TRENDS IN PERCEPTION OF RISK AND AVAILABILITY OF SUBSTANCE USE AMONG FULL-TIME COLLEGE STUDENTS
Comparison of consumption levels and awareness of risks associated with substance use shows, being perceptive of the risks does not mean young people change behavior and engage less in the risky behavior.
In the United States, the transition from adolescence to adulthood occurs in the late teens and early twenties and is often characterized by moving out of the parental home and making decisions without direct parental oversight.
The transition to adulthood may cause many young adults to feel invincible, while their newfound freedom may also leave them vulnerable to making poor choices, such as engaging in substance use.
- In 2014, nearly 1 in 5 young adults aged 18 to 22 were current illicit drug users, roughly 1 in 4 were current cigarette smokers, and 1 in 3 were binge alcohol users.
The latest issue of The CBHSQ Report presents estimates of young adults aged 18 to 22 who thought there would be “great risk” of harm from using the various substances and those who thought it would be “fairly easy” or “very easy” to obtain the various substances. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) asks people aged 12 or older how much people risk harming themselves physically and in other ways when they smoke one or more packs of cigarettes a day (i.e., heavy cigarette use), consume five or more alcoholic drinks once or twice a week (i.e., weekly binge alcohol intake), have four or five alcoholic drinks nearly every day (i.e., daily binge alcohol intake), use marijuana once or twice a week (i.e., weekly marijuana use), use cocaine once a month (i.e., monthly cocaine use), try LSD once or twice, and try heroin once or twice.
The results presented in this report indicate that many full- and part-time college students are aware of the risks of substance use; however, a large percentage of young adults still did not believe that they would have great risk of harm from substance use.
- About 25% of young adults did not perceive a great risk of harm from trying heroin;
- More than 33% did not perceive great risk of harm from daily binge alcohol intake.
Additionally, there were significant differences in the perception of great risk of harm from using specific substances when comparing responses from young adults who were full-time college students and those who were not full-time college students.
- Full-time college students were more likely to be aware of the risks of heavy cigarette use than young adults who were not full-time college students;
- But full-time college students were less likely than young adults who were not full-time college students to perceive great risk of harm from monthly cocaine use, trying heroin, or trying LSD.
In 2014, about 5.9 million young adults aged 18 to 22 smoked cigarettes in the past month, 12.0 million (54.8% of this population) consumed alcohol in the past month, and nearly 7.8 million engaged in binge alcohol use (35.3%).
- Full-time college students aged 18 to 22 were more likely than same-aged young adults who were not full-time college students to have consumed alcohol in the past month (59.8% vs. 51.5%),
- Full-time college students aged 18 to 22 were more likely than same-aged young adults who were not full-time college students to have engaged in past month binge alcohol use (37.9% vs. 33.5%), and to have used cocaine in the past month (1.8% vs. 1.1%).
With regard to alcohol, a substance commonly associated with excessive use during college, college students were more likely than young adults who were not full-time college students to perceive great risk of harm from daily binge alcohol use.
The long-term trends in full-time college students’ perceptions of the risk associated with substance use and the availability of substances are useful to monitor because these factors may signal changes in the extent of substance use in the population.
The results in this report indicate that although many young adults are aware of the risks of harm from substance use, a segment of this population does not recognize the dangers that substance use can represent.