Updated: Mar 29
by Jennifer Murphy, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Chair, Criminal Justice
Penn State Berks
For many, college is a time of independence, self-discovery, and trying not to think about all that student debt piling up! It can also be a time when many experiment with alcohol and drug use, given the newfound freedom and/or stress of academics. In fact, college life itself can promote alcohol and drug use. Drinking, in particular, is often seen as a ritual for college life. According to a 2019 SAMHSA survey, about 53 percent of full-time college students reported drinking alcohol in the past month and about 33 percent reported engaging in binge drinking during that same time frame. Binge drinking is defined as having 5 or more drinks on one occasion for males and 4 or more drinks for females. Binge drinking is a concern because it can lead to health and safety risks, including accidents, sexual assault, and liver damage. Drug use is also common on college campuses, with the most used drugs being marijuana, psychedelics (LSD, ecstasy), and prescribed stimulants (like Adderall), which can aid in studying.
Assessing Substance Use Disorder in College
Students need to be aware of signs that suggest their substance use is causing problems. Academic troubles, difficulties in personal relationships, and engaging in dangerous behaviors like driving while impaired can all indicate a substance use disorder (SUD). The American Addictions Center has developed an online assessment of possible substance use disorder for college students.
Parents are also encouraged to speak with their children before they start college about the realities of alcohol and drug use. Open communication is key.
Treating SUD on Campus
College campuses can also be a resource for students wishing to assess their drinking and drug use. Here in Berks County, there are on-campus counseling centers at Kutztown, Alvernia, Albright, and Penn State Berks. All of them can provide confidential assessments for SUD as well as other mental health concerns. Nationwide, there has been an increased demand for student mental health services, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the increased stress and anxiety college students are experiencing. Counseling centers can assess students for SUD and make appropriate referrals for treatment. At Penn State Berks, for example, moderate SUD issues can be treated with on-campus counseling, which is free for students. Colleen Tillger, the coordinator for counseling services at Penn State Berks, is a certified addictions counselor. Students with more serious SUDs are referred to either outpatient or inpatient community treatment centers. Contact information for the counseling center services at all Berks County universities can be found below.
Recovery on Campus
Once a student is in treatment for SUD, it is important to have resources on campus to support their recovery. The college environment can provide a lot of triggers and stress for someone with SUD! Some campuses have implemented recovery support communities, which could involve designated housing for students in recovery, peer mentors, and other types of support groups. Students should consult their counseling center to see if their campus has any of these resources. The Association of Recovery in Higher Education, a non-profit organization that helps campuses create supportive recovery communities, is a great resource for colleges seeking to create more support programs for students in recovery. It’s important for students to know that they are not alone in their journey and that they have resources to help them navigate college life while also living in recovery.
Counseling Centers for Students at Colleges in Berks
Albright College Counseling Center
Health & Wellness Center Counseling Services (online screening)
Kutztown University Counseling and Psychological Services
122 Beck Hall
Penn State Berks Counseling Center
Perkins Student Center, Room 8