Summer 2024 Scholarship Runner-Up

Brittney Goytia is our Summer 2024 Scholarship runner-up. Brittney is 34 years old and attends the University of Arizona Global Campus.

When I was a young college student I entered the era of young adulthood. This era came with an unbounded number of freedoms I had not experienced as a minor. I was unsupervised, had keys to freedom, and money in my pocket – most of the time. The freedom I experienced was also met with an increased amount of responsibility, accountability for my own actions and expectations and demands of acting and behaving like an “adult.” Being of a tender age of 19 years old, when I entered this era I was not prepared for the responsibility it took to pay my own rent, make sure I had gas money, feed myself, and keep up with the demands of my course work. Like many ambitious young people, I took on more than I could chew right out the gate. I was enrolled full-time and working part-time during my first years of college. And like many college students, the demands of growing into adulthood, achieving academically to prove I was making something of myself and my adolescent need for freedom met head-to-head and manifested in, what eventually became, substance abuse and mental health issues.

Substance use is the use of taking mind- or mood-altering substances; substance abuse is abusing such substances; substance addiction is a mental, physical or psychological dependence on substances to function. In my early use I was a substance abuser. Binging on the weekends and dipping into use during the week. Over time, the substances and circumstances changed, and I became a full-blown addict. It happened slowly and insidiously but with my untreated mental health issues that went along with the development of my using behaviors addiction became inevitable. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was crippled by my anxiety of performing and presenting as a “successful” young adult. I was in a sea of new people, places and being liked by others was highly valuable to achieving the image of success I wanted to portray. It started off with cannabis and alcohol, then eventually hallucinogens and stimulants. I wanted to test how far away I could get from my anxiety and depression by pushing the edge of my mind-altering substance use. I was not alone in this experimentation, and I was not the only one struggling with substance abuse or mental health conditions. In fact, now that I am much older, 4 years sober, and working in the addiction treatment world I see just how prevalent and interconnected substance use and mental health conditions are amongst young people, especially college students.

According to Bayba (2024), “Roughly 20% of college students meet the criteria for having an alcohol use disorder.” That is one fifth of the student population. He also estimates that close to 30% of full-time students binge drink. Other studies indicate that almost half of college students meet the criteria for at least one substance use disorder (Bayba, 2024). Noncoincidental, Statistics indicate that “around 31 percent of college students in the United States had been diagnosed with anxiety disorder, while around 27 percent had been diagnosed with depression or other mood disorders” (Statista research Department, 2024). The correlation between mental health issues and substance abuse cannot be overlooked.

Mental health issues are issues or disorders that affect one’s mood, outlook, and behaviors. When untreated they exacerbate a person’s negative beliefs about being alive. Stress, fear, social pressure, change can all be common factors that contribute to acute or chronic mental health issues. Since mental health issues exist between a person’s two ears and is their burden, it can feel like a person’s entire world is gray, bleak, dark or heavy. College students who enroll full-time or even part-time are balancing high expectations they may have of themselves and that others place on them as well. Often when a person’s best is less than their expectations of themselves depression or anxiousness set in. Wanting an escape from the inner turmoil that anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions can cause is where substances come in. Whether it’s to escape the crushing weight of pressure or to increase a person’s performance, substances are a quick fix in a time-sensitive world such as college.

It’s important to note that not all college students use or abuse substances or experience mental health issues. There are several risk factors that increase a student’s likelihood to use substances or experience adverse mental health issues in college. First, there are sociocultural differences in the way people may perceive social pressure. Some cultures revere achievement and success so greatly that it is to be obtained despite one’s personal wants and desires. Additionally, asking for help can be a barrier amongst different cultures. Cultures that value independence and “pull yourself up by your bootstrap” mentality may be crippled when they are struggling mentally or physically. Asking for help is held as a sign of weakness and can perpetuate a vicious cycle of mental health issues masked by substance use. Furthermore, the young college students are still in peak developmental stages in their maturity. Sexual preferences, gender identities, personal identity in general are all on the table for exploration or evaluation. When trying to discover who you are and what you want, picking a career path that you will dedicate time, money, and energy into can bring high levels of stress and anxiety.

Other risk factors that can increase a person’s likelihood to experience mental health issues or substance abuse are their genetic predisposition to these issues or the environmental factors from which they are coming from. Experimentation in college is common but the pattern of using may stick more with those students who have substance abuse behavior in their genetic makeup. Using certain substances may also ignite a chain of events in the genetic code that awakens other expressions of mental health related concerns. Mind altering substances may also appeal more to students who have undiagnosed mental illnesses or adverse life experience coming into college. Being away from environmental risks does not always solve the root issue of mental health issues such as PTSD or ACE. Also, noncoincidental, the CDC (2023) reports that 64% of adults report experiencing at least one adverse childhood (ACE) experience before the age of 18. Lastly, the use of substances increases a person’s risk of developing mental health symptoms due to chemical fluctuations in the brain and body. Therefore, substance use itself is a risk factor that leads to mental health concerns.

The data shows that the connection between mental health issues and addiction is not merely coincidental. Why does college seem to be a time where so many students are experiencing an increase in these co-occurring conditions? Social-cultural factors increased social and academic pressure, and prevalent risk factors may aid in understanding the trend in college students’ substance use behavior and co-occurring mental health issues.

After a period away from school and an eight-year battle with my addiction, I returned to the academic world by attending UAGC, an online university. The university is fully remote, however, UAGC is very progressive in providing easy to find links regarding mental health and substance use services and lays out information to get support in an easy-to-read manner. In addition to these links, the school frequently sends emails reminding students of where to get support. These efforts can support students going through a crisis. UACG understands that mental health and substance use is prevalent amongst college students and reminds students that they are not alone, and support is available.


Bayba, M. (2024). College Substance Abuse Statistics. Addiction Group. Treatment Pathways. College Drug Use Statistics and Facts (
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). Fast Facts: Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Fast Facts: Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences |Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC
Statista Research Department (2024). Primary mental health issues among U.S. college students 2023. Statista.

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