Some students try to manage their lives by misusing prescription drugs, either with their own prescription or with medications they do not have prescriptions for. There are many serious health and legal dangers of misusing controlled substances without a prescription. It is especially important to educate college students on the many dangers of misusing prescription drugs about half of all college students will have the opportunity to misuse a prescription drug by their sophomore year. Students may turn to prescription drugs to improve academic performance, relieve stress, or even self-medicate.
According to the 2018 Missouri Assessment of College Health Behaviors (MACHB):
There are many serious health and legal dangers of misusing controlled substances without a prescription. It is especially important to educate college students on the many dangers of misusing prescription drugs as Generation Rx has found that about half of all college students will have the opportunity to misuse a prescription drug by their sophomore year.
Students may turn to prescription drugs to improve academic performance, relieve stress, or even self-medicate but these tendencies are not the norm!
This is a growing issue on college campuses and the pressure to take these drugs can be prominent. Prescription drugs can help us live longer and healthier lives - but only if they are used properly under medical direction.
The health risks of misusing prescription drugs are very serious yet widely misunderstood. Many believe prescription drugs are a safe alternative to illicit street drugs, when in fact more emergency department visits occur due to prescription drug misuse than due to illicit “street” drugs (SAMHSA).
These beliefs regarding prescription medication misuse among college students stem from the misconception that prescription medications are not addictive. Some students also believe that there are no legal ramifications regarding prescription medications because they are legally prescribed by a doctor. Because prescription medications are seen as safer, many think that there is nothing wrong with using someone else’s prescription and that these medications cannot lead to overdose.
Mixing prescription medications with alcoholic beverages significantly increases the risk and severity of possible physical and mental harm, and may lead to overdose or death.
Though there are many types of prescription drugs, the most commonly misused fall into four categories: stimulants, painkillers, sleep medications and sedatives. Each of these categories present dangerous health risks, but education on the dangers of misusing these drugs can help keep students safe.
The chart below provides examples of these drugs, their effects, and other associated risks/dangers. The possession of any of these medications without a prescription could result in legal consequences and can negatively affect your academic and professional career.
|Health Risks||Other Consequences|
Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse, Concerta
|High fever, convulsions, anxiety, hostility, nervousness, seizures, increased heart rate, respiration rate and blood pressure||Stimulants put excessive strain on the heart which can lead to heart failure and death|
Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycotin
|Liver damage, intoxication, decreased mental alertness and concentration, nausea, vomiting, confusion, decreased concentration and decreased pain threshold||Regular or long term misuse can lead to physical dependence and in some cases addiction|
Ambien, Sonata, Lunesta, Rozerem
|Lowered blood pressure, increased risk of respiratory distress and death when combined with alcohol||Combining sleep medications with alcohol is especially dangerous and can lead to death|
Valium, Xanax, Ambien
|Loss of coordination, slowed reflexes, respiratory depression, aggressive behavior, hallucinations, inability to form memories while taking||Sudden withdrawal can cause convulsions and delirium|
There are many prevailing misconceptions about the safety and legality of misusing prescription drugs. Not only do many believe these drugs are safer than street drugs, but many do not know the serious legal ramifications of using these drugs without a prescription.
This is a major concern on college campuses as the nonmedical use of prescription drugs among college students is more than twice as high as that among non-students who are 18-22 years of age (NSDUH). This can be a result of the pressure for academic success, erratic sleep schedules, and recreational drug culture typically associated with college life. Instead of turning to prescription drugs to handle the difficulties of being a college student, try these healthy alternatives!
Sometimes it can seem like stress and college life go hand-in-hand. The constant pressure of something always being due can be a huge stress, especially when managing finances, living with roommates, juggling work, and relationships! Turning to prescription drugs when stressed may seem like a quick and easy way to get through it all, but it has serious negative effects. Instead, try these tips to help relieve your stress!
