A Student's Guide to Alcohol, Drugs and Addiction - Rehab Guide

A Student’s Guide to Alcohol, Drugs and Addiction

A Student’s Guide to Alcohol, Drugs and Addiction

Alcohol, Drugs and Studying

Did you know that 27 per cent of students in the UK believe that taking drugs is just a part of university culture?

As you enter adulthood, you experience many freedoms that you didn’t have as a teen. However, that freedom can sometimes lead to dangerous paths. For university students, this can impact your education and your future in significant ways. If you’re a student, it’s essential to have the knowledge you need to make wise decisions regarding alcohol and drugs.

Whether you’re just heading off to university or a current student looking for more information, keep reading.

Why Do University Students Use Alcohol and Drugs?

Drugs and alcohol are often readily available in a college or university environment. The first taste of freedom gives many students a chance to experiment.

You may have heard of, “just say no,” but what other conversations have you had with your parents and teachers about drug awareness? While being told not to do drugs and the potential consequences of choosing to is important, it’s not enough. That’s why many schools are looking at broader approaches that don’t just preach abstinence from alcohol and drugs or use scare tactics.

As a student, it’s vital that you understand the potential negative consequences of using alcohol and drugs. However, it’s also important that you understand the other factors, like why people choose to use.

Different drugs might have slightly different factors at play, which we’ll talk about later, but when it comes to university students, there are some reasons that UK students have identified as the reasons they choose to use.

Peer Pressure

Around 19 per cent of students report using drugs to help enhance social interactions.

The university setting is your first time truly being away from home. This is a time of life where you are building a new support system of friends, and there is a strong desire to fit in.

With that, there comes a built-in opportunity for peer pressure. The people around you might not intend to pressure you into decisions; however, that strong desire to fit in can make you more likely to fall prey to even subtle peer pressure. Around 9 per cent of students report using drugs to help them fit in with the people they’re with.

In addition, five per cent of students report that they were pressured to do so by family or other people around them.


Around 57 per cent of university students in the UK identify their reason for using drugs as recreation. When you enter university, to some degree, part of the culture is parties.

At these parties, you will see alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs. However, students might choose to use recreationally, even outside parties. For example, you could choose to go to a pub and drink with friends throughout the week.

Coping With Stress

Between getting your bearings as a young adult and learning to balance your studies and interpersonal relationships, this part of your life comes with built-in stressors. Add on the stressors of the pandemic and how that has impacted your education, and the stress level rises.

Around 21 per cent of students identify that they use drugs as a way to cope with stress.


Sometimes, you don’t need a reason. The opportunity is there, and you’re bored, so you choose to use a substance. About 21 per cent of students identified boredom as their reason.


Do you ever just want to escape your current reality. You’re not alone, sometimes, we all need a break, and 18 per cent of students use drugs to provide that escape.


Around 70 to 75 per cent of people with a mental health condition don’t seek help.

How are students with mental health conditions dealing with it if they don’t seek professional help? Around 13 per cent of students identify that they choose to use drugs to self-medicate for a mental health condition.

Spiritual Experience

Certain drugs, like the traditional hallucinogenic drink ayahuasca, are used as part of a spiritual experience. Whether it’s a spiritual experience practised by your culture, or you’ve simply heard that a particular drug can impart wisdom and insight.

Around 12 per cent of students identified this as their reason for using drugs.


There is a reason alcohol gets the moniker of “liquid courage,” it helps lower your inhibitions, and you’re willing to do things you would not have done before. This can also be said of many drugs.

Because of this, around seven per cent of students use alcohol and drugs for confidence.

Coping With Life Events

How do you cope with separation or loss? During your time as a young adult, you will enter new relationships, and old relationships might end. It’s essential to have the skills to cope with this and the ability to cope with other challenging life circumstances.

Around six per cent of college students report using drugs to help them cope with circumstances.

Sexual Enhancement

Young adults are not the only ones utilizing drugs and alcohol to help enhance their sexual life. However, around five per cent report that this is their reason for using.

