Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Guide

College can be an exciting time of exploration and developing a new sense of self, but that doesn't have to include activities like binge drinking, drug abuse, hazing, or violence. The University of Mississippi's mission is to advocate for well-informed, healthful choices, and encourage students to strive for wellness in a positive, empowering, open, and inclusive environment.

The University of Mississippi aims to create a safe and healthy learning environment for all students. It does this by providing extensive counseling and health services to all students. Whether students are looking for help or just someone to talk to, the understanding and compassionate staff at Ole Miss is here to support them. Students who proactively reach out to campus personnel are protected from disciplinary actions related to their substance use.

Ole Miss Policies

Ole Miss prohibits abusive consumption and/or illegal distribution of alcohol and other drugs on campus. This includes:

  • Any alcohol possession or consumption by people under the age of 21.
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol.
  • Public intoxication or inappropriate behavior as the result of alcohol consumption.
  • Drinking games and devices meant to promote the rapid consumption of alcohol.

Both students and student organizations are held to the alcohol policy and the minimum sanctions defined in that policy.

Student organizations are prohibited from supplying alcohol from organizational funds, as well as from any activities defined in the school’s hazing policy. Students and student groups who violate these policies are subject to disciplinary actions by the university and any applicable legal consequences by local law enforcement.

For first offenses, the student or student organization is required to complete alcohol or drug education programs, pay the related fines, and conduct community service. They will be placed on probation for the remaining of the current semester and the following 2 semesters. A student’s probation will extend through a summer term, intersession, or any breaks.

The university takes prior record into consideration when determining disciplinary sanctions on subsequent offenses. If a student commits another offense while on probation, they are suspended for a complete semester, including summer or intersessions. If a student organization commits a second offense while on probation, their social activities are suspended for at least 1 semester.

Being suspended is a serious consequence, and may impact a student’s:

  • Immigration status (for international students).
  • Health insurance.
  • Tuition
  • Financial aid.
  • Housing
  • Meal plan.
  • Academic performance.
  • Internships or study abroad opportunities.
  • Athletic participation.

Even with clear policies and disciplinary actions, colleges and universities across the country still struggle with student substance abuse.

Reasons for Risky Substance Use Behaviors

There are a number of factors that may contribute to a student’s substance abuse while in college. Stress, loneliness, depression, financial difficulties, new relationships, new social circles, and demanding workloads are each difficult situations to face individually. In college, students may be faced with some or all of these conditions in combination. The availability and relative acceptance of substance use can lead to a perfect storm for young adults to develop addictive behaviors.

Newfound Independence

For many students, college is their first time living away from home and the near-constant supervision, rules, and curfew enforced by their parents. Some students accept this newfound freedom with maturity and a sense of responsibility, while others seize the opportunity to experiment with drugs, alcohol, and risky sexual behavior—putting themselves and others in harm’s way.

Although many students move on from the experimentation phase to settle into a calmer academic and personal routine, some get caught in the powerful cyclical forces of addiction and destructive behaviors. This can include self-medicating for feelings of sadness, loneliness, or anxiety, or falling into patterns of heavy drinking or drug use in an effort to fit in or make new friends at social events.

Academic Pressures

Although high schools do their best to prepare students for the transition to university-level courses, many students are still overwhelmed by the academic rigor of coursework and testing. In addition, there are new distractions presented in a college student’s everyday life: new friendships, extracurricular activities, and part-time jobs all demand a student’s attention and can lead to elevated levels of stress and anxiety.

Some students neglect their studies throughout the semester and find themselves needing to cram for mid-term or final exams—perhaps turning to so-called “study drugs” like Adderall or Ritalin to help them stay awake for all-night study sessions. Some push for academic perfection and overwork themselves, which can cause burnout. Students in this situation may self-medicate their anxiety with illicitly procured prescription drugs or binge-drinking episodes to blow off some steam.

Collegiate Athletics

Student athletes often experience incredible amounts of stress in college. With sports participation dependent on maintaining a minimum GPA, student athletes must keep their grades up while simultaneously improving their physical performance. That means participating in team practice, individual training, and traveling to away games without falling behind on assignments, lab work, and studying for exams.

