Painkillers are not only prescription opioids, such as OxyContin (oxycodone) and Vicodin (hydrocodone), but can include over the counter painkillers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and Tylenol. When taken as prescribed and how they’re meant to be used, painkillers can be helpful for alleviating the short-term pain of injuries and illnesses. However, when taken more frequently or at higher doses, painkillers, especially prescription opioids, become dangerous.

College student use of prescription painkillers has increased tremendously and is a common problem on campuses. For some students, they’re a way to alleviate stress.  For others, they are after the numb feeling painkillers can provide. For other students, though, the repeated use of prescription painkillers is not intentional.

The rise of prescription opioids and overdoses is largely due to the over prescription of painkillers. Student athletes are especially at risk of painkiller abuse. Prescriptions for sport-related injuries are common but sometimes student athletes are given prescriptions that are longer than necessary, leading to prolonged use and sometimes addiction. Opioids are also often prescribed after minor surgeries, such as having wisdom teeth removed.

Why are painkillers dangerous? Aside from being addictive, painkillers are often mixed with other substances, such as alcohol. The combination of alcohol and painkillers can slow breathing and cause death. Long-term use of painkillers can also impair cognition and memory. Even long-term use of over the counter painkillers can cause liver and kidney failure if used too often.

If you find yourself with a prescription for painkillers, only take them if necessary. You may be prescribed more than you need and if you are, dispose of them safely and do not use them recreationally – it’s not worth the risk to your health. If you or someone you care about are struggling with painkiller use, please reach out to the Counseling Center or call the 24-hour Crisis Line at (206) 461-3222.

Party Drugs: MDMA

Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, aka MDMA, is one of the most glamorized party drugs. Now, commonly known as “Molly”, MDMA is also the main ingredient in Ecstasy, which is usually mixed with other illicit drugs, such as LSD or speed. MDMA is one of the more popular party drugs among 18-25 year olds.

What are the effects on your brain and body?

  • MDMA impairs your ability to make judgment calls and can lead to poor decision-making, such as unsafe sex.
  • The flood of the drug on your brain alters naturally occurring chemicals (such as dopamine and serotonin), leading to later symptoms of depression and anxiety. This is especially impairing over the next several weeks after using the drug as your brain attempts to get back to its normal levels. MDMA can have negative long-lasting effects on brain chemistry.
  • MDMA increases your heart rate and body temperature, potentially leading to liver and kidney damage. Muscle tension, blurry vision, and nausea are common side effects, too.

While MDMA is an illegal drug, which already marks it as unsafe, it is even more problematic since it is unregulated – meaning that you never know what other drugs are mixed in. Despite media portrayal of MDMA as a nonaddictive drug, young adults are still dying from the use of MDMA – often in the form of Ecstasy and Molly that has been laced with other drugs.

If you or someone you care about are struggling with drug use, please reach out to the Counseling Center or call the 24-hour Crisis Line at (206) 461-3222.

Vaping and Smoking

Cigarette use among college students has declined and the use of alternative ways of smoking has increased. As of 2017, over 2,000 college campuses across the nation have made an effort to reduce cigarette use, with many of them becoming smoke-free campuses. SPU went smoke-free as of 2005.

What is vaping and is it safe? Despite the myth that vapes and e-cigarettes consist of flavored water vapor, vaping is actually the inhalation and exhalation of a chemical aerosol. In contrast, when smoking a cigarette, you are inhaling and exhaling tobacco smoke. What vaping, e-cigarettes, and cigarettes all have in common are various levels of nicotine, which is known for its addictive effect. While vaping and e-cigarettes have less nicotine than cigarettes, this has led to many believing that vaping or e-cigarettes are a safe or better alternative to smoking cigarettes.

While research is in progress to understand the long-term effects of vaping and e-cigarettes, the chemicals found in these devices are already known to cause lung damage and other physical health problems. Nicotine in any form acts as a stimulant, increasing your heart rate, and effects dopamine levels (the neurotransmitter in your brain that tells you something feels good). Media popularizes the idea that vaping and e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes, however, less harm does not mean harmless.

Stress plays a big role in why people smoke or vape and stress can come in many forms – maybe it’s stress from wanting to join in with your friends when they smoke or vape, or maybe it’s academic or financial stress. While quitting cold turkey or switching to things like nicotine gum or the patch can help with quitting, reducing your stress overall will be helpful. Check out these tips on reducing stress to help with making healthier choices.

