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Information for College Students

Heading off to college can be an amazing experience. You’ll be able to study what you want, and you’ll have the freedom to set your own schedule. You’ll also be surrounded by hundreds, or even thousands, of people your age who are just as excited about college as you are. For some students, it’s a dream come true.

College can also have some downsides. All of this freedom could allow underlying addiction issues to blossom. And sometimes, mental health problems develop or grow stronger when you’re away from your family and under the pressure of classes, grades and competition. If you’re having difficulty with an issue like this, you’re not alone. Many college students have faced exactly the same problem you’re facing, and these students went on to get the help they needed and complete their degrees. You can do it, too.

A Free Atmosphere
College students are known for cutting loose, drinking too much and acting a bit silly. Flip on sports coverage of college football games and you’re bound to see image after image of drunken college students raving at the camera and waving their fists in the air. Some national magazines even rank colleges by how many parties students can choose from on a given weekend. In this sort of environment, it can be hard for any student to avoid drinking. It seems like part of the culture.

While some students can drink every now and again, and feel no urge to drink again, other students simply cannot. Their genetics, their body chemistry or just their personalities make them more likely to become addicted to alcohol. When they start drinking, they cannot stop. Soon, they find they need to drink every day just to feel normal. Other students substitute drugs like heroin or Vicodin for alcohol, and they also find that they need the drugs in order to get through the day.

If this describes your life, you’re not alone. In fact, a study performed in California and summarized by USA Today found that 22.9 percent of college students could be considered addicted to, or dependent on, drugs or alcohol. It seems to be a problem that goes hand in hand with college life.

Do You Have a Problem? Take This Quiz

Answering “yes” to questions like this could indicate that you have a problem with drugs or alcohol:

  1. Do you need drugs or alcohol at the end of a bad day?
  2. Does it bug you when your friends talk about your drug use or your drinking?
  3. Do you feel bad or guilty about your drug or alcohol use?
  4. Do you go without food, books or other necessities in order to save up for drugs or alcohol?
  5. Do you skip classes in order to drink or use drugs?
  6. Do you ever forget what happened the night before, due to your drug or alcohol use?
  7. Have you tried to stop, but found that you couldn’t?
  8. Do you want to stop, but you don’t know how to make it stick?
  9. Do you make “rules” about your consumption, and then find that you can’t follow them?
  10. Are drugs or alcohol interfering with your daily life?

Staying Mentally Strong

During adolescence, the brain goes through a significant amount of change. Some tissues are shrinking while others are building up. It’s a bit like having a house under construction inside your head, and sometimes, that house has weaknesses that haven’t yet been corrected. It’s no wonder that so many mental illnesses are associated with the teen years. As the brain grows and changes, it’s simply more vulnerable to attack. Sometimes these issues come to light during high school. Other times, they don’t truly manifest until college.

In the past, college students often sought help for simple mental stresses like romantic breakups or major deadlines. Now, according to the American Psychological Association, more college students are seeking help for major mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders. While this might seem frightening to think about, there is some good news buried in this statement. These students had a major mental illness, and they asked for help for that illness. In the past, these students may have kept quiet about their issue, or they may have just dropped out of school. Now, they feel comfortable asking for help and getting the treatment they’ll need to recover. This might encourage you to do the same.

While it might be possible to provide a quiz to help you determine if alcohol or drugs are a problem in your life, it’s much more difficult to craft a screening tool for mental illness. Each disorder can come with its own set of symptoms, and there are literally hundreds of mental illnesses that could impact you at any one time. It’s hard to distill all of that information into a box you can hang on your refrigerator and refer to on a daily basis. In general, however, experts say that mental illnesses should be suspected if you:

  • Feel sad or low for days on end
  • Lose the ability to go to class, talk with friends or leave your room
  • Feel consumed with thoughts or urges you can’t control
  • Think about suicide or hurting yourself or others
  • Experience irrational anger or fear

When it comes to mental illness, it’s truly better to be safe than sorry. Anything that seems out of the ordinary should be brought to the attention of medical professionals. Perhaps talking about the problem will help, or perhaps you’ve stumbled upon a symptom you didn’t know was part of the mental illness spectrum. It’s best to get help if you think you need it.

Study Highlights Mental Illnesses on Campus

In 1994, the National Alliance on Mental Illness performed an in-depth study of college students, trying to determine how many of them had signs of a problem. It’s likely that the researchers were surprised by what they found. Of those students studied, one in three reported an extended period of depression and one in four had thoughts of suicide. In addition, one in seven students felt that school was difficult due to their mental illness.

Getting Help

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that most college campuses provide low-cost mental health services through counseling centers. As a student, you can make an appointment and explain your concerns to a counselor, and if needed, that counselor can refer you to an expert who can provide more in-depth help. You can also go to your student health center and see a medical doctor. These professionals can also refer you to a counselor for addiction or mental health issues.

If you have insurance coverage through your parents’ medical insurance program, you may be able to get counseling services that way. Some students find that talking to their parents about their issues is a helpful first step. Parents might even be willing to go to a doctor’s appointment with you, and help you talk about the concerns you’re facing.

Addictions and mental health concerns don’t have to cut your college career short. By talking about the issue, and getting help when you need it, you can get back on track and complete your degree.

Getting Help for Someone Else

Sometimes, your friends or roommates have addiction or mental health issues that seem clear to you, even if they don’t seem clear to the other person. Talking about these topics is incredibly hard, but following a few basic guidelines may be helpful:

  1. Express concern, not judgment. Telling someone, “You’re weird,” or “You’re dangerous,” isn’t as helpful as using statements like, “I’m your friend and I want you to be well.”
  2. Listen, listen, listen. It might be tempting to talk about your own life and your own feelings, but be sure to give the other person the chance to speak.
  3. Be helpful. Offer to make an appointment, walk to that appointment with the person or go to meetings with your friend.
  4. Speak out. Don’t be afraid to talk to your advisor, a counselor or your parents about your friend. Sometimes the problem is so big that others must get involved.