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College Student Addiction Withdrawal and Detox Center Guide

Medically Reviewed By: Benjamin Caleb Williams RN, BA, CEN

Written By: Gary Bowers

Article Updated: 01/22/2021

Number of References: 12 Sources

Drug and alcohol abuse is a common problem on campuses across America. Many students will admit to a near-constant pressure to “do it all”. Social media presence, “fitting in”, extra-curricular activities, sex and dating, prestige, lack of parental supervision, and academic pressures combine to create the perfect environment for addiction to flourish. Besides the academic risks, drug and alcohol abuse on campus create a dangerous environment for students, particularly women and underclassmen.

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Addiction and Academia

Alcohol is by far the most abused drug on campus, but a significant number of college students are using prescription and illicit drugs to study more, relieve stress, and fit in. Drug withdrawal symptoms can be painful and some will go back to using to avoid the pain. Knowing the signs and symptoms can help turn someone towards more effective treatment, and long-term recovery.

By The Numbers: College Student And Drug Use

Drug use on campus isn’t a rumor, and it isn’t just confined to frat parties. Alcohol consumption on campus is a significant public health problem. Adderall and amphetamine use have become commonplace. The numbers alone paint a staggering story:

  • According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over half of college students reported drinking alcohol on a regular basis. 10% considered themselves “heavy drinkers”.
  • According to a SAMHSA survey, in 2017, 36.9% of people aged 18-25 admitted to binge drinking within the last month.
  • Studies have also shown that close to 15% of college-aged people are addicted to more than one drug.
  • 63% of students who drink alcohol regularly have suffered at least one negative consequence as a result of their alcohol use.
  • More than 33% of college students have sold or given away medications that were prescribed to them. (typically Adderall and opioids).
  • 11.1% of college students have misused Adderall.
  • In 2001, there were 97,000 alcohol-related sexual assaults on college campuses.
  • Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug on college campuses. 42.6% of college students report past-month usage.
  • Past month marijuana vaping among college students doubled from 2017 to 2018.
  • There is significant evidence that shows a connection between drug and alcohol use and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Anyone Can Become Addicted

It can take up to 25 years – well past college age – for the human brain to fully develop, and introducing the brain to addictive substances at a young age can literally wire the brain for addiction. While the brain can “rewire” at any age, the implications for this occurring at such a young age are profound and can reduce someone’s chances of long term recovery later in life. For many students, their first exposure to drugs and alcohol came before college, but the availability, ubiquity, and pervasive acceptance of drug and alcohol use in college – when combined with social pressure and less supervision – can lead to drug addiction and dependency.

The price students pay for addiction is too steep to ignore. Missing classes, poor grades, risky social and sexual behavior, and legal consequences can all derail students on their path to success.

Common Signs of Drug Withdrawal in College Students

It may not always be easy to distinguish the difference between drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms and the stresses of college life, but it is possible. Here are some signs of drug withdrawal in college students:

A Sudden Decline in Grades or Performance: Though it’s reasonable to see fluctuation in a college student’s academic and/or athletic performance, what to watch for would be sudden or severe declines. If a student who normally earns excellent marks suddenly stops attending classes and fails courses, this would be a major warning sign of either drug abuse or withdrawal. Likewise for student-athletes; if their performance decreases or if they suddenly lose passion in their sport, this could be an indication of addiction or withdrawal.

Anxiety, Depression, Mood Swings, Confusion, and Irritability: These are all common symptoms of withdrawal. Some of these may seem “normal” for college students living busy lives, but when these feelings become persistent or reach more serious stages, it could be a symptom of withdrawal.

Focus on Working Rather than Going to School: If a student begins to focus more on earning money working than their studies their grades are likely to suffer, and it could be a sign they are engaging in drug use. This is a two-fold problem; one side would indicate a loss of enthusiasm or interest in school. The other side would indicate they are looking to earn money to keep using drugs to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Many students work, but when work takes priority over school, that could be an indication of a problem.

An Obsession with Going Out or Partying: Partying and socializing are important aspects of college life. When an interest in partying turns into an obsession, there may be underlying motives such as a desire to drink and use drugs to avoid withdrawal symptoms. For someone in active addiction, it can seem easier to hide your substance use – or your withdrawal – from others when you’re partying or using with other people. Look for excesses; when partying or going out turns into a weekly or especially a nightly affair, it could be the result of substance use disorder or substance withdrawal.

Physical Withdrawal Symptoms

Physical symptoms of drug detox will vary from drug to drug. The severity of detox symptoms can depend on many factors including the personal history of drug abuse and underlying physical and mental issues.

