By Sandy Baker
College is an opportunity to come into your own. For many students, it’s a time of growth, rapid learning, and trying new things. It’s easy for many young people to become overwhelmed with new challenges and pressures they didn’t feel when they lived at home and attended high school.
Why Increased Stress on College Students Isn’t Okay
College students facing stress on a routine basis are at risk for health complications. Some may develop physical ailments, such as ulcers or a weakened immune system, from the stress. Others develop mental health struggles, including anxiety and depression.
For many college students, drugs and alcohol become tools that seem to help in the short term. College students are more at risk for misusing prescription drugs than young people who do not attend college, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, with 11.1% of college students admitting to misusing Adderall. Binge drinking is also common in college students, with 28% of college students drinking compared to 25% of young people who do not attend college.
Stress is one of the most common causes of addiction use in college students:
- Students may use study drugs to help them stay alert and study for longer periods of time without needing to sleep.
- Some students use these drugs to deal with depression and anxiety.
- Peer pressure accounts for some use, with students feeling intense pressure to fit into the college setting.
- Students who worry about grades to maintain scholarships or meet parents’ expectations may use drugs to cope.
- Some students use drugs in college to deal with the trauma they’ve experienced, either physical or sexual, at school, often because they are not willing or able to open up about what’s happened to them.
Being away from home opens the door to freedom. While at home with parents, a stressed student can reach out to talk or get support. Away from home, they feel the need to be responsible for themselves and may lack healthy support mechanisms for that stress. That leads some to turn to readily available substances.
How to Reduce Stress in College Students
Recognizing these pressures, the question is – what can students and parents do to help reduce these stresses even while they are miles away from home?
Sleep and eat well
A good starting point is fueling the body with the nutrients it needs to manage stress. That means getting 6 to 8 hours of sleep each night and eating nutritionally balanced meals, both of which can be hard for students. Supplements may help fill in some of those gaps.
Develop strong friend groups
College students need to recognize the “good” and “bad” within their friend groups. Friends who push them to use alcohol or drugs are not true friends. Students can work to develop friendships based on common interests and talents that do not include drinking or using.
Get emotional support
Having an outlet to talk and open up about what’s happening – without judgment – is critical. Sometimes students pull away from phone calls with parents because they don’t want to be told what to do or not do. It’s important for parents and support people to create opportunities for students to simply talk about what’s happening without any judgment. Students who cannot do this with parents need other resources such as mentors, other students, or counselors.
Focus on your passions
If you love to run or work out, continue to do that by making it a set part of your schedule. If you enjoy playing video games, spend some time doing that after a long day of school. Art, music, and reading are other examples. By engaging in your passion, you provide yourself with stress relief.
Avoid unnatural energy boosters
Energy boosters such as energy drinks put health at risk. They increase the body’s temperature, heart rate, and breathing rate. All of that increases stress and inflammation. In short, they may give you a boost of energy initially, but the come-down period is difficult and, over the long term, these boosters can cause health complications.
Know When to Get Help
For students facing drug and alcohol use now, it’s critical to seek out help as soon as possible. If addiction has taken over much of your life, reach out to The Ranch at Dove Tree to learn how our addiction treatment programs can help you.