In addition to the stress of new friendships and social circles that other students face, athletes must also navigate relationships with coaches, trainers, and teammates—without a parent to serve as an intermediary. Keeping up with the demand to perform both physically and academically, while also potentially coping with injury or other traumatic events, is a lot for any young person to handle.

To an extent, participating in sports can protect students from substance abuse, but the factors discussed above can also increase a person’s chances of developing a problem with drug or alcohol use. Common concerns with student athletes include the use performance-enhancing drugs, highly addictive opioid painkillers used to manage pain, and heavy alcohol use normalized by teammates and the party culture surrounding sporting events.

Greek Life and Partying

Drinking among college students usually occurs in a social setting, and athletes aren’t the only special population with a college experience that places them at a greater risk for substance abuse. Drinking is higher in groups where alcohol use is seen as the norm and peer pressure is high. One example of this is the Greek community.

Fraternity brothers and sorority sisters often participate in social events where excessive alcohol consumption is not just accepted, but often expected. Illegal hazing activities frequently entail making new members consume excessive—and sometimes dangerous—amounts of alcohol in order to prove their dedication to the organization. Studies have found that students involved in Greek life consume more alcoholic drinks per week, binge drink more often, and suffer from negative consequences related to their drinking more frequently than their non-Greek peers.1

Of course, Greek students are not the only ones who party. Regardless of social circle, peer pressure to fit in during college is a powerful force, especially in the context of partying and binge drinking. Restaurants and stores that sell alcohol entice college students’ business by offering low prices, happy hours, alcohol advertising, and promotions designed to attract students to not only drink, but drink heavily.

Just as there are many different reasons behind student substance use, there are many different potential substances of abuse. Students may not have even heard of some drugs, or they may think that prescription drugs are safe to use for non-medical purposes.

Commonly Abused Drugs

In 2016, about 1 in 7 people between the ages of 18 and 25 needed treatment for drug or alcohol abuse, and about 1 in 4 reported using an illicit drug in the past month.2 Nationwide, some of the most commonly abused substances on college campuses are alcohol, marijuana, prescription painkillers, and stimulants. The potential negative effects of these drugs can result in:

  • Disciplinary action by the school.
  • Arrest or even jail time by local law enforcement.
  • Severe impacts to physical and mental health.
  • Declining academic performance.
  • Death from overdose.

Alcohol

Alcohol remains the drug of choice among college students (Yes, alcohol is a drug!). Many people consider drinking to be an integral part of their college experience. Some students develop harmful drinking behaviors before entering college, while others have never had a drink before stepping onto campus.

In a 2016 nationwide survey, 57.1% of young adults aged 18 to 25 said they currently use alcohol, and 38.4% reported binge drinking in the past month.2 Binge drinking is generally defined as having 5 drinks in a row for men, and 4 drinks in a row for women.

Abusing alcohol can have serious effects on the body and lead to long-term physical and psychological damage. Heavy drinking damages the heart, liver, and pancreas, and increases the risk of developing cancers of the mouth, esophagus, throat, breast, and liver.3

Alcohol also affects the brain, interfering with coordination and judgment. Drinking increases the risk of engaging in risky behaviors, such as drunk driving or unprotected sex.

Prescription Drugs

Prescription opioids such as OxyContin, Vicodin, codeine, and hydrocodone are powerful painkillers designed to relieve patient suffering after traumatic injury or surgery. Benzodiazepines (often called “benzos” for short) such as Valium or Xanax are sedatives designed to alleviate anxiety and tension. Both classes of prescription drugs are misused for recreational purposes, and both are highly addictive.

College students may turn to prescription drugs to get high or as a way to relax after a busy week. Many falsely assume that prescription drugs aren’t as harmful as illicit substances. In fact, prescription painkillers play a major role in the current opioid epidemic, and every day more than 115 Americans die from an opioid overdose.4 Similarly, there has been a 4-fold increase in deaths from benzodiazepine overdose from 2002–2015.5

Studies have found that, among college students, the misuse of opioids is associated with higher levels of alcohol and other drug use.6 Additionally, people who misuse prescription drugs recreationally may eventually turn to heroin to maintain their drug habit, as heroin is often cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription opioids.

