College stress is drowning many students in substance abuse disorder


Community college students use substances to cope with the stresses of school work. Fullerton College Health Center offers help with substance abuse. Photo credit: Gerardo Chagolla

Pedro Saravia, Staff Writer

Recent studies show that college students have a high rate of abuse in alcohol and illicit substances such as heroin and meth, linking these behaviors to the stress and lifestyle of universities and junior colleges in the United States.

According to The National Library of Medicine, about 39% of full-time college students struggle with abusive drinking. The National Institute on Drug Abuse dictates that marijuana use has reached an all time high since the 1980s among college-aged adults, both substances known to open the door for the use and addiction of more dangerous drugs.

The American Addiction Center explains that substance usage is common amongst college students. They describe it as a way to escape from the stress they have from school or to boost their academic performance, all at the risk of developing addiction and abuse disorder.

Substance abuse is described by Kemper Gottshall, therapist at the alcohol and drugs addiction treatment center at the Gratitude Lodge in Long Beach as, “the inability to seize substance use on our own.”

Gottshall pointed out that fentanyl, cocaine, heroin and alcohol are the substances that are causing the most abuse disorder cases in young adults.

“College is a stressful time,” Gottshall said, explaining why college students are susceptible for substance abuse. “People have freedom and autonomy more than they did in high school.”

Gottshall pointed out that students see the usage of drugs as part of their identity and a way to fit into social groups that consume substances often. “Telling someone to just not do substances, specifically at that age, you are essentially telling people to stop hanging out with their friends or stop having the life that they know.”

Gratitude Lodge Executive Director, Mark Williams, explained that students abusing substances in their high school years drag the usage into their college years. This problem specifically affects community colleges, which allows people to keep engaging in friend groups who share the same addictions.

“They keep those bad habits, and they make sure to go to community colleges because of their friendships locally,” said Williams. “They’ll meet other students at community college and maybe their current use may increase from alcohol and marijuana to cocaine and ecstasy.”

Gotshall credits Covid-19 as an impact to the behavior of college students and young adults in general to the frequency of substance consumption. “Many of the clients that you have seen here, have come to tell how their substance use got really out of control during the lockdown,” Gotshall said.

The abuse of alcohol and drugs can impact a student’s life, hurting their academic performance, their health, and stripping them away from a well-functioning life. “I was one of those people that was pulled out of school that was failing out because I was an alcoholic,” said Williams.

Fullerton College is not an exemption to this data, having students currently affected by substance abuse disorder explains Dana Timmermans, director of behavioral health services on campus.

“Students are utilizing substances to deal with the issues of stress, depression and anxiety,” Timmermans said. “Unfortunately, it is happening.”

Those wanting to recover from this condition must reach out for help, either from a professional or from a person of confidence and avoid fighting the addiction alone.

“Try to connect to a loved one or friend who would be empathetic and understanding, and seek help,” Gottshall said. “One of the biggest fueling agents of substance use is isolation. If you are operating in isolation, it’s going to exacerbate whatever issues you are having.”

The Fullerton College Health Care Center offers help in many ways for students struggling from substance abuse. “We have a couple therapists here that have experience in drug and alcohol treatments,” Timmermans explained. “We offer counseling and referrals to other treatment programs.”

Timmermans indicated that students can either seek help at the Health Care Center office or contact them by phone and schedule a virtual counseling appointment. He points out that many students suffering from substance abuse do not want to stop consuming drugs, but want to relieve the symptoms of it. “Rarely do students come to the Health Center asking for help for substance abuse,” said Timmermans. “They don’t want to stop using.”

If you or a loved one you know is suffering from substance abuse, contact the Fullerton College Health Center at (714) 992-7093 or visit them in room 1204 Monday through Thursday from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.