Nearly 40% of college students admitted to having used an illicit drug in 2014. Many of them use these substances recreationally without ever developing an addiction or physical dependence on them. That said, most drugs are addictive. People continue to use drugs to recreate pleasurable highs and avoid symptoms of withdrawal. Peer pressure, party environments, brain chemistry, and genetic predisposition to substance abuse also play a role.


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What are recreational substances?

Recreational substances are any drugs used for pleasure and not for medical purposes. Alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana (the most commonly used) are among them, and they may be legal depending on your age and state. Most other recreational substance use, however, is illegal in the United States, but some people use these substances regardless. In fact, many college students see or participate in the use of illicit recreational drugs, like cocaine, heroin, and ecstasy, while on campus.

With the exception of regulated alcohol and nicotine (and marijuana sold in dispensaries or homegrown), substances are usually sold by dealers, their original source unknown. Because these street or club substances aren’t monitored, they can be dangerous; there is no way of knowing how potent they are or if they were cut with anything else. Not only is addiction or physical dependence a risk, but so is an overdose (and, in some cases, poisoning or dangerous drug interactions).

Please note that this article will cover illicit or restricted recreational substances; alcohol abuse is covered here, and nicotine dependence is covered here.

What is recreational substance abuse?

Any substance, when used recreationally, can become a gateway to more dangerous drug use. Drugs elevate dopamine levels in the brain, causing a high, and your brain wishes to hold onto those pleasurable feelings. Substance use becomes substance abuse when you continue to use a drug to extend your high.

What are the risks of using the most common recreational drugs found on college campuses?

Common College Drugs Short-Term Effects Potential Risks of Long-Term Use
Marijuana

Grass, herb, Mary Jane, pot, reefer, roach, skunk, weed

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Cravings
  • Sleepiness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Clumsiness
  • Confusion
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Paranoia
  • Emotional or social addiction
  • Absences or inattention to studies or work
  • Reduced ability to learn or recall information
  • Weakened immune system
  • Lethargy
  • Lung damage (including tar build-up) from smoking
Hashish (higher concentration of THC than marijuana, which can intensify the effects)

Hash

Heroin

Brown sugar, dope, H, skunk, smack

  • Warming of the skin
  • Dry mouth
  • Itching
  • Poor coordination
  • Confusion
  • Slowed breathing
  • Slowed heart function
  • Overdose (potentially deadly)
  • Physical dependence
  • Emotional or social addiction
  • Heart problems
  • HIV (from sharing or reusing needles)
  • Hepatitis
Prescription painkillers

Codeine, hydrocodone, morphine, oxycontin

Cocaine

Blow, bump, coke, crack

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased body temperature
  • Tremors
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hyperactivity
  • Paranoia
  • A crash when you come down
  • Overdose (potentially deadly)
  • Physical dependence
  • Emotional or social addiction
  • Heart problems
  • Damage to nasal appearance and function (from snorting)
  • Weight loss
  • Seizures
Amphetamine

Including Adderall. Bennies, speed, uppers

Methylphenidate

Including Ritalin.

LSD

Lysergic acid diethylamide: acid

  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased body temperature
  • Increased heart rate
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Panic
  • Reduced ability to learn or recall information
  • Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder
  • Persistent psychosis
Psilocybin

Mushrooms, boomers, chocolates, shrooms

MDMA

E, ecstasy, molly, thizz, vitamin X

  • Altered perceptions of time and senses
  • Mild hallucinations
  • Sweating or chills
  • Muscle cramping
  • Sleeplessness
  • Anxiety
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder
  • Insomnia or prolonged sleep problems
  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • Hyperthermia
  • Addiction
  • Confusion
  • Poor concentration

What resources are available for people with addictions or dependencies?

  • For a spiritual approach to overcoming addiction: Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is a 12-step program with over 63,000 weekly meetings in many languages and locations.
  • For a scientific approach to overcoming addiction: SMART Recovery is a 12-step program, which supports self-change, psychological support, and legal prescriptions to curb dependence.
  • For inpatient/outpatient treatment and a community advocate: The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence advocates for people struggling with any kind of addiction. It also provides refers, professional training, treatment, and community outreach.
  • For information that recognizes addiction as a disease that affects the brain: The National Institute on Drug Abuse supports research on drugs and wellness.
  • For government help finding a treatment facility, support group, or health insurance: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration understands the relationship between substance abuse and mental illness and offers referrals for treatment. Its 24-hour helpline (1-800-4357) can attend to calls in English and Spanish.

Page last updated: 12/2016