The Relationship Between College and Substance Use Disorder

orange county colleges and universities

Going to college is a major life transition, full of stresses and challenges. Unfortunately, not everyone rises successfully to the challenge—and the problems that arise can be worse than low grades or even dropping out.

  • Seventy-three percent of college students will experience some level of mental health crisis during their higher-education years—about two-thirds of them to the point of psychiatric disorder.
  • Forty-five percent of college students admit to struggling with feelings of hopelessness.
  • Almost one-third struggle with depression that hampers everyday functioning.
  • At least 20 percent use illicit drugs; over 33 percent engage in binge drinking; and nearly half have symptoms of substance use disorder.

And that’s just the students who get into college at all. While the high-school dropout rate in Orange County is low, it’s worth noting that youth who never achieve a diploma or GED are nearly twice as likely as others to develop drug-abuse problems.

Moving Forward

While education is well known for its advantages in building a successful future, college or university also comes with risks of messing up that future—most of these risks stemming from one of two primary causes:

  1. College brings new stresses and pressures to perform. Between large-scale health concerns and the search for balance between in-person and virtual learning, higher education in the early 2020s is proving uniquely stressful. But college has never been an easy transition, being performance- and expectation-based in a way that high school never was. A stressed, frustrated, and discouraged student is extra vulnerable to having a mood disorder surface—and more open to trying drugs as mood improvers or “study aids.”
  1. Many students are separated from familiar support networks, often for the first time ever. For new students at universities far from home, it’ll be months before most see their nuclear families or longtime mentors again in person—and the high school peer crowd has scattered far and wide. Not only is it natural to seek new connections wherever they can be found: the feeling that comes with being newly “on one’s own,” combined with the assumption that no one back home will really know what goes on, is a major trigger for reckless behavior. Small wonder that many university “traditions” involve considerable acting out (for instance, the fraternity-and-sorority population is at high risk for using alcohol and marijuana carelessly, and for developing long-term substance use disorders).

Orange County Higher-Education Options

Being separated from an at-home support network is also a common trigger for relapse in those who have pre-existing mental or behavioral health disorders. For that reason, any prospective college student recovering from struggles in those areas (or having family members with a history of related illnesses) is well advised to consider local colleges and universities for at least the first year or two.

Also recommended:

  • Advance therapy and coaching in preparation for the pressures of higher education
  • A solid action plan for avoiding relapse traps, managing academic pressures, and finding better recreation activities than “party culture”
  • A 12-Step group or other organized peer-support program including fellow students
  • An ongoing relationship with a therapist during college/university years.

If the Orange County/Newport Beach area is your home territory, one good option is Orange Coast College, a Costa Mesa campus in the community-college tradition of providing low-cost education with a focus on the practical aspects of life skills and career development. After completing an associate degree or certification at community-college level, students can continue their education by transferring to a university (now better equipped to manage their studies and resist toxic temptations) or otherwise pursue further education/experience.

Lists of other Orange County colleges and universities are on the PACE Academy/For College Students page, Orange County’s government website, and the Community College Review website. Research carefully, choose wisely, schedule advance tours before final selection—and go forward with a positive attitude and confidence in the future!

Starting Over in Orange County

If you’ve struggled with a drug problem or mental illness, you may fear that your chances of being accepted to any college are already ruined for good. Be assured this doesn’t have to be the case. With proper treatment and a solid plan for the future, anyone can make a fresh start.

PACE Recovery Center not only provides treatment and residential rehab for young men fighting substance abuse and mental disorders, we offer structured planning support for high-school and college-age students whose educational progress has been impaired by behavioral illness. Our higher-education preparation and support program has connections with multiple Orange County colleges and universities. Contact us today to get started on taking your life back. Positive Attitudes Change Everything!

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