Substance Abuse at America’s Colleges and Universities

    Published: March 2007

    Substance use by college students is a major issue at U.S. colleges and universities. The student culture of use of addictive substances and the availability of tobacco, alcohol and other substances on campuses across America has resulted in a range of harmful academic, health and social consequences that extend into the surrounding communities.

    Key Takeaways

    Consequences of substance use on college campuses included the following:

    • More than 1,700 deaths from unintentional alcohol-related injuries in 2001, up 6 percent from 1998.
    • A 38 percent increase from 1993 to 2001 in the proportion of students injured as a result of their own drinking.
    • A 21% increase from 2001 to 2005 in the average number of alcohol-related arrests per campus.

    Additional key findings included the following:

    • 97,000 students were victims of alcohol-related rape or sexual assault in 2001.
    • Also in 2001, 696,000 students were assaulted by a student who had been binge drinking.
    • Nearly 38 percent of college administrators said that the major barrier to more effective prevention was the public perception that substance use by college students was a normal rite of passage.
    • 37% of college students feared social stigma attached to substance use, which kept them from seeking help.


    For college administrators and other policymakers:

    • Work to change the culture of substance use on college campuses.
    • Set clear policies and enforcing them in consistent and predictable ways.
    • Ban smoking on campus.
    • Ban alcohol in dorms, in most common areas, at on-campus student parties and at college sporting events.
    • Sharply restrict all tobacco advertising, marketing and promotion on college campuses.
    • Step up evidence-based prevention and cessation efforts, including counter-advertising programs and targeted help for high-risk students.
    • Enforce laws restricting sale of tobacco to minors and enacting indoor and outdoor clean air laws to limit exposure to secondhand smoke.

    Research Methods

    This report was based on a nationally representative telephone survey of 2,000 college students, surveys of approximately 400 university administrators, analyses of 6 national data sets, interviews with key researchers in the field, focus groups with college students and their parents, and a review of approximately 800 publications.

    Last Updated

    November 2023