Taking the hit: Student drug use and how institutions respond in the UK


Taking the hit: Student drug use and how institutions respond in the UK

26 April 2018

By Release and National Union of Students (NUS)

This study of student drug use takes a twopronged approach. Firstly, it included an exploration of students’ attitudes to, and experiences of, drugs through the 2,810 students at UK providers who responded to the Students’ Drug Survey launched in February 2018. Secondly, it incorporated an analysis of the policy responses of UK higher education institutions relating to drug use. This data was collected through freedom of information requests sent to a sample of 151 universities/colleges and an independent assessment of those institutions’ policies and support relating to student drug use via a content analysis. For the purposes of this research the term ‘drugs’ is restricted to all controlled or illegal substances as well as non-prescribed drugs and novel psychoactive substances (previously known as legal highs). Whilst tobacco and alcohol are also psychoactive substances we have excluded them from our definition.

Key findings

While care should be taken in extrapolating these findings to the student population generally as it is not a prevalence study, we found that drug use is a fairly common, although infrequent, behaviour among survey respondents. The vast majority do not report having experienced problematic drug use: Thirty-nine per cent of students responding to the survey currently use drugs, with a further 17 per cent having done so in the past. Just over half (56 per cent) of respondents have therefore used drugs. Cannabis was the most frequently taken drug, having been used at some point by 94 per cent of respondents who said that they have used drugs. Cannabis was also the only drug in our survey that was more likely to be used regularly, rather than on special occasions. Ecstasy/MDMA was the second most commonly used drug, having been taken by two thirds (67 per cent) of respondents who have used drugs. Nitrous oxide and cocaine have both been used by just over a half of this group. Six per cent of respondents who have used drugs said that they use ‘study drugs’ (drugs taken to improve focus and motivation) at least once a month and one in five of this same group have taken them at some point. Overall one in ten of all students responding to the survey have ever taken study drugs. Respondents were most likely to take drugs at home/in student accommodation, with 86 per cent of respondents who have used drugs saying they do so here. This was also the location with the highest amount of reported daily use, with one in seven respondents (14 per cent) saying they have used drugs here. House parties were a similarly popular location for drug taking (86 per cent), though this was more likely to take place on special occasions. Respondents were least likely to report using drugs in students’ union venues such as the bar. (...)