"Study Drugs"

One in five college students abuse prescription stimulants, meaning they are taking drugs such as Adderall, Ritalin, or Vyvanse, without a prescription or at a higher dose than prescribed. These drugs, known as “study drugs”, are often prescribed to individuals who have difficulty focusing, paying attention, or who have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

One of the most common myths about “study drugs” is that they will help otherwise healthy individuals hyper-focus on a task or project.

This is not true. While individuals who are prescribed these drugs are boosting their body’s naturally occurring chemicals (neurotransmitters) to a normal level – individuals who take “study drugs” without a prescription are at risk of developing anxiety, decreased sleep, increased blood pressure, disorganized thinking, and the jitters. Instead of hyper-focusing, you end up overwhelming your body’s naturally occurring chemicals. In fact, students who take prescription stimulants, actually have lower GPA’s than students who do not take them!

With the stress of classes and deadlines, it can be tempting to take a “study drug”. However, there is not a magic drug that can make you perform well in class or help you cram the night before an exam. In fact, it may even end up being more damaging to your performance. Time management and meeting goals are two of the most common reasons students use “study drugs”. Fortunately, there are ways you can manage your time and set goals on your own.

If you find yourself or someone you care about struggling with drugs, please reach out to the Counseling Center or call the 24-hour Crisis Line at (206) 461-3222. It’s always ok to need help!

Faculty Spotlight: Marijuana Use

Marijuana use is a major concern on college campuses. With the legalization of recreational marijuana use, there are concerns that use will increase among students. Approximately one in five young adults report marijuana use1 and marijuana use among young adults has been associated with adverse consequences, such as academic impairment2, poorer health3, and risky behaviors such as driving a car while high.4

Seattle Pacific University is a unique environment for marijuana use. Being both a Christian university and a university located in a state that has legalized recreational marijuana (with the first sale of recreational marijuana happening in 2014), SPU offers an environment that both reduces and increases risk for marijuana use. Research has provided evidence that religiosity may reduce adolescent substance use.5 Perceived risk, measured as the perception of how using marijuana may harm the user, was higher among adolescents who reported high levels of religiosity. Adolescents with higher levels of religiosity, in turn, reported less marijuana use – suggesting religiosity may be a protective factor for marijuana use, due to the perceived risk of use.5

How can we use this information? Supporting students as they increase and explore their faith during their college experience may inadvertently affect their views and use of marijuana. While it’s important to specifically discuss marijuana use and provide awareness of the impact use may have on performance and the health of students, it’s also vital to provide a nurturing and communicative environment for students.  One of the major predictors of adolescent substance use is stress, so when college students feel supported they may not need to rely on substance use to cope with stress.

For more information marijuana use and college students, check out the National Institute of Health’s most recent research and our previous blog post on recognizing substance use among students.

1Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2015). Behavioral health trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 64. Retrieved from
2Arria, A. M., Caldeira, K. M., Bugbee, B. A., Vincent, K. B., & O’Grady, K. E. (2015). The academic consequences of marijuana use during college. Psychology of Addictive Behavior, 29(3), 564–575. doi: 10.1037/adb0000108
3Arria, A. M., Caldeira, K. M., Bugbee, B. A., Vincent, K. B., & O’Grady, K. E. (2016). Marijuana use trajectories during college predict health outcomes nine years post-matriculation. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 14(1), 1–14. doi: 10.14574/ojrnhc.v14i1.276
4Pearson, M. R., Liese, B. S., & Dvorak, R. D. (2017). College student marijuana involvement: Perceptions, use, and consequences across 11 college campuses. Addictive Behaviors, 66, 83–89. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2016.10.019
5Varma, M., Moore, L. S., Cataldi, J. S., Estoup, A., & Stewart, D. G. (2017). Religosity and adolescent marijuana use. Mental, Health, Religion, and Culture, 20, 229-238. doi: 10.1080/13674676.2017.1334045

Winter Blues and SAD

Fall quarter is almost over and you’re probably ready for winter break. Going home for the holidays can be great – and it can be exhausting. You’ll be transitioning from a full class load with many responsibilities to resuming your role at home and seeing family and friends. While taking a break from a busy schedule can be a stress reliever, the winter blues can creep up on you.

You might notice some changes in how you act and feel, such as increased appetite, less energy or difficulty getting out of bed, less interest in things you usually like doing, or more irritability or sadness. While some of the changes might sound like signs of depression, they could be due to another mental health problem – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), it just depends on how much these things are affecting you. SAD usually affects people in the winter months and is even more common in places like Seattle, where the sun sets and rises noticeably later in the winter months. To learn more about SAD, check out the video below:

What can you do to fight the winter blues or signs of SAD?

