How Stress and Anxiety Give Rise to Drug Abuse in College

stress and anxiety photoApart from peer pressure, stress and anxiety are some of the leading causes of drug abuse among high school and college students.

In reference to Jerald Kay, M.D., Professor, and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the Wright State University School of Medicine, national surveys indicate that the increase of drug abuse among students contributes to a distinct rise in the number of metal health problems among college and university students aged between 18 and 24 years.

Due to stress and anxiety caused by the quest to score better grades, college students are turning to alcoholism, illegal drugs, such as cocaine, morphine, and pot or prescribed medications like Adderall, which is intended for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, which turn out to be very addictive.


Some of the students who become stressed or anxious due to heavy workload usually resort to drug abuse out of curiosity. Many have heard about illegal drugs and are eager to get firsthand experience. You have probably heard that drugs are fun, or can make you feel and behave differently when faced with stress and anxiety.

You watch movies and TV programs about drugs every day and you are keen to see how it really feels. While it is not unusual to be curious about things you see and hear about often, you shouldn’t tend to think that trying such drugs will make you smarter or feel better when faced with stress and anxiety. In fact, there are better means of getting occupied to cope with your overwhelming experiences.

Escaping Reality

juvenile addictionIf you are a student, you are under pressure to complete assignments and take exams regularly to gauge your performance ability and talents.

School life can at times be unhappy or you are getting too much pressure from your parents, friends or sponsors to enhance your grades or scores.

This often leads to stress and anxiety, which prompts you to seek solace in drugs or alcohol because you are not happy with your life. Many students turn to drugs as a way to escape from unhappy reality.

You shift goals to feel a little braver, smarter, stronger, or more important. Unfortunately, these feelings are short-lived for the brief time that the drugs take effect.

You can’t forget the assignments, responsibilities, and limitations of your life in college by escaping to a fantasy world. While resorting to drugs when stressed and anxious can change the way you feel, you should see the dangers and risks that they pose.

Yielding To Peer Influence

It’s not surprising to see your close college friends feeling or looking better after resorting to drugs when stressed or anxious, but aping them to impress or feel cool is potentially dangerous and unhealthy. If your best friend smokes marijuana or use morphine, they will probably expect you to the same.

When stressed or anxious, you are more likely to yield into their pressure, especially if they realize that you don’t want to try, yet young people always tend to be cool to their intimate friends. Some college students will do everything their friends are doing to fit in or be among the crowd when dealing with stress and anxiety.

Because you live in similar stressful and anxious conditions, you want to do what your close friends are doing in trying to cope, like abusing drugs, without focusing on their dangerous effects.

Addiction Vulnerability

There is a strong neurobiological connection between anxiety or stress and risk of addiction to abusive drugs.

The reinforcing properties of abusive drugs involve the activation of neurological pathways involved in assigning salience to stimuli, reward processing, adaptation, and learning.

Several studies have also shown the role of these systems in drug rewards, which are closely linked with euphoria and craving.

Researchers have also shown that stress and anxiety enhance acquisition of opiates, nicotine, alcohol and self-administered medication. In addition, studies indicate that stress and anxiety exposure are limited to legal drugs like alcohol and nicotine smoking for ethical reasons.

However, the effects of social stress and anxiety, expectancies and history of adversity play significant roles in increasing initiation and escalation of drug abuse among college students.

Lack of Self Control

There is a strong connection between emotional stress and loss of self-control, which causes the inability to inhibit inappropriate behaviors to delay self-gratification. Neurobiological evidence indicates that stress and anxiety impairs neurotransmitter modulation in the brain, which in turn alters executive functions such as working memory and self-control.

There is mounting evidence showing that college students who experience stress and anxiety are at an increased risk of turning to drug abuse and also have decreased emotional and behavioral control. They are also poor in making decisions and have greater levels of deviant characteristics and impulsivity, which increases the risk of addiction. Impairments in brain chemicals make college students highly susceptible to negative behaviors caused by stress and anxiety.


It is very unfortunate that many college students are getting involved with drugs and yet they are fully aware of their health risks and power of addiction. If you are a college student, you should first understand how stress and anxiety can lure you into drug abuse.

Young lives have been lost, many have become addicted, and some have gone insane as a result of drug abuse in search of short-lived ecstasy. Are drugs indeed worth trying, yet there are plenty of better ways to deal with stress and anxiety?

About the Author

Kelly Everson is an American author and having MA in English literature. After spending time as a writer in some of Health Industries best websites, she now works as an independent researcher and contributor for health news related website like Consumer Health Digest. In her spare time, she does research work regarding Beauty and Women Health, Fitness and overall health issues, which acts as a fuel to her passion of writing. When she is not researching or writing, you can find Kelly staying active, whether it be practicing yoga or taking swimming classes. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions and co-occurring disorders.  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 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 September 4, 2015. Published on