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What International Students Need to Know About Drugs and Alcohol

This short video is designed to provide an overview of drugs and alcohol to international students studying in the US. We will discuss the US laws related to drugs and alcohol, how to act responsibly, consequences and how to get help if you or someone you know has an addiction. We will also provide some helpful tips on how to stay safe and warning signs if you or someone you know needs help.

Video Transcript

As an international student, you may find yourself in a situation where you are around alcohol, tobacco or drugs. It’s important to know that the laws around alcohol, tobacco, and drugs vary country to country, and even state by state - and that the US has some of the most restrictive laws in the world.

In this video we will go over the laws related to drugs and alcohol in the US, how to act responsibly, consequences and how to get help if you or someone you know has an addiction.

U.S. Laws

While you are in the US, it’s important to know the laws about drugs and alcohol, as breaking them can have negative consequences and could even impact your immigration status.

Drinking & Tobacco

You must be 21 years or older to drink alcohol or consume tobacco in the United States - this is one of the oldest ages in the world. This includes:

  • Beer and Alcoholic Seltzer
  • Wine
  • Hard liquor
  • E-cigarettes
  • Hookah
  • Cigarettes

This means you cannot drink or smoke, purchase, or even have alcohol or tobacco in your possession if you are younger than 21.

If you are 21 or older, there are still laws that govern the amount you can drink and where. In most places, you are not allowed to have an open cup or bottle in a public location. It is also illegal to give an alcoholic beverage to someone under 21.

You should NEVER drink before or while driving. If you do drink, plan alternative transportation ahead of time such as having a friend who hasn’t been drinking drive you home or taking a taxi or rideshare service. If an international student is found driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (known as a DUI in the USA), it can lead to immediate VISA revocation, which would mean returning home and may prevent you from continuing your studies.


In the United States, taking any drugs that are not prescribed by your physician is against the law. It is also illegal to give away your own prescriptions to someone else.

While marijuana has become legal in a number of states, it is still against the law federally. This means that while residents of the state can consume marijuana, international students CANNOT consume, possess or sell marijuana, regardless of what state you live in.

Mixing drugs (especially with alcohol) can be very dangerous and combining drugs is what leads to most overdose deaths and many accidents, including fatal car crashes.

Behaving Responsibly

If you are 21 years or older and choose to drink, here are some tips on how to drink responsibly.

  • Eat before and while you drink.
  • Keep track of the number of drinks, pace yourself, and mix in water as often as possible.
  • Don’t mix alcohol with caffeine such as energy drinks.
  • Don’t accept drinks from strangers.
  • Keep an eye on your drink at all times. If you walk away from it, get a new one.
  • Avoid shots, hard alcohol, drinking games, and keg stands.
  • If you are going to drive, don’t drink at all or plan to have someone else drive you home.

And remember, you don’t have to drink! Any bar or club serves non-alcoholic beverages such as juice, soda, or mocktails. About half of college students in the U.S. don’t drink alcohol or drink very rarely.


Not only will breaking the law result in stiff punishments such as high fines, jail sentences, or suspension of your driver’s license, but it could impact your current visa and the ability to get another visa in the future. Your school may also have disciplinary responses for breaking the law, which could include suspension or expulsion--which could impact your visa status.

Signs of Problem

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines heavy alcohol use as drinking on 5 or more days in the past month. In some cases, drinking or taking drugs can lead to dependence or a substance use disorder which can seriously impact your physical and emotional wellness. Here are a few warning signs:

  • Change in personality
  • Problems at school
  • Blackouts
  • Change in tolerance
  • Concern by friends or family members
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities

Getting Help

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol or drug use, then it is important to get help. On-campus services such as your Student Health Center or Counseling Center are there to help.

Many communities also have free support groups to help with addiction, like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

In an immediate crisis where someone you know needs help, call the campus or local police and stay with that person until help arrives or accompany them to the Health Center.

You can also contact The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a completely confidential support line available 24 hours a day:

For more information, check out our Insurance Explained section on International Student

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If you're a school, and would like to show this video as part of your student orientation, so your students have an introduction into the US Healthcare System, please contact us for more information.

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