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August 22, 2016 - Full-Time College Students Drink More, But Smoke Cigarettes Less Than Other Young Adults

These two groups also have different perceptions of risk regarding certain substances.

A new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides significant insight into how full time college students (ages 18 to 22) differ from other people their age in their use of, and attitudes towards, various substances. The report also finds significant differences in how both groups view the accessibility of certain illicit substances.

According to the report, full-time college students are far more likely to be current (past month) alcohol drinkers than others their age (59.8 percent versus 51.5 percent respectively), and more likely to engage in past month binge drinking (37.9 percent versus 33.5 percent). Binge drinking is defined as drinking five or more drinks on the same occasion on at least one day in the past 30 days.

On the other hand, the report shows that people in this age group who are not full-time college students are far more likely than full-time college students to be current cigarette smokers (32.6 percent versus 17.9 percent). Use levels of other drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, crack, LSD and heroin are nearly identical among full-time college students and their non-college counterparts.

The study finds that full-time college students have different perceptions of risk regarding certain substances than others their age. For example, they are significantly more likely to perceive great risk of harm from heavy cigarette use than non full-time college students (72.5 percent versus 62.7 percent). They were also more likely than non full-time college students to perceive a great risk of harm from daily binge drinking (63.9 percent versus 55.3 percent).

However, full-time students are less likely than others in their age group to perceive great risk of harm from monthly cocaine use (59 percent versus 64.3 percent), trying heroin once or twice (76.6 percent versus 80.3 percent) and trying LSD once or twice (49.6 percent versus 58 percent). There are no significant differences between the two groups’ perceptions of great risk of harm from weekly marijuana use or weekly binge drinking.

Overall, the report shows full-time college students’ perceptions of great risk from using certain substances have dropped from 2002 to 2014. Full-time college students’ perception of great risk of harm from trying LSD once or twice dropped from 57.2 percent in 2002 to 49.6 percent in 2014. An even steeper decline occurred in the rate of perception of great risk from using marijuana once or twice a week – down from 34.5 percent in 2002 to 17.9 percent in 2014.

Full-time college students are more likely than others their age to believe they can easily obtain marijuana (79.9 percent to 73.1 percent) or LSD (21.5 percent versus 16.3). However, full-time college students are less likely than others their age to believe that they have easy access to heroin (11.8 percent versus 15.4 percent). There are no significant differences between the two groups regarding their perceptions of how easy it would be to obtain either cocaine or crack.

The report’s trend data indicates that full-time college students’ perceptions of easy access to many drugs have actually dropped significantly from 2002 to 2014.

“This report’s findings are particularly important now that many students are starting, or returning to, college,” said Fran Harding, Director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. “This is a good opportunity to assess the differences between full time college students and people their age who are not in college so that we can better target prevention programming to young adults from all walks of life with vital information on substance use disorder prevention and treatment.”

SAMHSA has multiple efforts for the 18 to 22 year old population. This includes the following:
  • SAMHSA’s Communities Talk: Town Hall Meetings to Prevent Underage Drinking. This initiative educates communities about underage and high-risk drinking and mobilizes them to take evidence-based actions at local, state, and national levels.
  • The Sound of Your Voice, a short animated video (link is external) and guide that encourages parents to talk with their young adults about the consequences of underage alcohol use.
  • Underage drinking factsheet, which provides an overview of underage alcohol use and the overall health and safety risks, including data on underage drinking by adolescents and young adults and a breakdown by gender and racial/ethnic group.
  • College student drinking factsheet which gives an overview of the issue and breaks down binge and heavy drinking by gender, alcohol use consequences, and alcohol use prevention.
  • http://www.stopalcoholabuse.gov/, the host site for additional information about underage drinking prevention.
Today’s SAMHSA report, “Trends in Perceptions of Risk and Availability of Substance Use among Full-Time College Students,” is available at http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_2418/ShortReport-2418.html. It is based on data drawn from SAMHSA’s 2012 to 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) – an annual survey of 68,000 Americans aged 12 and older.

For more information about SAMHSA and NSDUH please visit: http://www.samhsa.gov.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA's mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America's communities.