Marijuana

While alcohol is the most widely used legal drug among students, marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug. As many as 1 in every 22 college students uses marijuana daily, and more than 85% of students think their peers use marijuana at least once per month.7 Studies find that frequent marijuana use can negatively impact a student’s academics—leading to poor performance on exams, lower GPAs, and dropping out of school.7

In 2016, about 1 in 5 young adults aged 18 to 25 (20.8%) were current users of marijuana.2 In particular, wax is becoming a popular form of ingesting marijuana among college students. Wax is marijuana concentrate—a highly potent mass of THC that looks like honey or butter. People use wax by taking a small amount, or “dab,” of the concentrate and heating that using an e-cigarette or vaporizer to produce a marijuana vapor. This method is also called “dabbing.”

The effects of marijuana concentrate are much more intense than traditional cannabis, and can cause paranoia, anxiety, panic attacks, and hallucinations. Because the extraction process to create THC concentrate is unregulated, the potency of wax is usually unknown.8

Marijuana in all forms remains illegal for both recreational and medicinal use across the entire state of Mississippi. Students caught dabbing or using marijuana in any way will face disciplinary action from the school and legal consequences from law enforcement authorities.

Study Drugs

College students looking for a competitive edge over their peers may turn to the non-medical use of ADHD medications like Adderall, Ritalin, or Concerta. These prescription stimulants are often called “study drugs” because students use them when cramming for tests due to the drugs’ effect of improved concentration and decreased need for sleep.

At schools with competitive admissions, the rate of study drug use is reported to be as high as 25%.9 In addition, studies find that white male students, low income students, and members of fraternities and sororities are more likely to abuse study drugs than their peers.9,10 Students are often unaware of the health risks involved in taking stimulants without a prescription, and many falsely assume that these drugs are not addictive.

Substance use in college can be tricky for students to navigate, and some react to or handle drugs and alcohol better than others. A big part of preventing addiction begins with understanding why it happens in the first place.

Understanding Addiction

Addiction is a physiological condition that is characterized by a compulsion to continue using drugs or alcohol despite the medical and/or social consequences of doing so.

As a society, we are finally shifting our views about addiction. Emerging science shows that addiction actually rewires the brain. Addiction is not a sign of personal weakness or failure, nor is it a matter of morality or being a “bad” person. Substance abuse is a complex issue, and it does not discriminate based on race, age, socioeconomic status, education level, or religious background.

How Does Addiction Develop?

Substance use and abuse affect every person differently. Just because your roommate or classmate drinks the same amount as you doesn’t mean you should expect the same experience as them. Addiction is also heritable, meaning that if your mother or father struggled with addiction you are at a much higher chance of developing a substance use disorder yourself.

There are a number of factors that can contribute to a person’s developing addiction, including social environment, major life events, and genetic predisposition. Early childhood experience may also play a role in your relationship with substance abuse. A large body of research has been conducted on the connection between adverse childhood experiences and addiction. Adverse childhood experience could include physical or sexual abuse, emotional neglect, or growing up in a household with an alcoholic or drug user.11

Addiction is a chronic condition that progresses differently based on the individual and the substance of abuse. It can typically be characterized by:

  • Tolerance—needing more of the substance in order to achieve the desired effects,
  • Dependence—needing the substance in the body’s systems just to function normally,
  • Withdrawal—experiencing illness and other side effects when substance use is stopped, and
  • Relapse—returning to substance use after trying to maintain sobriety.

How Is Addiction Treated?

Just as the development and experience of addiction is different for each person who experiences it, the process of treating addiction is also unique to each individual. The drug of addiction and the drug user’s personal dedication to making a lasting change are 2 of the most important factors to consider.

Drug rehabilitation can occur in an inpatient residential facility or on an outpatient basis for anywhere from 1 month up to an entire year (30- to 90-day rehabs tend to be the most common). Throughout treatment, patients meet with a physician to monitor progress, evaluate their overall health and make adjustments to the treatment plan as necessary.

The rehab process generally begins with detox, during which substance use is either stopped altogether or slowly tapered off. Quitting certain substances cold-turkey can trigger uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous, withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal syndrome is the name given to the experience of withdrawal symptoms after quitting drugs or alcohol.

Sometimes medications are prescribed to ease highly uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, such as those experienced during detox from alcohol, benzos, or opioids. Other medications are available to help manage cravings and prevent relapse.

