Why International students Use Drugs When Studying Abroad

Why International students Use Drugs When Studying Abroad

Why International students Use Drugs When Studying Abroad


Leaving one’s country to study in another nation comes with much hope for the students and parents. In many instances, the students migrate from the developing countries to the western countries that promise hope and a better life. The United States is one of the main recipients of foreign students from almost all countries in the world. The students have high hopes of a better education and living standards in the world’s richest country. In addition, studying abroad has many benefits to the students and their families considering the earning potential is higher compared to their home nations. However, those that engage in drug and alcohol consumption may fail to realize these dreams. In some cases, the students do not get the expected happy life and end up indulging in drug and alcohol abuse. The social pressures and added responsibilities of life are responsible for the high number of international students using drugs when they study abroad.

            The drug and alcohol abuse problem is common among college students, but is higher among international students for various reasons as will be discussed below. Statistics show that nearly half of the college students have taken alcohol or drugs, showing that the problem is common in the U.S.A. (Bennett and Holloway, paragraph 4). This shows that when the international students arrive in the foreign country, they meet an environment which easily exposes them to the drugs and alcohol. Since they are young and in a new environment, it is normal that many of them would pick up the habits.

In many cases, college students experience culture shock when they arrive in a foreign country. In some cases, the general lifestyle and weather are enough to make them feel a void which they seek to fill through drug and alcohol abuse. For example, a student who has come from the tropics where there is human activity and sunshine throughout the year finds himself in a new environment where they have to cope with winter, which is cold and one cannot do much. In such a situation, the foreign students face much boredom and idleness which the local student is used to, and starts seeking for some activity and company to do in the free time.  In many cases, he will end up in the company of people taking alcohol or drugs, and will become addicted with time. On the other hand, the local student has family to keep him company, and has grown up with the seasons, and does not experience stressful idleness when the weather turns bad.

College students are mainly teenagers or young adults who may be experiencing responsibility for the first time. They may have previously lived under the supervision and care of parents or teachers. However, college comes with a new sense of freedom and responsibility that they may not know how to handle, especially when they are in a foreign country. If such freedom is not controlled, it may make the students experiment with drugs and alcohol, which is the reason there is a high level of drug use among international students in foreign countries (Ross and DeJong  para 6). The lack of proper guidance and counseling also contributes to the problem. Therefore, the institutions fail in their duty of guiding the students about how to behave in the new world and how to manage themselves. Secondly, stress and culture shock contribute to drug use among foreign students. The students may not have been prepared for the new lifestyles in the new countries. In some cases, their image of the developed world is that of an easy and comfortable life with privileges. However, when they arrive in those countries, they are shocked to find that life is difficult because of the high living standards. In some instances, they have to live in poor neighborhoods where life is more difficult than in their previous countries. In some cases, these students have to work many hours to sustain their lives. The differences in culture and religion make them experience a sudden life change. Moreover, they may not have been prepared for the forms of bullying and racial discrimination among other social challenges. These factors push many international students to indulge in drug and alcohol abuse as a way of expressing their frustrations.

Thirdly, peer pressure is a major cause of drug and alcohol use among international students. The students are at an age in which identity and a sense of belonging mean much to them. When they arrive in the United States, they do not have any friends and may feel anxious finding some company. As a result, they will do anything to make friends and fit in with the rest of the teenagers. Many are influenced by their new found friends to begin experimenting with drugs and alcohol(Hanson, Venturelli, and Fleckenstein 439). Finally, the ease of access to drugs in the United States increases their use among local and international students. The international students may come from countries that have strict rules governing the sale and use drugs. Therefore, when they find easy access, they are more than willing to experiment. Universities and colleges are the access areas for most drugs since sellers target the young for the distribution of illegal substances. In such an environment, foreign students are introduced to a society that presumably tolerates the use of drugs. It is natural for young people to want to try these easily available drugs as an expression of freedom or for rebellion. In addition, they may associate drugs with sophistication and development since they are in a developed country. The problem of negative peer pressure can be addressed by colleges by coming up with effective peer counseling strategies for foreign students.

There is a psychological reason for the consumption of drugs by foreign students in the U.S. However, some students from African and Asian countries experience feelings of an inferiority complex as a result of racial discrimination from some white students and staff. These feelings make them indulge to cope with the feelings of rejection. These factors explain why there is a high percentage of foreign students engaging in drug and alcohol consumption (Terry-McElrath, O’Malley, and Johnston, 2009, p. 2). Foreign students taking drugs start as a harmless leisure activity that they hope to discard after a short time but becomes difficult to stop with time. Some of the students experiencing feelings of rejection use drug consumption as a way of expressing their rebellion to discrimination among other challenges they experience in the foreign nation.

