5 Signs Your College Student May Be Using Drugs

College is the time for new experiences and the first time that most young adults have the freedom to make major, potentially life-changing decisions on their own. As parents, we all hope that our children make the right ones that will help them lead healthy, happy, and successful lives. However, the realities of college life put students at a greater risk for drug use than other demographics due to a higher likelihood of exposure to their new environment.

Through the college party scene, students may encounter drugs for the first time. Experimentation can lead to regular use, which, in turn, can lead to addiction. Furthermore, the high levels of anxiety that college students often face due to the exams and other assignations, they are more likely to use drugs or alcohol as coping mechanisms as they may not have the tools they need to manage stress and anxiety in natural, healthy ways.

As parents, spotting the warning signs of drug use and intervening early is key – the sooner someone gets help, the better their chances are of overcoming addiction successfully.

Do you suspect that your child may be using drugs? In this article, we outline five major signs that a college student may be using drugs:

1. Changes in health and appearance


The first major sign of drug use is a change in health and appearance. You may have noticed that your child has let their personal hygiene slide – perhaps they are not bathing as often and have stopped caring about their personal appearance as much as they used to.

You may have noticed that your child has red, watery eyes, with dark circles under them, and perhaps a change in their skin tone, also in some occasions their pupils were over-dilated or under-dilated when you saw them;, they even may have suddenly lost (or gained) an unusual amount of weight without any explanation as to why, and perhaps their appetite and eating habits have changed.

Finally, drug use usually incurs changes in sleeping habits. Are they acting unusually lazy? Do they sleep at strange hours? Are they up all night? These may be signs that could mean your child is using drugs in college.

2. Changes in attitude and behavior


Drug use is always accompanied by a change in someone’s attitude, behavior, and personality. Is your once cheerful and outgoing child now acting strangely secretive and withdrawn? Do they become standoffish when you ask them questions about their life and what they are doing? Drug or abusive alcohol use can create emotional volatility in its users, such as mood swings, depression, irritability, and temper flares.

Also, how is your child doing in school? Drug or abusive alcohol use usually leads to sudden changes in academic performance: their grades may start to slide, they may stop attending classes, and they will likely lose interest in any extracurricular activities they had been involved in before.

It may be hard to keep track of these things if your child is not living at home, so clear and open communication with them is the key. However, your child may try to hide, cover up, or lie about poor grades, so don’t be fooled. Trust your intuition if you suspect you are being lied to.

3. Problems with finances


Is your child asking for money regularly? Are they suddenly out of money to buy food or pay their rent and can’t explain why? Do they offer strange explanations about their financial problems or college expenses? A sudden change in finances is a huge red flag for drug use or alcohol abuse.

For parents who are funding their children’s college education, you have the right to know where the money is going. A joint account in which you can monitor when and where withdrawals are happening (for example, ATM withdrawals at strange hours of the night are something to be concerned about) is a good way for you to keep tabs on their finances.

You also have the right to refuse to give them more money than is necessary: money that they promise they will spend on rent, food, or textbooks will likely just end up buying more drugs in cases of addiction.

Also, addiction fuels theft: have you noticed money disappearing from your purse or wallet while your child is home, or perhaps expensive household items going missing? These could be signs that your child is stealing money to buy drugs or alcohol.

4. Changes in their social life

Have you noticed your child’s social circle shifting? Have their old friends stopped coming around and your son or daughter is now hanging out with new friends that may look and act strangely? Healthy friendships will suffer at the hands of addiction due to the lies and secrets that often accompany it, and a person who is abusing drugs or alcohol will often lie to good friends who are not users to cover it up because they are ashamed.

When people are using drugs, their social circle will usually shift to include only friends who are also substance abusers. Alternatively, your child may withdraw from everyone and find themselves in isolation.

Former friends who your child does not hang out with anymore may be good sources of information, and it is a good idea to talk to them if you suspect that your child is using drugs.

5. Drug paraphernalia and evidence


Have you found items such as rolling papers, bongs, pipes, syringes, digital scales, strong alcohol-smelling bottles or razor blades in your child’s room or in their backpack or purse? This is perhaps the most obvious sign that your child is using drugs or abusing alcohol, and it’s important that you handle with care and tact your approach in order to help them and create a constructive environment where they can confide in you and allow you to help

You may also notice strange smells on their clothes and belongings. Do not ignore these signs, your child’s life may depend on you taking action.


College is a time of learning, new experiences, and independence. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the college environment, college students are exposed to greater risks. While some young adults may experiment and decide that drug or alcohol abuse is not for them, others may become addicted and unable to stop using on their own.

Look for the tell-tale signs of drug or alcohol abuse mentioned above: changes in physical health and appearance, changes in attitude and behavior, problems with finances, changes in their social life, and drug paraphernalia. However, there are many other signs of drug abuse and addiction in college students.

If you suspect that your child may be using drugs or alcohol, it is important to get a head start to prevent the situation from getting any worse. This involves sitting down with them for a direct, honest, heart-to-heart conversation that makes them feel loved and supported, and not judged for their actions. It may also be necessary to get them into a good recovery program.

As parents, we wish the best for our children and hope that we have raised them to make smart, healthy decisions in their lives. Even though our children may now be young adults, it doesn’t mean that they no longer need our help. They may need it now more than ever.

Do you know any other sign that your college student is consuming? Please tell us by leaving a comment below.