For students arriving at the University of Colorado, a college environment might be the first time they stumble on serious drugs.
Though the pressure to take drugs -- legal and illegal -- can be tremendous, their use and abuse can have serious health consequences. Here are some words of warning from CU administrators about drug use, and ways you can get clean should you develop a problem.
The University of Colorado has numerous programs to help students deal with drug problems:
Wardenburg Health Center
Psychological Health & Psychiatry clinic
Hours: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday
Counseling & Psychological Services
Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday
Due in no small part to 4/20 -- the holiday celebrating marijuana use, which invades the CU campus every April 20 -- marijuana is the most prolific drug on campus.
However, students are faced with a "panoply of other drugs, including cocaine, ecstasy and hallucinogens," said Donald Misch, CU`s assistant vice chancellor for health and wellness.
Though marijuana is usually less harmful than the drugs mentioned above, even smoking the stuff can be risky, Misch said.
"There`s always the danger that it`s been laced with something," he said. Misch cited the presence of paraquat, an herbicide that`s toxic to humans, in some strains of pot as an example.
The side effects of unlaced marijuana can also be harmful.
"You can develop paranoia over time, shrinkage of the testicles over time, respiratory problems," Misch said.
"It`s not as immediately disabling as alcohol for most people, but there are many long-term consequences."
Substance abuse isn`t always confined to illegal drugs like marijuana; prescription drug abuse can be just as perilous, Misch said.
"Most students -- and people -- underestimate how serious prescription drug abuse is," he said.
"They assume the drugs are safer because they were made in reputable labs, are prescribed by physicians and they see them on TV."
However, the effects of prescription drugs can often mirror the effects of illegal narcotics. For example:
"The stimulants (used to treat) ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) act in many ways like cocaine," Misch said.
The main cause for prescription drug abuse is pressure from friends and peers or, "to a lesser extent, parents," Misch said. To prevent yourself or others from abusing prescription drugs, there are steps you can take:
"Don`t use friends` prescribed medications, don`t give your prescribed medications to a friend, store your medications safely and take the prescribed dose," Misch said.
Students who think they might have a drug problem have resources at CU to help them begin and continue the recovery process.
The first indicator that you might have a problem with drugs -- legal or otherwise -- is "when you start thinking you have a problem," said Matthew Tomatz, substance abuse program coordinator for Counseling and Psychological Services at CU.
"If you`re neglecting your responsibilities at work, at school, with your family, with your friends, it could mean you have a problem," Tomatz said. "It could be anything from skipping school to failing all your tests."
Two counseling options exist at CU, each with several programs to choose from.
CU`s Wardenburg Health Center has a number of options for students suffering from drug addiction and/or dependence through its Psychological Health and Psychiatry (PHP) clinic. PHP not only offers students comprehensive substance abuse evaluations and individual therapy options, but is also home to Striving to Achieve Real Success (STARS), a 15-week program designed to help students with recovery, Tomatz said.
Counseling and Psychological Services at CU also has several tacks students dealing with substance abuse can take. Along with individual counseling, students can participate in "I Like to Party, But...," a drop-in group that meets weekly so "students can look at substance abuse and find ways to reduce the harm it causes," Tomatz said.
Tomatz also advises a student group called "Oasis" -- "a place for students who choose not to drink or drug," he said. The group encompasses everyone from students in recovery to students who don`t drink or use drugs because of lifestyle choices. Oasis meets every Friday at 3 p.m., forming a social circle, drinking mate (an Argentinean type of tea) and talking about ways to lead a meaningful, sober lifestyle, Tomatz said.
"We focus on well-living and well-being," he said.
Oasis will even challenge all of CU to follow its example. The group will host the Live Free Weekend from Sept. 23 to 26, "challenging students, faculty and staff to abstain from drugs and alcohol for 96 hours" alongside them, Tomatz said.
New students hoping to avoid the perils of abuse, dependence and addiction can find their own oasis by taking advantage of CU`s myriad groups and activities, Tomatz said.
"It`s always good for students to get involved in clubs and sports," he said. "The more well-connected you are, the less likely you are to abuse."