College Drug Abuse Facts

Learn the latest college drug abuse facts

Are you concerned your college student may have started abusing drugs? College is a time of exploration and trying new things. For many young adults, this simply means meeting new people and discovering exciting cultures. Sometimes the new experiences are not that benign, though. For some young adults, college is their first introduction to a world of alcohol and drugs. These individuals may embark on a pattern of abusing drugs at college that can derail their plans for their life. If you are unsure if your student is abusing drugs, learning the latest college drug abuse facts may help you determine if there is a problem.

2015 Drug Abuse in College Students Statistics

Every year, SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, sponsors a National Survey on Drug Use and Health. They interview teenagers and young adults in high school and college to get a clear picture of the latest drug abuse in college students statistics and overall trends of drug and alcohol abuse among the nations’ youth. The survey examines the percentage rates of the most commonly used drugs by college students, including non-medical use of prescription drugs. To make sure you have a clear picture of the temptations your student may be facing at her or his university, here are some key results from the latest survey available from SAMHSA, the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

All of these statistics on this page pertain to young adults attending college, aged 18 to 25. In general, college age males are more likely to use illicit drugs than their female counterparts, with the notable exception of sedatives, which is more evenly distributed among the genders.


Alcohol is by far the preferred drug of choice among college students, with levels of abuse that may be surprising to many parents. 79 percent of college students used alcohol in 2015, and 40 percent admitted to binge drinking, defined as having 5 or more drinks at a single time, in the past two weeks. What is really troubling are the rates of extreme binge drinking, which is having 10 or more drinks in a row. Approximately one in nine college students reported engaging in extreme binge drinking on at least one occasion in the prior two weeks, and one in 25 students admitted to having 15 or more drinks in a row at least once in the same interval.


Marijuana use is on the rise among college students, possibly because the widespread perception that is relatively safe to use that has been fueled by recent votes to legalize use. This is an area of concern for many parents and educators. In 2015, 38 percent of college students had used marijuana in the past year, up from 30 percent in 2006.  The percentage of full-time college students who use marijuana on a daily base declined slightly in 2015.  4.6 percent or one in every 22 college students used marijuana every day in 2015, down from an all-time high of 5.9% in 2014.


In 2014, the use of cocaine among college students increased for the first time in six years, jumping from 2.7 percent to more than 4 percent. Usage remained high in 2015, with 4.3 percent of college students using cocaine in the past year. That’s higher than cocaine use among all 18 to 25 year olds.

Prescription drugs

The illicit use of prescription drugs remained fairly steady among college students in 2015, with 4.3 percent of students using tranquilizers and 2.3 percent using sedatives. The off-prescription use of amphetamines declined slightly among college students, falling to 9.7 percent from an all-time high of 11.1 percent. That still means that about 1 in 10 college students used stimulants without a prescription in 2015.

Other drugs

While the rates of marijuana use rose in the past year, there was definitely some good news. Several other types of drug use by college students declined in 2015. Past-year use of synthetic marijuana, sold under names such as “K-2” and “Spice,” fell to just 1.5 percent in 2015, an 80% decrease over the last 4 years. Use of synthetic cathinones, commonly sold as “bath salts,” which has always been low among college students, fell to just 0.1 percent in 2015. The use of MDMA, also known as ecstasy or Molly, came in at just 4.2 percent. Use of Salvia has decreased more than 90 percent over the past six years, down to just 0.9 percent from the high of 5.8 percent in 2009 when its use was first measured. Inhalant use remains low among college students, with levels below 2 percent.

If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

is a proud alumni member of WhiteSands Treatment. After living a life of chaos, destruction and constant let downs, Mark was able to make a complete turnaround that sparked a new way of life. He is serious about his recovery along with helping others. At WhiteSands Treatment, we offer support to you in your homes or when you are out living in your daily lives.