The Link Between Addictions and Student Loan Debt

A debt of any kind can cause intense emotional and financial burdens regardless of the root of the debt. These feelings can be amplified, however, when the debt feels unavoidable and even crucial to the advancement of one’s life, such as student loan debt. The student loan debt crisis has hit an all-time high in the United States, with graduates owning a whopping 1.6 trillion dollars in debt as of March of 2022. Student loan debt generally falls into a gray area between “good” and “bad” debt, as it can be necessary to obtain much-needed education in one’s academic field and even helps open the door to important life experiences. The stress from these loans can cause severe emotional problems later down the road, however, such as problems connecting with other people, anxiety and depression, and addiction. 

What Is Addiction and How Does It Form?

According to Harvard Medical School, addiction is the relationship between a person and an object or activity.1 Studies show that the purpose of addiction is functional: it serves a purpose, largely to create or simulate a release of the “happy” chemicals in the brain like serotonin and dopamine. It is often preceded by some kind of emotional stress, either by outside factors or a previously diagnosed mental illness. Studies show that some people are pre-disposed to addiction, and stressors such as student loans and demanding professions can lead to one seeking out psychoactive activities like drugs and alcohol, with these leading to further mental health problems like suicidal tendencies and attempts. 

The Relationship Between Debt and Substance Abuse

The National Library of Medicine shows that debt and depression are linked. Studies conducted in both the U.S. and the U.K. show that those with higher levels of debt are more likely to smoke and drink excessively however are less likely to engage in the use of cannabis.2 Addiction is described by Providence Treatment as a “chronic brain disease,” meaning that without proper help, the condition can worsen over time and relapses are common, leading to difficulty in upkeeping both interpersonal and professional relationships. As the condition worsens, a stark decrease in workplace productivity is often seen along with a depletion of personal finances, which only serves to add to the stress of unpaid and unmanaged debt.3

Gender Differences in Stress and Addiction

Student loans are the second most leading form of household debt, second only to mortgages A study conducted in 2019 by Morning Consult showed that 45% of borrowers felt extreme stress about their undergraduate student loans, with another 19% feeling moderate to intense stress about their loans, meaning that over half of all student loan borrowers are plagued daily by the stress of these loans.4 Generation “Z” felt the most overall stress with 55% of participants feeling intense stress about their loans and women taking the lead in all age ranges, with an average of 8.75% more participants rating their stress levels as heavy in regards to their student loan debt.5

Men and women deal with addiction differently. While women have reported higher stress rates about their student loans, men are more likely to abuse illicit drugs. Despite this fact, women are more likely to relapse into their addictions and have slightly higher rates of binge drinking than men between the ages of 12-20.6 Adult women are also less likely to quit habits such as smoking, leading to an increase in smoking-related diseases in women. Women are, however, more likely to abuse sedatives and other drugs made to relieve anxiety and restlessness than men.7 As women find themselves battling student loans, work life, household chores, childcare, and the majority of the emotional labor in their interpersonal relationships, their stress levels, and addiction rates are increasing, causing a decrease in work efficiency and elongating their student loan payments. 


As student loan debts increase not only in the U.S. but also globally, stress levels are increasing along with addiction. The idea of debt is enough to scare some people away from the idea of higher education and cause high amounts of anxiety in both genders about their performance in the workplace and the longevity of their loans. Speaking to a financial advisor and prioritizing one’s mental health can help ease the burden of student loan debt and addiction, respectively. 


1 “What Is Addiction?” Harvard Health, 12 Sept. 2021, 

2Richardson T, Elliott P, Roberts R. “The relationship between personal unsecured debt and mental and physical health: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Clin Psychol Rev. 2013 Dec;33(8):1148-62. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2013.08.009. Epub 2013 Sep 10. PMID: 24121465.

3Providence Treatment. “The Link between Addiction and Finance Problems.” Providence Treatment, Providence Treatment, 13 Dec. 2018, 

4Reinwald, Jarett. “Link between Student Debt and Mental Health.” IonTuition, 24 Feb. 2020, 

5Nationaltrackingpoll#190963 september24-26,2019 … – 

6“Sex and Gender Differences in Substance Use.” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 4 May 2022, 

7Seabrook. “Which Gender Is More Likely to Become Addicted?” Seabrook, 14 Oct. 2011,