Do College Students View Alcohol or Drug Use as a Problem?

Alcohol and drugs are present on college campuses virtually everywhere. So are symptoms of psychological issues, such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress. However, a small percentage of students who need help for these issues ever actually seek out mental health services. Is it that they don’t see drug and alcohol use as a problem? The answer to that question varies. According to a recent study led by Robert J. Lowinger of Bluefield State College in West Virginia, college men and college women perceive the effects and severity of drug and alcohol use differently.

In his study, Lowinger interviewed 201 college students using a modified version of the Degree of Impairment Scale (DIS) to assess how drug use and alcohol consumption interfered with their lives with respect to academic performance, career, daily routine, social engagement, romantic relationships, and friendships. He looked at how the students rated severity of use and which types of impairments increased help seeking, and which students were most likely to seek help. He found that all of the participants viewed drug problems as more problematic than alcohol problems. Females were more likely than males to seek help for problems with drugs or alcohol and cited more academic and daily routine impairments as a result of drug or alcohol use.

Even though the students listed minimal impairments with peer interactions and other social relationships, drug use related to this did not motivate them to seek help, but alcohol use that impaired social interaction did. This could be due to the fact that alcohol is more socially acceptable and present than drug use, and therefore more students have alcohol related problems than drug related problems. The results of this study were based solely on self-reports, which could distort the data. Additionally, the small sample size prohibited Lowinger from revealing any cultural, sexual orientation, or racial patterns. “Nevertheless, this study suggests that there are significant differences in the way that students’ perceive problems relating to drugs and alcohol use,” said Lowinger.

Lowinger, Robert J. College students’ perceptions of severity and willingness to seek psychological help for drug and alcohol problems. College Student Journal 46.4 (2012): 829-33. Print.

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  • Cyndi


    January 13th, 2013 at 12:20 PM that interesting.. Their perception of “minimal impairment” and “whatever is socially acceptable” is how they determine when one should seek mental health services. I wonder how they view mental health?..Interesting article.

  • Logan


    January 13th, 2013 at 3:55 PM

    I know that when I was in school it was so much more visible when someone had an alcohol or abuse issue with alcohol simply because they weren’t as apt to try to hide it as those who used drugs.

    teh druggies, well they were a little more secretive than the drinkers. The drinkers were out partying all over the place so it was pretty apparent which ones had some problems with holding their drink.

    I think that the students who used more drugs, they were more worried about getting in trouble because they were using illegal stuff so they kind of kept it to themselves a little more.

  • rhett


    January 14th, 2013 at 4:08 AM

    the sad thing is that i don’t think that college students see too much of anything as a problem until it directly hits then and affects their lives

  • Patrick


    January 21st, 2013 at 11:26 AM

    This is fascinating – I think that students only seek help for conditions that they perceive as being anomalous; despite how severe alcoholism is, I think its prevalence in the college community is what reassures the struggling student that ‘it’s okay – everyone else does it’. I think that the rampant alcoholism on campuses creates almost a false sense of solidarity among the students who consume, making them feel as though when they drink they ‘belong’ to a community.

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