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FAQ Regarding AOD Use at Cornell

Gannett Health Services
110 Ho Plaza
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-3101

Tel: 607 255-5155
Fax: 607 255-0269

How has drug use among Cornell students changed over time, with respect to the drugs used and frequency of use? 

While we do not survey students as frequently about drug use, the trend appears that more students report not using other drugs:

  • In 2005, 30% of students reported USING marijuana and 4% reported USING cocaine (in the past year).
  • In 2013, 27% of students reported USING marijuana and 3% reported USING cocaine (in the past year). 

Which drugs are used the most frequently among students? 

Alcohol and marijuana are the most frequently used substances at Cornell. Other substance use is quite rare. For example, 5% of Cornellians report using MDMA/ecstasy/molly and 5% report using a prescription stimulant without their own prescription in the past year. 

Do you have any data on how frequently students use drugs such as marijuana and cocaine? 

Among students who used marijuana in the past year: 

  • 12% used in the past year, but not in the past month 
  • 8% used once or twice in the past month
  • 7% used 3 or more times in the past month 

Among students who used cocaine in the past year:

  • 2% used in the past year, but not in the past month
  • 1% used once or twice in the past month 
  • 1% used 3 or more times in the past month 

Do you have any data on which types of prescription drugs (depressants, stimulants, opioids, etc.) are abused the most frequently by Cornell students? 

In our Fall 2013 Alcohol and Social Life survey, we separated prescription use into two categories: stimulant medications (for example, Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta or dexadrine) and pain or anxiety medications (for example oxycodone, hydrocodone, Valium, or Xanax). While use of these substances without a prescription is uncommon at Cornell, stimulant abuse is more common than abuse of pain or anxiety medication abuse. 

How does drug use among Cornell students compare to that of students at other schools, both in terms of the type of drug used and the frequency of use? 

Cornell usage generally reflects the national trends. However, Cornellians tend to be more conservative in their use than other college students. For example, national data suggest that about 32% of students used marijuana in the past year; whereas, at Cornell usage is currently at 27%. 

Are there any sectors of the population (Greek life, athletes, etc.) that are more at risk or prone to abuse drugs in general, or a certain drug in particular? 

Yes; statistically, students affiliated with the Greek system are more likely to drink heavily and are more likely to use other drugs than students not affiliated with the Greek system. For example: 


  • 1% of Greek-affiliated students report high-risk drinking in the past two weeks (consuming 5 or more drinks in a sitting for males/4 or more drinks in a sitting for females).
  • However, only 37% of non-Greek affiliated students report the same behavior. 


  • 42% of Greek-affiliated students report marijuana use in the past year
  • That number is about half (22%) in the non-Greek student population 


The difference between Greek and non-Greek affiliated students is particularly striking when it comes to cocaine use:

  • 9% of Greek students report cocaine use in the past year
  • 2% of non-Greek students report use in the past year 

All of that said, while the Greek community is a pocket of concern with regard to drug use, it is important to remember that the majority of Greek-affiliated students are NOT reporting drug use. 

What are some of the reasons you've observed for which students turn to drugs? 

At Gannett, there seem to be a few common themes.

  • Some students are curious risk-takers and like to surf the edge of experience in many different ways, including with substances. This kind of novelty seeking is quite typical of adolescents and young adults.
  • There may also be an environmental component to students use of drugs. For example, they may be relatively uninterested, but if they’re hanging out with friends who use, their reluctance to use may diminish over time.
  • Other students seek a “mini-vacation,” a short-cut to an altered state of mind. This altered state may be a temporary counter to the tedium of school or even from a depressed mood and/or anxiety.
  • Also, we’ve found that boredom is frequently connected with marijuana use. Students report it can take the mundane, like watching a t.v. show or listening to music—and add some “sparkle” to it. While that may sound harmless, learning to tolerate boredom (and other unpleasant emotional states) is a crucial life skill. Sometimes enjoying a rerun of Family Guy, without a drug enhancement, is what life is all about. For students who get used to adding the drug to these kinds of mundane experiences, it can be hard to go back to day-to-day living without it. 

In general, how do most students who choose to do so use drugs? Is it experimental or indicative of a more serious addiction? 

Novelty and experimentation are associated with many adolescents and young adults initial use of substances. For some, their use crosses lines that are indicative of a problem. New research on the adolescent brain (here defined as 12 to 24 years of age) suggests people in this age range are at particular risk for developing an addiction to substances. Adolescents tend to have less dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with reward-motivated behavior. Alcohol and many other drugs increase dopamine, creating a reward cycle that the individual may be eager to repeat, particularly because adolescents appear to have less endogenous dopamine. 

What resources are available to students who feel they need help in combating a drug problem, and how are they advertised to students? 

Cornell and the Ithaca community are incredibly supportive for those seeking help with alcohol and drug problems. On campus, there are individual and group counseling options at CAPS, as well as peer support (provided by EARS). Off-campus, both the Alcohol and Drug Council of Tompkins County and Cayuga Addictions Recovery Services provide treatment services. Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on the Cornell campus and in the Ithaca community are available every day of the week. See additional AOD services.

Students wondering if they need to make changes to their substance use can make a free appointment to talk with a BASICS provider at Gannett. The program takes just 2 sessions and research demonstrates that participation can reduce one’s risk of problems from substance use. BASICS can also help a student overcome barriers to connecting with counseling or other helpful services. 

What are students' perceptions of drug use on campus? 

For instance, does it appear to some students as though more people are abusing drugs than actually are? The research literature repeatedly demonstrates that students overestimate how much they think other students use alcohol and other drugs. Our “Target Safety and Success” posters, which feature accurate data related to usage, are an effort to counter such misperceptions. 

Are students likely to report their alcohol and drug usage honestly in surveys? 

While there may be some self-report bias, research has found that people take these surveys honestly, particularly when they are anonymous.which these surveys are.