Understanding and Treating Student Addiction

Even teens from loving, supportive, and healthy households are at risk for drug and alcohol addiction. It’s an unfortunate truth: teen addiction is on the rise. Especially during college, teens are high-risk for addiction – USA Today reports that “nearly half of America’s 5.4 million full-time college students abuse drugs or drink alcohol on binges at least once a month.”

Signs of Drug and Alcohol Addiction

There is no universal sign that a student has become addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. Unfortunately, different drugs have difficult symptoms of addiction. For example, an alcoholic may show up drunk and disorderly to a non-alcoholic function (like class), while a narcotics user may show up with a particular scent lingering on their clothing. If you think a student is using drugs or alcohol, your first order of business should be approaching them calmly and respectfully asking them if there is anything they’d like to talk about. Let them know you won’t judge them by their answer.

Some other signs of drug/alcohol abuse may include:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Depression (sometimes brought on by academic stress)
  • Increased anger and irritability
  • Glossy eyes
  • Forgetfulness
  • Confusion
  • Stealing
  • Withdrawn or spending more time alone
  • Verbally or physically abusive to self/others
  • Lying

What Causes Teens to Use Drugs?

According to David Sack, M.D., “Addiction has no single cause, but rather often results from a number of biological, social and psychological risk factors.”

Sack offers these 10 risk factors for teen drug addiction. Oftentimes, recognizing when a teen is at-risk is the best way to judge if a teen is, in fact, abusing drugs or alcohol.

  • Family History of Addiction
  • Impulsive Personality
  • Stress
  • Having a Mental Health Condition
  • Lack of Parental Supervision or Involvement
  • Having Friends Who Use
  • Childhood Trauma
  • Perceptions about Drugs
  • School Problems
  • Lack of Community Support


For both high school and college aged students, online and in-patient teen rehab is a great way to treat addiction. These programs are targeted for teen addicts, ensuring that treatment is presented in a way that’s accepted by their age group. Mixing these students in with older offenders may result in ineffective treatment. Teens need to be related to in a different way and also benefit from the support of their peers.

The first step in getting a teen to choose rehab is to approach them calmly and without judgment. A teen may feel threatened by a forceful approach, one that demands they enter treatment. Instead, this first interaction should be made tactfully and kindly. You should be honest with the teen and present them with information that is accurate about their addictions. If you can’t convince them on your own, you may need to bring in a specialist and stage an intervention. Interventions should only be conducted by trained professionals, if you’re hoping for the best possible outcome.

Finally, once a teen has finished a drug treatment program it’s important to keep the lines of communication open. Relapse is always a possibility. The possibility of addiction relapse is typically in the 50% – 90% range. It may take the teen a couple tries to truly find themselves at peace and drug free. It’s like they say in AA, “one day at a time” and the teen’s family, friends, and teachers will need to understand this.