50% of Missouri college students who reported misusing prescription drugs ranked stress reduction as a somewhat to very important reason for their prescription drug misuse.
Take care of your mind
- Avoid unnecessary stress! This may be learning how to say “no” to added responsibilities, avoiding people who stress you out or identifying and avoiding situations that add stress to your life. Recognize when you’re getting stressed! Have you found yourself feeling irritable or snapping at others? Do you cry or feel like crying more than usual? Having trouble concentrating? These are signs that you might need a break!
- Don’t be afraid to take breaks! If you’re feeling burnt out, take some time just for you- do something you enjoy! Not only is this a nice getaway from the stresses of life but it can also put things in perspective, which can help prevent stress. Taking care of your mental health will help you do better on exams, papers, and assignments!
Take care of your body
- Take deep breaths! Deliberately copying a relaxed breathing pattern tells the brain that things are okay, reducing the impact of stress. Visualize breathing in blue air and breathing out red air!
- Get physical! Exercise releases endorphins and endorphins make you happy! Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity (going to the gym, playing a sport, or even just taking a walk!) a day to ease stress.
- Refuel! Getting enough sleep and eating right go a long way towards reducing stress! Avoid consuming too much sugar or caffeine after dinner to avoid sleep trouble.
Take care of your time
- Make lists! Keeping shopping lists, to-do lists and goals lists will save you time and make planning much easier! Keep your favorite notebook with you or download a cool app to manage these lists no matter where you are!
- Manage your time! Maintain a calendar and dedicate time to planning ahead by prioritizing and organizing your tasks and goals. Make sure to check it every day so you don’t miss any important entries!
- Meet with someone! If you’re struggling to manage all of your responsibilities, check out your school’s Student/Academic Success Center! They will have resources to help you better manage your time and stress!
College life is not always conducive to a healthy amount of sleep, with papers to write, exams to study for and so many fun things to do! But getting enough sleep is vital to keeping our bodies and minds healthy! Try these tips for a better night’s sleep!
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day will train your brain to get sleepy and wake up at the right times!
- Exercise regularly. Getting 30 minutes of exercise a day can help regulate your sleep patterns. Late afternoon exercise is the perfect way to help you fall asleep!
- Avoid caffeine close to bedtime. Caffeine can stay in the body up to 5 hours. A good rule of thumb is no caffeine after dinner time!
- Avoid alcohol close to bedtime. Although commonly thought of as a sedative, alcohol actually disrupts sleep, causing nighttime awakenings and less restful sleep.
- Use your bedroom for only sleep and sex. Living in the dorms can make it hard to separate your spaces between living, working and sleeping. Making a mental connection between your bed and sleep will make it easier to fall asleep every night!
Self-medicating or coping with pain by misusing prescription drugs is not only dangerous to your health but also can be addictive. These drugs merely mask the pain; they do not cure the cause.
35% of Missouri college students who reported misusing prescription drugs ranked pain reduction as somewhat to very important to using prescription drugs without a prescription.
If you are experiencing pain:
- Visit your health care provider!
- Make an appointment with your student health center! Even if they can’t treat your pain, they will be able to refer you to someone who can!
- Look for a Public Health center in your area!
- Be sure to dispose of your pain medications after you have healed. What works for one ailment does not necessarily work for another!
What can you do as a bystander?
While not all students are abusing prescription medications, those who are report getting these drugs from someone they are close to.
75% of Missouri college students that report using prescription drugs illegally access them from people they know.
What can you do if someone you care about is abusing prescription medications?
Click on a brief below for more information.
SAMHSA has a good guide on Preventing Prescription Drug Misuse: Programs and Strategies and a good list of national and regional resources
The Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) has a wonderful toolkit to Prevent RX Misuse
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has released a great evidence-based guide on the prescription opioid epidemic and strategies for prevention
Generation Rx materials are available for order through the Peer Education Rx Program. Materials were created by Ohio State University and The Cardinal Health Foundation.