Academics or Athletics

Balancing classes, athletics, and social life is difficult for anyone. As a university student, you’re just beginning to learn how to do that, and you might not always be successful.

Maybe, you stayed out too late with friends, and you’re stressing over a big paper. Or, perhaps you’re worrying that if you’re not at the top of your game athletically, you will lose a scholarship.

Around three per cent of students report using drugs to perform better academically. While one per cent of students report using drugs to perform better athletically.

Consequences of Drug Use

Whatever the reason is that you choose to use drugs or alcohol, there are consequences that come into play. Some of these consequences are short-term, but others are more long-term.

Every individual substance will have its own consequences, but they all share some common points.

Short-Term Consequences of Substance Abuse

Short-term consequences can still have a significant impact on you. Consequences that are seen as short-term can change the course of your life.

Educational Consequences

While you might choose to use drugs to help your academic performance, in reality, substances are more likely to decrease your performance. You might start spending less time studying and start missing classes.

This can lead to you getting behind on your schoolwork and decreased marks. Decreased performance in your classes can cause you to lose scholarships and get put on academic probation. You might also end up dropping out if you’re unable to manage your substance abuse and coursework.

If your school has policies about drug use, you could get expelled.

Risky or Dangerous Behaviors

Using alcohol and drugs can lead to you engaging in behaviours that are risky and dangerous. For example, driving under the influence or getting into fights.

Drug use can also lead to risky sexual behaviours that can cause unintended pregnancies and STIs.

Social Consequences

While you might start using drugs for social reasons, they can quickly have consequences on your social life. You might lose friends and struggle in relationships with your family members because of your drug use.

Financial Consequences

Drugs also come with financial consequences; when you’re addicted, you’ll do anything and everything to get your next high. This might mean instead of paying rent; you pay for drugs or alcohol.

If you have a job to help earn money while in college, you could lose it. In addition, the money you’re paying for your education will go to waste if you’re not going to classes and learning.

You ultimately might need to pay for and retake the same classes later in your life.

Health Problems

Using drugs and alcohol can cause short-term and long-term consequences to your health. Some of the short-term health problems you can experience include hangovers, nausea, and injury.

Long-Term Consequences of Substance Abuse

Some of the short-term consequences you experience can quickly become long-term consequences. For example, if you engage in risky sexual behaviours, you might develop an STI like HIV that is not curable.

However, even if that doesn’t happen, substance abuse comes with a risk of long-term consequences.

Health Problems

The health problems that you are at risk for are in part dependent on the substances you use. However, you might see your immune system impacted, putting you at a higher risk for infectious diseases. For example, individuals with substance abuse problems are at an increased risk when it comes to COVID-19.

You’re also at an increased risk of overdose or death, cancer, lung disease, heart disease, etc.

Mental Health Concerns

Substance abuse can also cause a range of mental health concerns and worsen any existing mental health problems you might have. You could experience depression, anxiety, decreased cognitive performance, suicidal ideation, etc.

Legal Consequences

If you’re using illegal or controlled drugs in the UK or engaging in risky behaviours that are illegal, you might end up with legal consequences. Legal consequences can result in prison time and fines and ultimately end up following you for the rest of your life.

If you are arrested for possessing Class A drugs in the UK, you could get up to seven years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both. For a Class B drug, you can get up to five years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.

For a Class C drug, you can get up to two years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both. The only exception for Class C drugs is anabolic steroids because it’s not an offence to have them for personal use.

If you’re supplying or producing drugs, the penalties are even harsher, and you can end up in prison for life for some of the classes of drugs.

Alcohol Use in Students

According to student alcohol statistics in the UK, around 79 per cent of students believe that drinking and getting drunk is just a part of the university experience. In addition, 20 per cent of students report getting drunk once a week on purpose.

If you’re wondering how much do college students spend on alcohol, you might not be surprised to find out that it depends in part on the university or college that you attend. One study found that students at Durham spend the most, which is surprising considering this area is known for cheap pints.

The study stated that students in Durham are spending 50 per cent more per month than the average UK student. There is some truth to the fact that drinking is part of university culture; however, there is a point where it crosses over from social drinking to addiction or harmful.