Also, lack of mentorship programs by the admitting institutions is a major reason why international students abuse drugs and alcohol. Generally, many institutions have focused on the monetary interests of their operations, and want to run like business. They enroll many students but do not want to invest in professional mentorship programs that can guide the international students on how to cope with pressure and life in a foreign country. Therefore, the students end up being misled by their fellow students into taking up drugs as a pastime activity. The concentration on academic programs alone is a major contributing factor to boredom, which makes the students seek for ways of spending the free time.

Secondly, stress is a major factor causing drug and alcohol abuse among foreign students. College work comes with very stressful circumstances such as much reading, attending classes, writing assignments and term papers and preparing for examinations (Bennett and Holloway, paragraph 7). In some cases, the foreign students have enrolled for postgraduate studies, and they find out that the demands of postgraduate studies are harder than those of the undergraduate programs they faced in their home countries. In such situations, the students become stressed and may indulge in drug and alcohol consumption to cope with the extra stress. Also, the living conditions, high cost of living in the developed world as compared to that in the developing countries where some of the students came from, and the prospect of dropping out due to lack of tuition fees contribute to the stress. In the U.S., there is the problem of many of the students fearing arrest and deportation due to failure to regularize their immigration status, and this is a major cause of stress that the local students do not face. Normally, the international students face more pressure and stress than the local students who also have the support of the local governments.

Also, only a small fraction of college students participate in out of class leisure activities. Colleges do not have strict games and other club activities like high schools where the students previously learned. Generally, college students are mature people who sometimes underrate the role of games and other leisure activities in their lives. They believe that their business is to walk into the institutions, attend their classes and leave, falsely believing that games belong to younger people. The result is that they have extra time which they do not know what to use it for. This problem is doubled for international students who find themselves with school vacations far away from home, yet they cannot travel home. This is a recipe for drug abuse and alcoholism as a way of filling up the long idle time. Also, in many cases, the institutions do not have proper religious activities. Religion is a major factor in moderating the behavior of young people in society, and in the absence of this, international students find themselves without a proper substitute for mentorship and inspiration. In some cases, even when the students subscribe to some religious beliefs, their mode of religion may be missing in the foreign country where they have enrolled for studies, making them to feel that they do not have a proper religious foundation. This makes them feel free to indulge, as opposed to the situation in their home countries where religious leaders and parents would enforce adherence to religious teachings that limit drug and alcohol, consumption.

Drug and alcohol consumption among college students has serious consequences such as poor performance, low completion rates, and general negative behavior such as crime and irresponsible sexual behavior that may lead to disease and unwanted pregnancies. In addition, excessive consumption may lead to long term complications in the health of the students, including long term addiction that may be difficult and expensive to treat. Since education is an expensive undertaking by both governments and the families of the students involved, it is important that these negative behaviors are handled appropriately.


It is evident that alcohol and drug consumption is common among students studying in foreign countries. Foreign students face more stress due to social, financial and even weather problems than the local problems, which may be partly responsible for the higher rates of drug consumption among them. The issue is largely social that emerges because of the failure of the admitting institutions to take adequate measures to help international students settle.  Moreover, these institutions can create programs such as games, guiding and counseling and religious nourishment to assist the students to deal with culture shock. Other factors that facilitate the problem include stress coping with social factors such as discrimination and peer pressure from other foreign students. Drug dealers also take advantage of the situation by recruiting the students as their distributors in the colleges and beyond.  Students that abuse drugs in foreign nations are likely to perform poorly in their academics. Consequently, they may experience health challenges that may be costly to maintain. Some of them may engage in criminal activities to fund their dependence behaviors or healthcare problems. The serious consequences of drug abuse among international students necessitate sustainable solutions. Educational stakeholders including the government, colleges, and the communities can come together to devise and implement solutions to the menace.

Works Cited

Bennett, Trevor. H. and Holloway, Katy. R. (2014). Drug Abuse among College and University Students: Findings from a National Survey. Journal of Substance Abuse, 20 (1), January, 2014.


Hanson, Glen, Peter Venturelli, and Annette Fleckenstein. Drugs and Society. Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2009.

Ross, Virginia, and William DeJong. Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse among First-year College Students. The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention, 2008.

Terry-McElrath, O’Malley,Patrick M. O’Malley, and Lloyd D. Johnston. 2009. Reasons for Drug Use among American Youth by Consumption Level, Gender, and Race/Ethnicity: 1976–2005. J. Drug Issues, vol. 39, no. 3, 2009, pp. 677–714.

The Pennsylvania State University. Cultural Adjustment, 2019, https://global.psu.edu/article/cultural-adjustment. Accessed 13 April 2019.

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