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Drug Use Trends in College-Aged and Young Adults

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Drug use among college students is on the rise, and in the case of marijuana, it is rising rapidly. Alcohol and cocaine are also being used daily by more students than thirty years ago.

Marijuana Use – On the Rise

Marijuana use among full-time college students is increasing notably. It is also outpacing that of their peers who are not attending college. College students who use marijuana daily has jumped significantly, tripling over the past three decades from 1.8% in 1994 to 5.9% in 2014. One out of every 17 college students is smoking marijuana every day.

Overall, 36% of college students have smoked marijuana in the past year, the highest level in three decades. For reference, 35.1% of 12-graders said they had used marijuana in the past year. For the first time ever, more college students use marijuana daily (5.9%) than those who use alcohol daily (4.3%).

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States.[1] With more discussion of medical marijuana and the legalization of marijuana in several states over the past decade, the number of students who believe marijuana is risky is decreasing.[2]

Alcohol Use – College Students Use Alcohol More Than Their Non-attending Peers

College students are drinking more to get drunk than their peers who do not attend college. When asked whether they had had five or more drinks in a row within the past two weeks, 35% of college students responded yes, while 29% of those not in college responded yes. When asked if they had been drunk within the last month, the difference was more pronounced – 43% of college students responded affirmatively, while 34% of young adults not in college had.

Daily alcohol use among college students has increased slightly over the past three decades, from 3.7% in 1994 to 4.3% in 2014.

Increase in College Enrollment, Daily Drug Use and Drug and Alcohol Abuse Treatment Facilities

College enrollment has grown more than 40% since 1994. With the percentage increase in the daily use of marijuana, alcohol and cocaine – combined with growing number of college students – a growing number of young adults are experiencing drug and alcohol related issues, including addiction. There are now more than 14,500 drug and alcohol treatment facilities in the U.S. alone.[3] Many facilities specialize in the treatment of young adults and can arrange for online college classes or homework to be accessed during treatment, once the student is stabilized.

Unless otherwise noted, all drug and alcohol statistics provided by

Covenant Hills Drug and Alcohol Treatment Programs, located in Orange County, California and San Antonio, Texas, provide treatment programs for young adults via intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization and residential care. For more information, call for a free evaluation at 888.758.9677.


[1] Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (CBHSQ). Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; 2015. HHS Publication No. SMA 15-4927, NSDUH Series H-50

[2] Johnston L, O’Malley P, Miech R, Bachman J, Schulenberg J. Monitoring the Future National Survey Results on Drug Use: 1975-2015: Overview: Key Findings on Adolescent Drug Use. Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan; 2015