The Real Frosh Flu: Substance Abuse in First Year University Students

Written by: Sam Ross

Edited by: Julia Neves

For so many first-year students, leaving home for university is their first time having true and total independence. There is no nagging parent monitoring your junk food intake, whether you’re doing your work on time, or setting a curfew. While such newfound freedom is exciting, it quickly becomes problematic.Without a parent or guardian’s watchful eye and monitoring of your well-being, it becomes exponentially easier to slip into dangerous situations. 

The difference between high school and university classes can be rather jarring, and it’s not uncommon for students to notice a divet in their grades. However, there is a lot of pressure to succeed in this challenging environment. Inevitably, drugs that increase one’s academic performance (i.e. Adderall, Ritalin, etc.) have become all the more popular in university settings, with 11% of students in Canada having tried or being willing to try them. 

On top of this pressure to succeed academically, there is also a lot of social pressure to fit in and make new friends in the first year. Some people may feel the need to abuse substances to ease this stress/anxiety. Or even worse, some people may feel pressured to drink or do drugs if offered to avoid feeling like a black sheep in a new group of people.  Peer pressure doesn’t always look like those childhood short films where a stranger offers you strong drugs and is taunting you to use them. Peer pressure can be silent, even just being inner anxiety that people will dislike you for not doing a certain thing. 

Although drug abuse is a complex issue that has persisted over the past decade, a few ‘solutions’ can help prevent a student or help a student who has been caught up in this drug trap. On the Queen’s campus, many excellent mental health resources are available. One can book an appointment with student wellness services instead of turning to drugs to cure academic pressure. 

Maintaining open lines of communication with one’s parents (or an adult they trust) is another way drug abuse problems can be controlled in the first year. Talking to a parent helps provide a lot of emotional support often lacking when first moving out. Parents can offer guidance and engage in conversations about the risks and consequences of drug use, empowering their children to make informed decisions. Additionally, parents actively involved in their child’s life are more likely to detect warning signs of drug abuse early, enabling timely intervention. They can also encourage healthier coping mechanisms, such as engaging in positive activities and seeking professional help. By fostering trust, empathy, and a safe space for discussions, parents can strengthen family bonds and provide a supportive environment that reduces the temptation to turn to drugs during the challenging transition to university life.

In social terms, this is a more significant issue because of the pressure many feel from peers. However, there are many ways to make friends outside of the party settings. Queen’s has a plethora of clubs that match practically any niche out there. Clubs are a great way to meet friends. The school also runs many social events, especially for first-years, 

While the path to independence in the first year can be exciting, it is crucial to recognize and address the potential dangers that can arise when substances are involved. 

Image source:

Grey, A. (2019, July 4). shallow focus photography of prescription bottle with capsules. Upsplash. 


CTV News Staff. (2013, February 5). Canadian students abusing adderall to get edge in studying. CTV News.,remain%20anonymous%2C%20told%20CTV%20News.