What Are The Peak Months For First-Time Drug Use Among College Students?

By McCarton Ackerman 08/31/15

A groundbreaking research project has figured out what drugs college freshman try and when they try them.

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Freshman college students are known to experiment with drugs in the early stages of their time on campus, but a groundbreaking research project has identified the peak months in which they are most likely to try specific substances.

The government study released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration analyzed 12 years of data from the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The surveys compiled information from 68,600 college students between 2002-2013.

Researchers noted that college students are more likely to try stimulants such as Adderall or Ritalin in November, December, or April. The findings seem somewhat appropriate since these months are linked with midterm or final exams and students often believe that using them will help them ace these tests.

Perhaps to cope with exam scores that were less than ideal, the first non-medically prescribed use of painkillers happens most often in December. Initial cigarette use also peaked in September, October, and June. However, students were most likely to try marijuana, inhalants, and alcohol for the first time during the summer months.

"For most of the substances, what you're seeing is a summer peak. Young people may have more time on their hands and less supervision,” said Brendan Saloner, an addiction researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who wasn't involved in the study. "For stimulants, first use seems to peak around finals. There's a lot of anxiety and stress around final exams and a push for students to do as well as they can."

The study also found that many teens don’t try alcohol for the first time in high school as commonly thought. Data from the surveys shows that an average of 1,200 students each day try alcohol for the first time while in college. First marijuana use happens at around age 18 and the first use of stimulants and painkillers happens at ages 21 or 22.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.