Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs

The health and safety consequences related to alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use remain significant concerns on college and university campuses across the country, including NYU. The behaviors of college students place them at high risk for unprotected sex, sexual assault, physical injury, and death resulting from substance use. Rates of heavy episodic (or binge) drinking have remained high and the misuse of additional substances, particularly prescription medications, has risen sharply in the past decade on college campuses, increasing overall risks associated with substance use in this population. Cigarette smoking, with its serious long-term health consequences, is reported at intermittent or at daily rates of nearly 20% among NYU students. Given the serious consequences of substance-using behaviors, NYU must focus on implementing a comprehensive approach to prevention beyond individually focused health education programs to include strategies designed to change the campus and community environment in which students make decisions about alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use.

Key Facts


  • The binge drinking rate at NYU is 34%,49 which is lower than the national average. 5
  •  Almost 1 in 4, or 1.8 million, college students meet the medical criteria for substance abuse or dependence, almost triple the proportion in the general population.2
  • College students aged 18 to 29 were almost twice as likely as adults 30 years of age or older to meet criteria for current alcohol abuse and more than 4 times as likely to meet criteria for current alcohol dependence.3,4
  • Studies show students more than double their drinking during study abroad, and those who drank at heavier levels while abroad returned home drinking at significantly elevated levels.5
  • An estimated 400,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 had unprotected sex and more than 100,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex.7
  • “Heavy and frequent” drinkers are approximately 5 to 6 times more likely than “non-heavy” drinkers to report that they had missed class and that they had performed poorly on a test or other project because of drinking.8
  • The phenomenon of perceived social norms – or the belief that “everyone” is drinking and drinking is acceptable – is one of the strongest correlates of drinking among young adults.9

Misuse of Prescription Drugs

  • NYC Department of Health reports a steady increase in ER visits related to prescription misuse.10
  • Prescription painkillers cause more overdose deaths than cocaine and heroin.11
  • From 1993 to 2005, the proportion of students who abused prescription painkillers like Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin, increased 343% to 240,000 students; stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall, 93% to 225,000; tranquilizers like Xanax and Valium, 450 % to 171,000; and sedatives like Nembutal and Seconal, 225% to 101,000.2
  • From 2002-2009, self-reported, non-medical prescription opioid use increased by 40% among adults in New York City.10

Tobacco Use

  • Tobacco use is the leading cause of premature and preventable death in the world.12
  • Each year, an estimated 443,000 people in the U.S. die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, and another 8.6 million live with a serious illness caused by smoking.13
  • Coupled with an enormous health toll is the significant economic burden of tobacco use—more than $96 billion a year in medical costs and another $97 billion a year from lost productivity.13
  • Every day, nearly 4,000 young people try their first cigarette and approximately 1,000 will become daily smokers. More than 80% of adult smokers started before their 18th birthday.14
  • During their years at college, 11.5% of nonsmokers will become occasional smokers and 14.4% of occasional smokers will become daily smokers.15
  • The typical nonsmoker’s net worth is roughly 50% higher than light smokers and roughly twice the level of heavy smokers.16

Suggestions for Parents & Families

This page is intended to be a resource containing suggestions for what you can do to help your student reduce risks from alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use.

Learn the common signs of alcohol or substance issues and strategies to help you appropriately intervene. Encouraging students to get help can make all the difference. If your student displays any signs or symptoms of overdose or withdrawal, please treat as a medical emergency and dial 911 and then immediately call the Wellness Exchange at 212-443-9999 for further consultation and assistance. If your student seems to display a chronic problem related to alcohol or drugs, but no emergency, call the Wellness Exchange at 212-443-9999 for guidance on how to encourage your student to get the help they need. For detailed information and resources, please visit the Wellness Exchange website.

Familiarize yourself with NYU’s policy on substance abuse and alcoholic beverages and the NYU Smoke Free Campus policy.

Have open and on-going communication with your student regarding alcohol, tobacco and other drug consumption. Play an active role with your student by talking together about his or her academic and social lives. Despite students’ increased independence and desire to make their own decisions, parents and family members often continue to be trusted advisors. This provides a great opportunity to offer guidance and share values in an open, non-judgmental climate.51Phone calls and e-mails can be valuable communication channels to remain engaged, especially during the first few weeks and months of college life when students are most vulnerable and are at greatest risk of making high-risk decisions.52 The Student Health Center's Message to Parents about Students and Alcohol Use (PDF) provides tips on how to start and maintain this conversation.  Parents and families should remain educated on current trends and issues and reach out to University services as needed.

If your student would like to quit smoking, refer to the NYU Quit and Win Smoking Cessation Program The Quit & Win Smoking Cessation Program is coordinated by the Health Promotion Office (HPO) in collaboration with Primary Care Services and Counseling and Wellness Services (CWS). The Program provides individualized, confidential services – including brief informational sessions, nicotine replacement therapy, where indicated, or short-term individual cessation counseling – to all NYU students at no cost and provides a terrific opportunity to experience the benefits of a smoke-free life.

AOD Indicators