What’s the Harm in Getting Wasted for One Party?

Even if you’re not struggling with addiction, drinking can quickly become dangerous. If you’re playing student drinking games like beer pong, you might not realize how much alcohol you are consuming. This can lead to binge drinking.

Binge Drinking

The definition of binge drinking varies a bit depending on your sex. For men, five or more drinks on a single occasion is defined as bingeing. For women, four or more drinks constitutes bingeing.

Even if you’re not playing drinking games, it’s very easy to binge drink in social settings where you’re not monitoring how much you’re drinking. Drinking alcohol in excess can lead to alcohol poisoning, violent behaviour, long-term chronic health issues, and unintended injuries.

How Much Is Too Much?

How much can you drink before it becomes unsafe? Experts state that the recommended alcohol intake is that women should have one drink or less per day, and men should have two drinks or less per day.

Students drinking alcohol might be unlikely to stick to those numbers. However, if you are trying to reduce consequences, consider the recommended alcohol units per week.

You shouldn’t be drinking more than 14 units per week, and if you are regularly drinking that much, you should spread your drinking out over several days.

How Do You Know A Student Has Had Too Much to Drink?

Student drinking habits might make it challenging to stick to the recommended amount of alcohol. However, because the effects of alcohol can quickly become dangerous, it’s important to know when a friend might have had too much to drink. At this point, it’s important to cut them off from drinking alcohol.


Is your friend’s speech slurred? Or are they uncontrollably laughing or repeating themselves over and over?

That’s a clear sign it’s time to stop drinking.


There are also physical signs it’s time to stop drinking. These signs can include lack of balance, loss of coordination, and a flushed face and bright, teary eyes.

They might also be struggling with fine motor control. For example, you might not be able to write or shake hands.

Cognitive Impairment

If you notice that your friend is having problems regulating their emotions, it’s time to cut them off. This can look like anger or aggression over small things or sobbing for no reason.

Other cognitive signs include:

  • Confusion
  • Inability to focus
  • Memory problems


Is your friend doing things they would typically never do? Alcohol can lower your inhibitions, and it’s essential to watch out for this. You can ultimately do something that can impact the rest of your life if you find yourself at this point.

Student Tips for Drinking Safely

There are some things you can do when drinking alcohol to create a safer experience. Just remember, drinking comes with an inherent risk even if you do take steps to increase your safety.

Watch Your Drink

Don’t let your drink out of your sight. You should watch when it is poured or mixed as well, and make sure you’re not taking a drink from someone else.

This helps you make sure that your drink doesn’t get spiked so that someone can take advantage of you. If you’re at a party with a punch bowl, be cautious about that punch bowl because you don’t know if someone has spiked it.

Have a Designated Driver

How do you plan to get home? Make sure you have someone going with you who won’t be drinking. In addition, if you don’t have someone who can be a designated driver, plan to take an Uber.

Don’t Drink Alone

Whether you’re going to a party or just out to relax, don’t drink alone. A friend can help make sure you don’t overdo it and recognize signs that you’ve had too much.

Eat Before Drinking Alcohol

When there’s nothing in your stomach, the alcohol you drink will have a more significant impact. Ensure that you eat before you drink and have small snacks throughout the evening.

Drink Water

Alcohol dehydrates you quickly, and drinking water between your rounds can help reduce the effects of alcohol. It will also fill you up some and reduce the temptation to drink as much.

Don’t Chug

Chugging alcohol through a nozzle makes it quite challenging to monitor how much you’re drinking. This is one way that you can quickly get to the place where your alcohol intake quickly passes a level that’s safe.

One Unit per Drink per Hour

If you’re worried about not knowing your limit and how much is too much, play it safe. Keep to one unit of alcohol per hour.

However, do your best to know your limits before going to a big party where you will be tempted to drink too much.

Be Safe

Alcohol lowers your inhibitions, so you will do things you wouldn’t normally do. If you’re drinking, don’t engage in risky behaviours.

This can include driving, diving into pools, jumping off roofs, or other activities. Doing so will increase your risk of injury or death.

