Effects of Drugs & Alcohol on College Academics

College kids at a PartyDuring this back to school season, countless parents and caregivers across the nation are preparing to send their child to college for the first time. This transition impacts the family as a whole, with a myriad of emotions characterizing this defining chapter and time period.

If you are a parent or caregiver making this transition with your child, you are likely experiencing a combination of excitement, apprehension, joy, and poignancy during this milestone. There has undoubtedly been much preparation that has lead to this point in your child’s life, and your dreams, hopes, and aspirations for your student’s successes will be accompanying them as they begin their college career.

Substance Abuse Prevention

While you will look ahead with optimism and hopefulness for your child’s college journey, you will likely be anticipating challenges and obstacles they will face along the way. A common fear that parents experience is the uncertainty of substance abuse on the college campus and how the opportunities to use drugs or alcohol might impact their loved one in their college pursuits.

This is a legitimate concern, with statistics showing that approximately half of all full-time college students are involved in binge drinking, prescription drug abuse, and/or abuse of illegal drugs [1].

Parents may expect drug and alcohol use to be experienced as a part of the passage through the college journey, though the issue of substance abuse among college students is concerning as it impacts wellness as a whole.

In a national survey completed with a representative sample of about 2,000 students, men and women in college admitting to indulging in drugs and alcohol to “relieve stress, relax, have fun forget their problems, and be one of the gang” [1]. Whatever the reason that students succumb to the lure and enticement of drugs and alcohol, the consequences are damaging and even fatal at times.

Effects of Substance Abuse on Academic Performance

Substance abuse has the greatest impact on academic performance, which nullifies the purpose and intent of attending a higher institution of learning. Students who abuse drugs or alcohol will have difficulties concentrating in classes, greater lapses in judgment and recollection, an inability to hold attention or focus, memory loss, and the incapacity to healthily cope with everyday stressors.

Frequently participating in drinking parties or outside recreational activities that involve drugs can lead to a subpar attendance in classes and academic priorities. Aside from the direct impact that substance abuse can have on an academic career, drug and alcohol use can escalate into a long-term addiction that can extend beyond college.

How Can You Help as a Parent?

Father Helping His Son Mover Into The DormWhat can parents do to help ensure that their college student has a successful transition to college and is prepared to face the allure of the drug culture on campus?

Unfortunately, it is not enough to rely only on resources offered on campus. College faculty and administration also face challenges in addressing the college culture of alcohol and drug abuse, with substance abuse on campus often a low priority on the agenda of many other tasks.

President emeritus of the University of Notre Dame and Chair of the CASA Advisory Commission, Edward Malloy, C.S.C., has noted, “College presidents are reluctant to take on issues they feel they cannot change, and this growing public health crisis reflects today’s society where students are socialized to consider substance abuse a harmless rite of passage and to medicate every ill.”[1] It is clear that the responsibility of addressing substance abuse cannot fall on staff and administration alone.

Parents, be encouraged by understanding the significant and positive impact you can have on your child’s life, above and beyond any type of drug prevention program. Studies have shown that young people are at lower risk of alcohol and other drug use problems during their transition to college if their parents are involved in communicating about substance abuse, even in late adolescence [2].

Researchers have also found that first-year college students were less likely to drink heavily if their parents talked with them before college about alcohol effects and drinking consequences [3]. Parents may feel inadequate or that there influence will be minimal in comparison to friends and peers; however, research has shown quite the contrary.

Faculty and Parental Involvement in Substance Abuse Prevention is a Winning Combination

College Student Buying Drugs From A DealerParental involvement, especially in combination with allies in college substance abuse prevention work, can make a tremendous and positive impact on a student’s choices while in school.

As a parent, it will be challenging to let your young adult transition into a world where they will be constantly exposed to potentially harmful circumstances. The quality of time you spend with them before and during their transition to school will be monumental in preparing them (and you) for this change.

Even if you cannot directly spend time with them while they are in college, make an effort to keep the channels of communication open. Be willing to listen to them without judgment and empathize with the things they are experiencing. Do not underestimate the effect your words, encouragement, and support can have on their lives, especially during a time of significant change.

Your child, no matter their age, can have an incredible experience during their college years, finding not only academic success but a journey of self-discovery. Having your support along the way can not only make this possible, but fortify the relationship you share with them throughout their lifetime.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What are your experiences when kids go to college?  Did you give them any advice about achol or drugs?

Crystal Headshot 2About the Author:

Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing, Crystal serves as the Director of Content and Social Media for Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope, where her passion to help others find recovery and healing is integrated into each part of her work.

As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her work with EDH/AH and nutrition private practice.


[1]: The National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association (CASA), “Wasting the Best and the Brightest: Alcohol and Drug Abuse on College Campuses”. http://www.casacolumbia.org/newsroom/op-eds/wasting-best-and-brightest-alcohol-and-drug-abuse-college-campuses

[2]: Windle, M. “Parental, Sibling, and Peer Influences on Adolescent Substance Use and Alcohol Problems.” Applied Developmental Science 4:98-110, 2000.

[3]: Hingson, R., et al. “Magnitude of Alcohol-Related Mortality and Morbidity Among U.S. College Students Ages 18-24: Changes from 1998 to 2001.” Annual Review of Public Health 26: 259-279, 2005.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on October 31, 2016
Published on AddictionHope.com