There are significant misperceptions about how alcohol and drug use on college campuses. A common misperception is the idea that all college students are drinking heavily constantly. While this is true for a subgroup of students, this is not true for everyone.

A reason for why this happens is social norms theory. The basic idea is that we all think everyone else does things more often than they actually do them. There are a variety of reasons for this, but it is true across substances and related to many other behaviors.

For example, some people might guess that 80% of SDSU students drink at least 5-6 drinks every week. In reality, 61% of students have 2 or more drinks or fewer in a given week and 30% do not drink at all.

To learn more about how your alcohol use compares to other SDSU students, click here.

To learn more about how your marijuana use compares to other SDSU students, click here.

Even though students may drink less overall than many believe, that does not mean that students do not ever drink, or use other substances, in a manner that leads to significant consequences.


Here are some general warning signs to look out for to evaluate if you might want to explore your relationship with substance use:

  • Used a substance more often, or drank/used more in a single occasion, than you intended
  • Wanted to cut down or discontinue your use but could not
  • Wanted to use a substance so badly you could not think of anything else
  • Drinking or drug use interfered in any way with your ability to get schoolwork done, caused job trouble, or negatively impacted personal relationships
  • Cut back on other activities you enjoyed so you could drink/use more
  • Either been in situations where you were more likely to be injured, or were injured, as the result of alcohol or drug use
  • Needed to drink/use more in order to get the same effects that you used to get at a lower amount
  • Experienced difficulty sleeping, shaking, or other negative physical symptoms when not using
  • Did not remember what you did the night before as the result of using substances
  • Had a friend, family member, or professional express concern about your use


Write as many pros as you can think of for the substance you can think of. Then write as many cons. Reflect on the list and think about what your use would look like if you were able to reduce the number of cons.

For example, maybe you enjoy drinking because you have more fun with your friends when you all drink together. However, you dislike blacking out (or ‘browning out’, which is considered blacking out). Try to figure out how many drinks you would need to have to not black out. This could mean that instead of drinking 7 drinks, you have 3-4.

This could mean testing out what it would be like to either not use a substance, or use it less, when you go out. In the above example, you might experiment with drinking 3 drinks this Saturday night instead of what you would drink otherwise.

If you are wondering about making any kind of reduction in use, an experiment is a great place to start

Try to decide ahead of time how much you want to drink/use. This may be none. Or it may be a different amount. See if you are able to reach this goal. If not, identify what got in the way.

If you find yourself frequently drinking or using other substances with your friends, see if you can experiment to do an activity that does not involve use. If they are opposed to this idea, seek out other activities (e.g. Aztec Nights, Student Organizations, the ARC, etc.) where you might be able to try this.

If you ever find that you want to drink or use substances when feeling stressed out or down, experiment with using other coping skills instead. Feel free to visit our coping skills section if you want ideas. 

There is also a misperception that marijuana can decrease anxiety. While this may sometimes be true in the short term, two common withdrawal symptoms are anxiety and difficulty focusing. Anxiety can spike at 10 days after discontinuing use and last for 30 days (at least as a withdrawal symptom).

In cases like this, it is helpful to utilize other coping skills to assist you in not using as smoking again will reset this clock for withdrawal.


Identify two ways you could decrease the cons on your list.
Choose your top values and reflect on whether or not your use enhances or detracts from each value. Click here to visit the values section. 
See if you can do at least one of them each day.


If you are curious about learning more about your relationship with substance use, you may find it helpful to take one or more of the following screenings:

If you are learning mroe about mental health, you may prefer to take one of our 8 mental health screening tools.

We also developed a COPE stress test to further guide you as well.