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Data offer glimpse of when college students' substance use peaks

August 27, 2015
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Newly extracted data from past National Survey on Drug Use and Health results offer a first look at the timing of when college students tend to initiate use of various substances. While levels of first-time use of marijuana and alcohol both peak in the month of June, first-time non-medical use of stimulants and other prescription drugs peaks during the academic year—particularly around exam periods.

A report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Monthly Variation in Substance Use Initiation Among Full-Time College Students, found that based on 2002-2013 survey data, non-medical use of stimulants among college students is highest in November and is also higher than normal in December and April. According to SAMHSA, this may indicate that some students believe stimulants will enhance their academic performance.

On average, 700 college students a day begin using pain medication non-medically, but that number jumps to 850 new users a day in December, according to the report.

June remains the most active month for college students' initiation of marijuana and underage alcohol use. An average of 1,000 new marijuana users a day in this group rises to 1,500 a day in June, and the corresponding numbers for first-time alcohol use among 18-to-20 year olds are 1,200 throughout the year and 1,883 in June.