College Students at Risk

Newark, NJ –Although college students embrace their independence from their parents/guardians, many find themselves in an environment where reckless decision-making becomes a daily activity. Along with studying, exams and papers comes parties, drugs/alcohol and sex. According to the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality’s (CBHSQ) Short Report on the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, “More than one-third of full-time college students aged 18 to 22 engaged in binge drinking in the past month; about 1 in 5 used an illicit drug in the past month.”[1] Unfortunately, participating in risky behaviors can lead to unwanted consequences like overdose, pregnancy and/or contracting an STI (sexually transmitted infection).

The healthcare professionals at the New Jersey AIDS/HIV/STD hotline are calling attention to this public health concern. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Half of the nearly 20 million new STDs reported each year were among young people, between the ages of 15 to 24.”[2] Students need to be reminded of the potentially dangerous health risks of having unprotected sex.

An STI (which includes HIV), is an infection spread from person to person through shared bodily fluids during vaginal, anal or oral sex – and sometimes by genital touching. Anyone can be infected by having unprotected sex with an infected partner, even if it is your first time. A person is at risk if he/she has ever been or is currently sexually active. The appropriate use of latex condoms (male and female) significantly decreases one’s risk of become infected with an STI if used consistently and correctly every time a sexual act occurs.

 

CDC statistics on HIV and young people[3]

·         Young people (aged 13-24) accounted for an estimated 22% of all new HIV diagnoses in the United States in 2014.

·         Among young people (aged 13-24) diagnosed with HIV in 2014, 80% were gay and bisexual males.

Easy access to alcohol and drugs (prescription, over-the-counter and illegal) creates the “perfect storm” for lowering inhibitions and engaging in high risk sexual behavior. Remember, drinking alcohol or using drugs greatly affects one’s decision making ability. The more alcohol one consumes, the more likely he/she is to have unprotected sex with his/her partner. Consuming alcohol while taking other medications can intensify the effects of the medicine and can cause serious health effects, leading to unintentional overdose. In addition, the more alcohol one ingests the more likely he/she is to receive unwanted attention and/or sexual advances from others.

Be aware that the use of emergency contraception like the Morning-After Pill, Plan B, and Ella will not provide protection to women against the spread of STD/STIs and/or HIV. Having unprotected sex may put you at risk for contracting an STD/STI and/or HIV. If you have had unprotected sex and are unsure if you have contracted an infection, experts recommend getting tested immediately.

The risk of contracting and spreading STDs, HIV and hepatitis must be taken seriously – they do not discriminate.  All sexually active individuals are at risk. Not all STIs cause symptoms, and there are some that have no cure, like HIV and herpes. If left untreated, sexually transmitted infections can cause serious health effects from infertility to cancer to death. If you are sexually active, we urge you to learn how to reduce your risk of exposure and get tested. Testing is the ONLY way to know for sure.

Don’t wait!  Get tested now! The sooner an STI is found, the sooner treatment can begin. Some can be cured while others can only be treated, not cured. Ignoring an STD/STI won’t make it go away. Early testing can help find STIs before symptoms show, so treatment can be started as soon as possible; helping to prevent the further spread of infection.

If you are looking to find a free, state-funded testing site near you for initial testing or follow-up or have questions about HIV/AIDS, STDs, or hepatitis, contact us (The New Jersey AIDS/HIV/STD Hotline) either by calling 1-800-624-2377, text/email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or chat via our site at www.njhivstdline.org; TTD/TTY Line (for the hearing impaired) 973-926-8008. We are always here to help 24hours a day/ 7 days a week! Calls are free and confidential.  Services include:

·         Referrals for testing sites and other related services

·         HIV/AIDS, STD and Hepatitis Prevention Information

·         Counseling and Treatment Locations

·         Treatment Information

_________________________________________________________

[1] SAMHSA. A Day in the Life of College Students Aged 18 to 22: Substance Use Facts. The CBHSQ Report. May 26, 2016.

2 CDC. Sexual Risk Behaviors: HIV, STD, and Teen Pregnancy. Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH). July 2016

3 Ibid