  • Try creating a routine for yourself over winter break, like picking a time to wake up every day.
  • Schedule easy acts of self-care, like taking a walk, or drinking your favorite tea.

Depression in all its forms can be a serious problem. If you think this might be what you are going through you should seek help and more information (like from the SPU Counseling Center). Remember, it’s okay to reach out if you are having a rough time and could use some extra support. It’s important to get help so you can start feeling better sooner.

Faculty Spotlight: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Sometimes mistaken for the winter blues, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs during different times of the year, often associated with the changing of the seasons. Younger adults, specifically women, and individuals living farther from the equator are at a higher risk for developing SAD. Similar to depression, SAD shares many of the same symptoms, including sad or depressed mood, irritability, low energy, and feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt. However, SAD symptoms differ in that they include increased appetite, weight gain, and over-sleeping.1

Despite depression being more well-known, researchers have suggested SAD is more common among undergraduate populations.1 In one study, undergraduates with SAD scored high on cognitive failures (memory retrieval, perceptual discrimination, and attentional focus) similar to undergraduates with depression1, suggesting SAD can be as significant and debilitating as depression. It has been suggested that undergraduates may be experiencing higher rates of SAD during the winter months due to academic pressures of final exams and added stress from the holidays.2 However, research in an undergraduate population has shown that symptoms of SAD were highest and consistent through the months of December, January, and February, suggesting that SAD symptoms are not timed with exams and holidays.2

Common treatments for SAD include light therapy, medications, and therapy. Knowing the signs, symptoms, and being open to discussing of the impact seasonal affective disorder may have on undergraduates can serve to raise awareness and encourage students to reach out for additional support when needed.

1Sullivan, B. & Payne, T. W. (2007). Affective disorders and cognitive failures: A comparison of seasonal and nonseasonal depression. American Journal of Psychiatry, 164, 1663-1667.

2Rohan, S. T., & Sigmon, S. T. (2000). Seasonal mood patterns in a northeastern college sample. Journal of Affective Disorders, 59, 85-96.

Grief and the Holidays

We get many messages from our culture about how holidays are supposed to feel—happy, joyous, full of warm relationships with friends and family. But what about when they’re not? About 20-30% of undergraduates nationwide are in the process of grieving a loved one. Being a college student during the holiday season can be complicated enough on its own. Academic pressure and other responsibilities can leave you little time to deal with your feelings. This can be even more stressful if you’re trying to cope with the loss of a loved one, dealing with difficult family relationships, or if you’re dreading going home.

What are some of the ways you can handle grief during the holidays?

  • Find ways to talk about your feelings instead of bottling them up – say a prayer, share happy stories, or light a candle for the person you’re missing
  • Be kind to yourself – don’t push yourself to participate in holiday activities that are too much for you
  • Remember that grief is very personal – we all grieve and mourn the loss of loved ones in private and unique ways
  • Check out Actively Moving Forward, a group that empowers and connects college students to other college students going through the grieving process

Remembering to do little things over the holidays can help with sad and unhappy feelings. Find time for yourself away from others if being social is too much for you. Take time to make sure you are eating well and often enough. Schedule activities you enjoy doing – sit down and read that book or watch that movie you didn’t have time to read or watch during the quarter. Lastly, allow yourself time to recover from the holidays and remember that you are doing the best you can.

If you’re struggling or just need someone to talk to, you can always reach out to SPU’S Counseling Center or call the Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255).


Grief and difficult family members can make Thanksgiving hard to get through so sometimes being thankful during the holiday season can be a challenge. Gratitude, being thankful for things you already have, is a hot topic in positive psychology. Positive psychology examines the good things that people do, feel, and think in order to understand how to help people thrive and be happy.

Positive psychology has found that the more gratitude you have, the greater sense of well-being, happiness, and energy you may have.  Acknowledging the good things in your life can create more good things, like positive thoughts, higher self-esteem, and optimism. Your physical health may also improve as you express more gratitude. People who express more gratitude have reported fewer aches and pains and even better sleep. Expressing gratitude towards others you care about may also help improve those relationships. Gratitude can help you feel happier mentally and physically and improve relationships, and in turn, those things can help you deal with difficult challenges and improve your overall health.

What are some easy ways you can express gratitude?

  • Write down what you’re grateful for
  • Mentally say thank you, even for basic things in your life, like clean water, clean air to breathe
  • Express your gratitude to others through notes, texts, or phone calls
  • Pray or meditate

Gratitude not only makes you feel better but can bring happiness and good feelings to those around you. So, while you’re sitting down with friends and family for Thanksgiving and feeling thankful, try to remember that gratitude can be used and felt year round!