WellCat Counseling Center

The Substance Abusing Student

Given the stresses of university life, students are especially susceptible to drug and/or alcohol abuse. A variety of substances are available that provide escape from pressing demands. These drugs soon create their own set of problems in the form of addiction, accident proneness, and poor health. The most abused substance–so commonplace we often forget that it is a drug–is alcohol. Alcohol and other drug-related accidents remain the greatest single cause of preventable death among college students.

The effects of alcohol and drugs on the user are well known to most of us. Student substance abuse is most often identified by faculty when irresponsible, unpredictable behavior affects the learning situation (i.e., drunk and disorderly in class), or when a combination of the health and social impairments associated with alcohol and/or drug abuse sabotages student performance. Because of the denial that exists in most substance abusers, it is important to express your concern about the student not in terms of suspicions about alcohol and other drugs but in terms of specific changes in behavior or performance.


  • Be on the alert for signs of drug abuse: preoccupation with drugs, inability to participate in class activities, deteriorating performance in class, periods of memory loss/blackouts.
  • Confront the student with her/his behavior that is of concern.
  • Address the substance abuse issue if the student is open and willing.
  • Offer support and concern for the student's overall well being.
  • Encourage the student to seek help.
  • Maintain contact with the student after a referral is made.


  • Convey judgment or criticism about the student's substance abuse
  • Ignore the problem
  • Make allowances for the student's irresponsible behavior
  • Ignore signs of intoxication.