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September 17, 2018

Prescription Drug Abuse on College Campuses – How to Understand the Role of “Peer Pressure”

Young man smilingPrescription drugs are among the most popular drugs of abuse among people ages 14 and older. On college campuses especially, prescription drug abuse constitutes a growing trend. For example, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has found that over one quarter of all college-aged young adults say they have misused a prescription psychotherapeutic drug at least once in their lifetime.

Researchers have commonly cited the following reasons for prescription drug abuse on college campuses:

  • Academic pressures
  • Maintaining focus for late-night study sessions
  • Increasing energy to socialize at parties
  • Inducing sleep
  • Dieting and a desire to lose weight
  • Self-medicating for anxiety and depression

The Role of Peer Pressure and the “Friend Factor” in Prescription Drug Abuse

In a great many situations, too, young adults who start misusing prescription drugs first got them from a friend. Which begs the question: is peer pressure, as in one or more friends’ active and direct drug pushing, what ultimately drives so many college students to misuse these drugs? The question has garnered a whole lot of research over the years, but now, new findings at Purdue University have shed more light on the role of “peer pressure” as it relates to prescription drug misuse on college campuses— and what, specifically, related to peer influence, is driving these drug use trends.

Why “Just Saying ‘No'” to a Prescription Drug Can Be Hard in College

What the Purdue researchers found was that the social pressure to use prescription drugs in college is more varied and complex than what many of us might think of when we think of “peer pressure” (direct drug pushing). Instead, the researchers found that a desire to have a good time alongside friends was the main driver of prescription drug misuse. The thing that motivated college students to take prescription drugs was the expectation of a positive connection with their peers. In other words, fears about just saying “no,” being a wimp or killjoy, or feeling left out—even curiosity about taking the drug for its own sake—were really secondary to the main goal of having a “fun” shared experience with friends and peers.

How to Navigate College Environments Where Prescription Drugs Are on Offer

If a major motivation to use prescription drugs among college students is an expectation of shared fun, here are some takeaways that can help you navigate social situations where one or more of these drugs are on offer:

  • Remind yourself of all the potential negative consequences of misusing a prescription drug (which far outweigh any fleeting experience of “fun”). I have treated so many clients for addiction who got hooked in just these circumstances: a friend gave them a drug; they tried the drug thinking it would only be a one-time experience; but they then couldn’t stop using the drug, until one day they woke up and had lost everything to an addiction.
  • Question any positive associations you may have of using prescription drugs. Remember that if your friend responds to a prescription drug in a way that seems like a fun or exciting “high,” your response may be very different and potentially dangerous, even life-threatening, depending on the circumstances.
  • Don’t assume that because you’re intelligent and a good student, you’re somehow immune to addiction. This disease does not discriminate. Anyone can become an addict.
  • Avoid situations where prescription drugs are on offer. Period. These are not situations where you can expect to rely on willpower alone— especially if you’re someone in early recovery. The safest best is to avoid situations that you know could be tempting. That includes promptly leaving any situation that unexpectedly involves prescription drug use.
  • Find fun social alternatives that can allow you to connect with your peers in positive and meaningful ways. At Beach House Center for Recovery, we believe positive human connections are the raw material for recovery. And the opportunities to find fun, exciting, and edifying human connections while in college are vast. Seize the day and go find them!

If you’re in recovery from prescription drugs, how do these latest findings by Purdue researchers square with your own experience? Did the expectation of a fun, shared “high” with your peers make it hard to say “no” to a prescription drug? Share your insights with the rest of us!

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