The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) surveyed young adults between the ages of 18 and 22, separating them by whether or not they were full-time college students. They found that students were more likely to use alcohol and cocaine than non-students. Non-students were more likely to use marijuana, cigarettes, LSD, and heroin. Of both groups, most people used alcohol and/or cigarettes, including binge drinking.

This age group is often thought to be at high risk for drug abuse. As the transition to adulthood occurs, many people find themselves with the ability to make decisions without direct oversight from authority figures. Their new freedom can be dangerous if they aren’t well-informed. SAMHSA wanted to see if there was a significant difference between students enrolled in college and non-students. Overall there wasn’t a large difference (10 percent or more) between the groups, with one exception: non-students were a lot more likely to consume cigarettes (33 percent versus 18 percent). This is despite perceptions that the most harmful drugs were heroin, cocaine, and cigarettes.

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Compared to college students from the previous decade, the current generation seems to think certain substances hold more risk when used. They perceive greater risk from cigarettes, weekly binge drinking, and heroin. Marijuana and LSD are viewed as less risky compared to college students’ views in the early 2000s. Attitudes about daily binge drinking and cocaine use have remained more or less the same. Among full-time college students, they also believe drugs are less available. They seem to know fewer people using non-alcohol drugs, and fewer young adults have been approached by someone selling drugs.

It’s difficult to say for sure whether college students drink and use drugs less than previous generations. They do see increased risks combined with lessened availability. But some young adults still don’t understand the risk of harm from substance abuse.

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