Don’t Mix Drugs and Alcohol

When it comes to alcohol and drugs, we’re not just talking about illegal drugs. Certain prescription drugs can have dangerous interactions with alcohol as well.

You should discuss with your doctor how alcohol and any medications you take might impact you. However, if you’re drinking and someone offers you party drugs, say no.

When Alcohol Becomes a Problem

When does drinking alcohol turn into a problem or alcoholism? Sure there’s a risk of becoming an alcoholic when you drink, but where’s the line?

There are a few ways you can tell that you or a friend might have a problem.

Academic Signs

Are you regularly missing classes because you’re too hungover to get out of bed? Or maybe, your grades are dropping because you are not going to class and you’re drinking instead of studying.

If this sounds like you, it’s possible that your drinking has become a problem.

Cognitive and Emotional

If you’re drinking to the point that you blackout and don’t remember what happened the previous evening, you’re drinking too much. You might also experience a change in your sleeping patterns and uncharacteristic mood swings where you go from high to low in minutes.

Social Behaviour

Are you getting in trouble with your school? Or the law? These are signs that you need help.

In addition, losing friends to make new ones who encourage you to drink is another sign.


If you wake up and you feel shaky and need more alcohol to calm you, it’s likely your body is developing a dependence. You might also switch from alcohol to using heavier substances if you feel that alcohol is no longer giving you the relief you need. These are clear signs that it’s time to reach out and get help.

Drugs Commonly Used by Students

Whether you’re using illegal drugs in the UK or abusing prescriptions, drug use comes with serious consequences. There are some drugs that are commonly abused by college students in the UK, and each comes with different potential consequences.

Crack Cocaine

Crack cocaine goes by several names. You might hear it referenced as:

  • Rock
  • Base
  • Candy
  • Kryptonite
  • Cookies
  • Sleet
  • Hard
  • Crack

The name crack is because it makes a popping or crackling noise when it gets heated. This drug gets made by mixing ammonia or baking soda into the powder form of cocaine.

While crack is commonly vaporized through a glass pipe or snorted, injecting cocaine is another method of taking it.

Effects of Crack Cocaine

When using crack, the drug can cause euphoria, tension, confidence, and hyperactivity. This drug is very potent, and because of that, even an individual using it for the first time is at a high risk of a fatal overdose.

Crack Cocaine Addiction

This drug is even more addictive than regular cocaine, and addiction forms quickly. For some, it takes only using it one time. The high experienced can cause a lot of pleasure, but it’s short.

To maintain the high, users are tempted to take more of the drug. Crack causes your body to create excess levels of dopamine.

Dopamine induces happiness and helps create the high that comes with this drug. If you’re using this drug habitually, your body doesn’t produce as much dopamine naturally anymore, and to feel happy; you will take more of the drug.

This eventually leads to addiction and you needing crack just to feel normal.

Quitting Crack Cocaine

Crack can have very unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that make it difficult to quit. Some of these symptoms are acute, while others are more prolonged.

Acute symptoms can include:

  • Exhaustion
  • Anxiety
  • Unpleasant dreams
  • Irritability
  • Mood changes
  • Difficulty concentrating

Protracted symptoms can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Shaking
  • Depression
  • Cravings
  • Lack of motivation
  • Inability to feel pleasure
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anger
  • Emotional outbursts


Adderall in the UK is a Class B drug. While it is legal with a prescription, without one, it can have hefty legal consequences. This is a drug commonly abused by college students who believe it will help enhance their academic performance.

Adderall increases the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine in your central nervous system. This impacts how your brain responds to various events and can help you pay better attention, and can impact the speed at which your brain responds to external stimuli.

Because Adderall does increase dopamine levels, it can create a rewarding effect.

Adderall Addiction

Because of how Adderall impacts the chemicals in your brain, it’s very addictive. When you become addicted, your brain will need the drug to stimulate alertness and productivity.

Without it, you will likely feel mentally foggy and tired.