Here are the physical detox symptoms for some of the more commonly used drugs on college campuses:

  • Alcohol: Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be deadly if untreated. Mild to moderate symptoms would include shaking, sweating, nausea, and insomnia. More severe symptoms would include seizures, hallucinations, psychosis, and delirium tremens.
  • Heroin: Withdrawal from heroin is extremely painful and uncomfortable – some liken the experience of having the worst flu they’ve ever had – times 10. Symptoms are universal and include restlessness, insomnia, runny nose, watery eyes, muscle/joint aches and pains, nausea, and vomiting. The pain will often cause people to relapse.
  • Opiate Pain Pills: Opiate withdrawal symptoms from pain pills, including brand names Vicodin, Lortab, and Percocet are very similar to that of heroin. Opiates of any kind can severely disrupt the brain’s chemical balances, and symptoms can worsen proportionally with drug tolerance.
  • Adderall: Adderall withdrawal, along with other stimulant withdrawal syndromes, can cause uncomfortable detox symptoms including insomnia, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and headaches.
  • Benzodiazepines: Xanax and other drugs that fall under the benzodiazepine (benzos) classification are sedatives commonly prescribed for anxiety and sleep disorders. Benzos can be habit-forming, and detox from them can be deadly if not professionally monitored. Symptoms of benzo withdrawal include shaking, seizures, hallucinations, delirium, and nausea.

Types of Detox Centers for College Students

Once drug addiction or dependency becomes a reality for someone, medically managed detox is always recommended. Addressing and treating addiction in its early stages can result in fewer long-term consequences and complications. Thankfully there are several different types of medical detox facilities that are suited for every potential need:

Inpatient Detox: These centers are live-in detox facilities that may offer long-term rehabilitation services. A primary benefit of inpatient detox is the break from the influences and pressures of college life. College students in inpatient facilities can still participate in online courses offered by their university while still receiving 24/7 support for the recovery.

Outpatient Detox: This detox format is an ideal option for college students when inpatient treatment isn’t an option. Outpatient facilities would offer intensive medical and talk therapy, but on a timeline and schedule that can be accommodated alongside a hectic school schedule. Many outpatient facilities will offer treatment in the afternoon or evenings.

Rapid Detox: This is a fairly new method for detox whose effectiveness is still up for debate. These facilities have professional staff including medical doctors and psychiatrists who can oversee the physical process of detox. This is the shortest, but most expensive, method for detox and requires 24-hour care, medical monitoring, and oftentimes the use of anesthesia.

Finding the Right Detox For You - A College Student’s Perspective

There are many elements to consider when selecting the right detox treatment center for your needs. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to recovery, and besides some of the typical considerations when choosing a care provider – things like accreditation, reviews, pricing, etc. – you will want to consider elements of care that will appeal to your specific needs.
Here are some primary elements college students look for in a detox facility:

  • Freedom to Complete Coursework Online: Most facilities will allow you to complete your coursework online if applicable. With a growing number of schools offering online courses and lessons, this option is more relevant than ever. Additionally, if a student has a medical reason for this accommodation, then schools are very likely to oblige.
  • Specialized Programs for College Students: Look for treatment centers that offer academic recovery programs. An academic recovery program will offer specific support to create and implement a plan designed to increase academic success and reintegration into college life after treatment.
  • Specialized Therapy: Nearly 40% of college-aged people with mental illness say their mental health needs are not met. Many college students who engage in excessive alcohol and drug use have often been deeply affected by trauma in their lives. Whether it’s trauma from childhood or trauma as a result of using, look for detox facilities that have staff and programs that specifically address traumatic experiences. There are therapists available that specialize in treating victims of violence, sexual abuse, and neglect.
  • Residential (Inpatient) Treatment: These facilities can be very effective when there are a large number of outside negative influences that make quitting difficult, and relapse more likely. For someone who is having a hard time breaking away from certain “scenes” residential treatment can offer the isolation and distance that can ideally support recovery.
  • Sober Living Accommodations: If you’re a student living on your own, look for detox facilities that have partnerships or relationships with sober living facilities. Sober living facilities offer semi-structured, transitional housing for those in recovery. Many college students prefer this solution because it allows freedom and flexibility, but has enough structure and accountability to help recovery.
  • Social Integration and Community Learning: Fitting in, socializing, and being a part of something are common reasons college students use drugs and alcohol. Some programs will feature strong lessons and learning which can help in rebuilding confidence, establishing connections, and fostering a sense of community.
  • Giving Back/Paying It Forward: Many facilities will have partnerships and programs that connect them to their community or to charitable causes. If activism and charity were big parts of your college experience, a detox facility that gives back may be a good fit for you.

Additional Resources

You are never alone! There are a growing number of resources for college students in recovery. It is possible to battle substance use disorder AND achieve academic success. You can have it all if you’re willing to work for it and these resources can provide help.

  • Many universities offer additional support for students in recovery. Programs like Georgia Southern University’s Center for Addiction Recovery offer a chance to enhance your collegiate experience by embracing recovery. Talk to a professor or advisor at your school to inquire about programs that may be applicable.
  • You’re not alone. Students everywhere are struggling with addiction. Resources like Recovery Campus and Transforming Youth Recovery can help provide hope and direction for college students in recovery.
  • Get involved. Programs like Faces and Voices of Recovery and Recovery Answers are doing their part to advocate for people in recovery by destigmatizing addiction and recovery through science, research, and education.

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