issues, such as chronic colds or infections
  • Alienation of friends or family members
  • Financial concerns
  • Loss of interest in former hobbies or pastimes
  • Lack of pleasure from normal, positive things in life

Warning Signs

There are serious health risks associated with the use of illicit drugs and the abuse of alcohol. These can include addiction or dependency, physical infirmities and trauma, mental and emotional disorders, and marked changes in behavior.

Depressants (e.g. alcohol, tranquilizers, benzodiazepines such as Xanax or Valium)

  • Poor concentration, coordination and judgment
  • Inability to reason and make decisions
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Liver diseases
  • Ulcers
  • Birth defects
  • Depression
  • Liver disease

Stimulants (e.g. cocaine, crack, amphetamines such as Ritalin, "meth")

  • Nervousness, short attention span, poor judgment, mood swings, paranoia or hallucinations
  • Depression caused by withdrawal
  • Death from heart or respiratory failure
  • Lung and voice damage
  • Hepatitis

Opioids and Morphine Derivatives (e.g. Heroin, OxyContin)

  • Drowsiness, confusion and disorientation
  • Slows breathing rate, sometimes to the point of death
  • Coma
  • Hepatitis or AIDS

Hallucinogens (LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, PCP/angel dust)

  • Disorganization
  • Hostile feelings toward others
  • Short attention span
  • Poor motor skills
  • Brain hemorrhage

What do I do if I know someone struggling with these issues?

It can be painful to see someone you love struggling with alcoholism or drug dependence. Although there is no magic formula to help someone with his or her drinking or drug abuse, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence offers these suggestions:

  • Seek support for yourself. Dealing with a loved one with a substance dependence problem can be isolating. Ensuring you have the emotional support you need will help you to be available for your loved one.
  • Learn all you can about alcoholism and drug dependence. Use the resources and programs provided on our MCC website to help. Join a group for support of yourself and your loved one like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotic Anonymous.
  • Speak up and offer your support. Talk to the person about your concerns, but also offer support, including your willingness to accompany them for help.
  • Express love and concern. Don’t wait till your love one hits “rock bottom.” You may be met with resistance, excuses, denial and anger. Reply with kindness and specific examples of behavior that worries you.
  • Support recovery as an ongoing process. Even though your loved one is receiving treatment, they still need you. Stay involved. Support by attending meeting and recovery groups.

Some things you don’t want to do:

  • Don't preach, lecture, threaten, bribe, or moralize.
  • Don't be a martyr. Avoid emotional appeals that may only increase feelings of guilt and the compulsion to drink or use other drugs.
  • Don't cover up, lie or make excuses for them and their behavior.
  • Don't assume their responsibilities. Taking over their responsibilities protects them from the consequences of their behavior.
  • Don't argue when they are using. Arguing with the person when they are using alcohol or drugs is not helpful; at that point they can’t have a rational conversation.
  • Don’t feel guilty or responsible for their behavior, it’s not your fault.
  • Don't join them. Don’t try to keep up with them by drinking or using yourself.

What do I do if I am struggling with these issues?

Recognizing you are struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction problem is the first step to recovery. The following recovery tips are provided by

  • Recognize and manage overwhelming stress and emotions. Stress is inevitable. Learn how to manage stress by identifying your triggers.
  • Stay connected. Seek therapy, support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
  • Make healthy lifestyle changes. Eat healthy, practice relaxation techniques, engage in regular exercise and get 7 to 9 yours of quality sleep a night.
  • Check out ULifeLine which offers an extensive mental health library and self- evaluations. ULifeLine is an anonymous online resource center. More information: ULifeLine.

Adapted from and
Graphic adapted from

Counseling: Drug & Alcohol Awareness