Other symptoms of addiction include:

  • Unable to complete work without Adderall
  • Tolerance
  • Unable to cut down even if you want to
  • Taking Adderall even though you know the harm being caused
  • Inability to feel alert without it
  • Neglecting other activities to use
  • Spending a lot of time and money to get, use, and recover from Adderall
  • Withdrawal symptoms

Quitting Adderall

If you’ve been using Adderall, you can experience symptoms of withdrawal. This drug causes an increase in dopamine in your brain. Because of that, your brain will begin to rely on Adderall and produce less dopamine naturally.

Some of the symptoms of withdrawal that you can experience include:

  • Mood swings
  • Tremors
  • Headaches
  • Appetite changes
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Anxiety
  • Seizures
  • Muscle aches
  • Cravings
  • and more

Benzos (benzodiazepines)

Benzos or benzodiazepines are drugs that typically get prescribed for anxiety or another medical condition. Some of the drugs that can fall into this category are valium and Xanax. Some of the conversations over recent years have looked at the dangers of street valium as deaths have been on the rise.

Even if you have a prescription, if you choose to take it to achieve a high or don’t follow directions, it counts as substance abuse. These drugs are depressants and work on your central nervous system. Because these drugs are widely available, they are commonly abused.

Benzodiazepine Addiction

Benzos are addictive; however, some are highly addictive. For example, abusing your Xanax drug prescription can quickly lead to addiction as this is one of the benzos that are highly addictive.

If you’re worried someone in your life is abusing benzos, there are some signs you can be on the lookout for.

These include:

  • Weakness
  • Mood changes
  • Blurred vision
  • Drowsiness
  • Doctor shopping
  • Poor judgment or thinking
  • Risk-taking behaviours
  • Combining benzos with alcohol or other drugs

Quitting Benzos

Benzos are very dangerous to just stop “cold turkey.” It’s essential to consult a doctor and go through a medical detox if you’ve developed a dependency on these drugs.

Some of the withdrawal symptoms you could experience include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic
  • Hallucinations
  • Mood swings
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Suicidal tendencies
  • And more

Opioids and Opiates

The terms opioids and opiates often get used interchangeably, but there are differences. Opiate drugs are narcotics that get derived from the opium poppy plant, which is naturally occurring.

While opioid drugs are synthetic narcotics that get made from an opiate plant that isn’t naturally occurring. While all opiates can get classified as opioids, the opposite is not true.

Legal opioids are prescribed to treat pain. All opioids are highly addictive. Some well-known drugs include heroin, fentanyl, and morphine.

Opioid Addiction

If you’ve been attempting to stop using opioids and can’t, that’s a clear sign of addiction. You might also notice that you have built up a tolerance and need more and more to achieve the same effects.

Some other signs of addiction can include:

  • Physical agitation
  • Poor decision making
  • Shallow or slow breathing
  • Reduced motivation
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Depression
  • Irritability

Quitting Opioids

Opioids can cause dependence, and they can be difficult to quit due to cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can also be dangerous, and it’s essential to make a plan with your medical provider.

Some symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • And more

Legal Highs

These are psychoactive drugs with various chemical ingredients. Some are illegal, but others are legal.

However, you will find that these drugs have effects similar to ecstasy, cannabis, and cocaine. Some will leave you feeling energized, others will cause you to feel more relaxed or euphoric, and others can alter your perception and cause you to hallucinate.

Because these drugs haven’t been tested for safety, they are often not sold for human consumption. Some of the effects seen when legal highs get used are paranoia, seizures, coma, and even death.

Because of this, they were outlawed in May of 2016 for production, sale, and supply.

Poppers Drug

Poppers are drugs that come in small bottles. People inhale these drugs from the bottle or from a cloth or cigarette that gets dipped into the liquid.

The effects of poppers occur almost immediately but only last for a few minutes. They work by causing an increase of blood flow to your heart. As your heartbeat quickens and blood rushes to your head, you experience a high.

Poppers are commonly used to improve sexual experiences.

The Dangers of Poppers

Some side effects experienced by individuals who use poppers include headaches, dizziness, nausea, light-headedness, and a slowed-down sense of time. There have been instances where poppers have caused heart attacks, especially in people who have heart conditions or high blood pressure.

