How to Support a College Student Addicted to Drugs

College Student struggling with addiction to vaping

Contributor: Megan Wilson, BS, CADC, Timberline Knolls Residential Center

Once you have awareness and acceptance that you have a college student addicted to drugs, you may feel helpless as to understanding how to support them. Support can be approached in different ways according to their own awareness and acceptance of their substance-use problem. Both loved ones and the college campus can be sources of support for the individual.

Resources Available For College Students Addicted to Drugs

College students can utilize campus support from the student counseling services. These services can assist with providing counseling as well as offering additional support resources. The college student may still be in denial of the problem by minimizing, rationalizing, or justifying their behaviors.

Some statements that reflect these thoughts are “it was only a few times”, “it’s not that bad”, “It was just a little”, “it’s not every day”, etc. When confronted with their behaviors, they may act defensively and express feelings of being wrongly accused.

It is important to remember that this is their addiction responding to you as a means of protecting itself. It may be helpful to approach the conversation as a means of expressing concern, rather than vocalizing accusations and frustrations.

You may absolutely be frustrated with their behavior and you can establish boundaries with the college student to protect yourself and cease any enabling behaviors. Examples of enabling behaviors may be continuing to provide cash or not maintaining boundaries that have been previously established. While the individual is in the denial stage, continue to remind and reassure them of your availability to support.

Offering Support Through Addiction Recovery

For a college student addicted to drugs, the college student may be aware that their using is a problem, but is unsure about how to change their lifestyle or stop using. You can support them by offering to attend an “open” 12 step meeting with them if they are feeling hesitant or by researching treatment centers.

Attending a meeting will be important for them to see that others have experienced similar struggles and discover that there is hope to live a more meaningful life. Along with encouragement to seek out 12 step meetings, you can also continue to reach out to them to offer support.

CollegeIf the college student is willing to disclose their rituals and behaviors, you can schedule a phone call to support them. They may have ritually obtained their substance of choice after a specific class and you could call them to assist with distraction and choosing a more recovery-focused decision.

Reaching out with sober weekend activities would also be helpful to assist with providing structure and another option other than hanging out with friends that are using.

As always, in order to support someone else, you must provide support for yourself first. Attending 12 step meetings such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, or Families Anonymous can connect you with others who are also struggling with addiction within their family system.

About the Author:

Megan Wilson photo

Megan Wilson, BS, CADC has been working at Timberline Knolls since 2013.  She facilitates psycho-educational group therapy, completes substance use assessments, and takes on the leadership role of the Addictions Specialist team.

She also individually meets with residents to support a better understanding and application of 12-step recovery.

Thank you to Timberline Knolls for providing this article.

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Timberline Knolls is a leading residential treatment center for women and adolescent girls, ages 12 and older, with eating disorders, substance abuse, trauma, mood and co-occurring disorders. Located in suburban Chicago, residents receive excellent clinical care from a highly trained professional staff on a picturesque 43-acre wooded campus. An adult partial hospitalization program (PHP) is also available in nearby Orland Park, Ill., for women to step down or direct admit. For more information on Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, call 630-755-5173. We are also on Facebook – Timberline Knolls, LinkedIn – Timberline Knolls and Twitter – @TimberlineToday.

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 a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, 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.

Published on January 2, 2017
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 12, 2021
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About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.