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If Everyone is Doing It, It Must Be Safe: College Students’ Development of Attitudes toward Poly-Substance Use

College student alcohol use has been a concern for decades, but recreational drug use is on the rise in this population. A recent study aimed to understand how students develop perceptions of poly-substance use. In this study, focus groups were derived from a student population at a large southwestern university.

These focus groups identified multiple themes that play into attitudes towards substance use, including participating in college culture, experimenting, ignoring risk taking, and resisting peer pressure. May students alluded to social events, such as football games, and social media such as Snapchat playing a role in wanting to engage in using alcohol and other drugs. Out of the 63 students that made up the focus groups, about half reported feeling unsafe around illicit drugs and abstaining from use. However, only 5 reported abstaining from alcohol use because, as one student said, “it is what everyone is doing.”

Overall, majority of the students felt as if experimenting with alcohol and drugs is a part of the college experience. They also report ignoring known risk of mixing alcohol and other drugs despite prior education. These themes that emerged indicate that alcohol and drug use is partially influenced by perceptions of college culture and poor balance of risks and rewards proven to be associated with poly substance use.

Take Away: College students feel that engaging in alcohol and drug use is a part of college culture and often ignore the risks associated with these behaviors. This shows a need for realistic health education efforts before students get to college to demonstrate consequences of risky substance use behaviors.

Willis, E., Adams, R., Keene, J. (2019). If Everyone is Doing It, It Must Be Safe: College Students’ Development of Attitudes toward Poly-Substance Use. Substance Use & Misuse. doi.org/10.1080/10826084.2019.1618334.

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