Other fatalities have occurred when users drink the popper versus inhaling it. You can develop a tolerance to poppers so that after a while, they no longer cause a high.

While there are no reports of physical dependence or withdrawal symptoms, you can develop a psychological dependence.

Signs of Substance Misuse in Students

Are you worried about a friend or family member? If you believe they might have a problem, there are some common symptoms you can be on the lookout for.

These symptoms include:

  • Failing grades
  • Skipping classes
  • Sleeping during the day
  • Unexplained financial difficulties
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Questionable hygiene and appearance
  • Mixing drugs
  • Lack of motivation
  • Inability to make contact
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Changing social circles
  • Social withdrawal

What to Do if You’re Worried About a Friend or Family Member

Approaching someone you love about addiction can be difficult. However, there are some things you can do to help make the process easier.


Take the time to learn about addiction and the substance you’re worried someone is abusing. This will help you have facts and knowledge on how to address it when you sit down to talk.

Choose the Right Time

If the person you need to talk to is stressed or under the influence, you’re already in a bad place. This is a conversation that can trigger a lot of emotions, and you both need to be well-rested and clear-headed.

Focus on Results

The approach you take is a significant factor in how your loved one will receive what you have to say. Focus on talking to them about the harm that’s being caused and how that harm will continue to get worse.

Make sure they know you are approaching them out of love and that you care about them and their well-being.

Be Prepared for Pushback

Even when you talk to them, they might deny that they have a problem and be defensive. Ultimately, you have to let them come to a point where they do realize they have a problem.

Don’t be defensive, and remember, having this conversation might force them to take a step back and look more closely at what they’re doing.

Make a Plan

Don’t leave them floundering if they are willing to hear you and are ready to get help. As part of your research, find resources that could fit them.

You can even offer to give them a ride or to go with and be a support. However,  remember, they need to do the work themselves. You can provide resources and support, and then it’s up to them.

How to Get Help

There are many resources available to help when you’re ready. Treatment can take many forms, from inpatient to outpatient. The right treatment should be tailored to you.


It’s important to discuss with a provider the right steps to take when it comes to detox. Some substances can have dangerous withdrawal symptoms, and you might need medical detox.


For some addictions, certain medications can help with detox and staying clean. For example, gabapentin is often used for individuals detoxing from alcohol.

In addition, medication-assisted treatment is an option at many rehabilitation centres that treat opioid abuse.


Counselling is a crucial part of your treatment. In counselling, you can look at the various factors that led to addiction and learn new coping mechanisms.

Counselling can include individual counselling, family counselling, and group therapy.


When you’ve gone through detox and treatment, you’re not done. Addiction is a lifelong disorder, and you will need support.

It’s essential to set up an aftercare plan to help you maintain sobriety.

Other Resources For Students

There are many resources available to help with addiction. Take the chance to learn about the resources available and use them.

AA, NA, and CA

Alcoholics anonymous, narcotics anonymous, and cocaine anonymous provide support groups for people in recovery. These groups are not counselling but instead offer a fellowship.


FRANK offers free and practical advice on drug use for adults and children. They focus on preventing drug use by providing information and tools to help people abstain.


Drinkaware provides information and support to individuals seeking to reduce their drinking. Their goal is to help people in the UK adopt healthy drinking habits.

Other 12-Step Groups

Popular 12-step programmes include AA. However, there are other 12-step programmes used for treatment throughout the UK.

SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery offers a variety of self-help programmes for addiction. These can include alcohol, drugs, gambling, and more.

Find the Knowledge You Need

As a university student, it can be very easy to fall prey to addictive behaviours when it comes to alcohol and drugs. It’s essential to arm yourself for knowledge and make wise decisions. Learn as much as you can about the pitfalls of using substances at school, college or university. We hope this guide was helpful.

Student Addiction Advice

Speak to us – Fully confidential

If you’re a student and need help, or are worried about a student friend or family member, we have advice and guidance on addiction and treatment. Please contact one of trained telephone counsellors for help on: 0207 205 2845 or complete our contact form.

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