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How to Identify Student Stress and Addiction as Linked Issues

It’s well known that there is a relationship between chronic stress and addiction.

For instance, people with high-stress jobs might turn to substances as a way to relax. They may come home after a long day of work and unwind with a few beers or some glasses of wine. Or maybe they use drugs to stay awake, such as when having to pull a double-shift at work or getting through a long-haul delivery route.

What about stress and addiction in students? They also face stress in ways we may not have realized just a few years ago. And that can put them at risk for substance abuse.

If you are concerned about your student and their exposure to addiction, consider these factors.

Students Are Exposed to a lot of Stress

Let’s face it, school has become more stressful as the stakes have gotten higher. Even for those in the secondary grades, there is a lot of pressure to get into a top-tier college or university.

This often involves such things as:

  • Getting not just “good” but exceptional grades
  • Taking AP, IB, or even community college classes
  • Having the “right” extracurriculars on their resume
  • Participating in internships or work experiences

And this is just for being able to get into college! Once at the college level, students are exposed to even more stress as the bar is raised to a new level. Thus, chronic stress becomes a part of their lives.

Chronic Stress and College Workload

While in college, stress can be compounded for students in several ways. For example:

  • Staying up late studying
  • Taking a demanding course-load
  • Writing papers and conducting research

Some students may have been exceptional in high school. However, now that they are in college, the workload is more than they expected.

It’s not like they coasted through high school. They worked hard. Yet, the expectations are much higher for college-level classes than they perhaps anticipated. This can be very hard if they considered themselves to be exceptional but now have problems meeting even their own expectations.

The Financial Stress of School

An issue for many years has been the growing financial costs of education. This financial stress can be a great burden on college students.

For instance, a student who is the first in their family to attend college may not have as many financial resources as other students. They may have scholarships but also have to work part-time to make ends meet. The college meal-plan can be out of reach for some of these students. And so, they make do as best they can, but may still go to sleep hungry at night.

Add on top of this the load of student loan debt. It’s a burden that many are willing to accept if it means a four-year degree. However, these students may spend years or even decades paying off those loans, dealing with the stress of this financial burden throughout that time.

Substance Abuse, Stress, and Being a Student

Substance use is already present, to one degree or another, on every campus in the country. With the added stress that students face, it’s no wonder that many turn to substances as a way to either blow-off steam or to have an advantage to get ahead of their coursework.

Of course, we know that this mixture is toxic and can only lead to negative consequences. If you have a student and are concerned about these issues, you don’t just have to stand by.

But how can you identify chronic stress and possible substance misuse in your student?

Consider these questions:

  • Does your student already put a lot of pressure on themselves to succeed?
  • Have they mentioned how many hours they are putting into studying?
  • Did they get grades on assignments that were lower than they expected?
  • Are they working part-time or full-time jobs on top of school?
  • Do they receive an academic or athletic scholarship that is dependent on their grades?
  • Is your student getting enough sleep, eating healthy meals, and exercising?
  • Does something seem “off” or out of place when you do talk to them?

Of course, you don’t want to interrogate your child. Nor do you want them to feel like you don’t trust them either. A bit of diplomacy when talking with them is warranted. However, keep these things in the back of your mind when you have discussions about their academic workload.

Keep in mind that some stress is inevitable and even healthy. However, if your student is struggling with stress over a longer period of time, such as over the course of a semester, that can be a problem. Know the signs of chronic stress and be encouraging and supportive.

If you would like professional guidance with helping your child manage academic stress, please feel free to contact us.

 

 

Author

Joshua Howell, MS, LPC, NCC, AADC, ICAADC, SAP, SAE

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