Treating substance abuse and addiction is about much more than going through detox and withdrawal. Ongoing behavioral therapies and support groups are necessary to address the root cause of the person’s compulsive drug-seeking behaviors and prevent future relapses. For students who need to pursue addiction treatment, college life can be a source of triggers to return to substance use or a source of support and help during this difficult time.

Resources on Campus

Problematic substance use and addiction are more common on college campuses than many students realize. If you feel that you or someone you know has a problem with drugs or alcohol, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Being proactive about talking to someone may just save your life.

Students who are joining or returning to the University and are in recovery are encouraged to access the recovery community on campus. At any time, you can join the Collegiate Recovery Community (CRC) at the University of Mississippi. CRC is a community that offers a number of activities that promote healthy lifestyles and target a student’s overall recovery and holistic wellness. Some of the activities CRC offers include:

  • Weekly support groups.
  • Sober events and activities.
  • Access to a network of faculty, staff, and peers whom students can turn to for guidance.
  • Volunteer opportunities.

As a CRC member, you will engage with other students in recovery and be able to express what you are going through in a supportive, open, and honest setting. This community allows students to successfully navigate college life while sober—including transitioning back to school after rehab or taking time off, managing triggers or urges to use, and allowing increased opportunity to excel academically. The mission of the CRC is to provide a nurturing, affirming environment in which students recovering from substance use disorder can pursue academic goals, elicit social support and engage in community opportunities.

Members of the Ole Miss CRC must be enrolled in at least 3 credit hours and have a minimum of 3 months in recovery while continuing to abstain from drug and alcohol use. To learn more about CRC and apply to become a member, visit campusrec.olemiss.edu/recovery.

For more information on how to find help and begin your path to recovery, review our guides on:

Not everyone needs rehab, some people just need a person to talk to or a place to go instead of a party. The University of Mississippi provides ample counseling and health resources to help students in need get a start in the right direction. The university’s medical amnesty policy dictates that students will not be placed on disciplinary sanction or face legal consequences for seeking out help for a drug or alcohol problem.

The below departments can also help answer your questions and connect you with valuable resources.

Wellness Education

campusrec.olemiss.edu/wellness
(662) 915-6543
214 Turner Center
wellnessedu@olemiss.edu

 

University Counseling Center

counseling.olemiss.edu
(662) 915-3784
320 Lester Hall
counslg@olemiss.edu

 

Clinic for Outreach and Personal Enrichment (COPE)

cope.olemiss.edu
(662) 915-7197
850 Insight Park, Suite 163A
cope@olemiss.edu

 

Student Health Service

healthcenter.olemiss.edu
(662) 915-7274
V. B. Harrison Building

 

Psychological Services Center

psc.olemiss.edu
(662) 915-7385
382 Kinard Hall

 

For Ole Miss students who are experiencing difficulty with substance abuse: You are not alone. There are dedicated university staff, teachers, counselors, and student mentors here to help you through this challenging time. There is light at the end of the tunnel, even if it doesn’t feel like it now. Your journey to recovery may inspire others to seek the help they need to change their lifestyle and in turn, their future. Substance use doesn’t have to be part of the college experience and it doesn’t have to define who you are.

Sources

  1. Cashin, J., Presley, C., Meilman, P. (1998). Alcohol use in the Greek system: Follow the leader? Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 59(1), 63–70.
  2. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2017). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Rockville, MD.
  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Opioid Overdose Crisis.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Overdose Death Rates.
  6. Lord, S., Brevard, J., Budman, S. (2011). Connecting to Young Adults: An Online Social Network Survey of Beliefs and Attitudes Associated With Prescription Opioid Misuse Among College Students. Substance Use & Misuse46(1), 66–76.
  7. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017). Marijuana Use among College Students.
  8. United States Department of Justice. (2014). What You Should Know About Marijuana Concentrates. Also Known As: THC Extractions.
  9. Vrecko, S. (2015). Everyday drug diversions: A qualitative study of the illicit exchange and non-medical use of prescription stimulants on a university campus. Social Science & Medicine131, 297–304.
  10. Office of Applied Studies. (2008). The NSDUH Report: Nonmedical Use of Adderall Among Full-Time College Students. Results from the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National findings. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Rockville, MD.
  11. Felitti, V. (2003). The Origins of Addiction: Evidence from the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study. Prax Kinderpsychol Kinderpsychiatr, 52(8), 547–59.