We've followed up on NUS' initial study of student drug use, 'Taking the Hit', to understand the changing experiences of students with drugs and to support action in this area, in particular through our Drug and Alcohol Impact programme. The programme is a whole-institution approach embeds social norms of responsible drinking on our campuses, and refocuses the conversation on drugs to be about reducing harm, and building healthier, safer, more productive student communities, involving action by local partnerships of students’ unions, universities and community organisations. The programme includes this annual 'Students and Drugs' survey, designed to identify students’ relationship with drugs at participating institutions as well as students across the UK more widely.
A total of 1505 responses were achieved in 2020-21 through promotion of the survey locally by universities and students’ unions during December 2020 and January 2021. The survey was mainly promoted by universities and students’ unions participating in the Drug and Alcohol Impact programme however participation in the research was also opened to other universities and students’ unions wishing to gather data on their students’ relationship with drugs. Additionally the survey was also promoted by NUS to students in the TOTUM database.
When reviewing the findings, it's worth noting the time during which this research was completed. Against a backdrop of Covid-19 restrictions and campus closures, respondents are unlikely to have been experiencing 'normal' student life.
Key findings include:
- Respondents overestimate drug use amongst their peers, with respondents reporting that prior to starting university they thought 64% of students used drugs, and since starting university they think 85% use drugs. Only 13% of survey respondents reported currently using drugs.
- Despite perceptions of high levels of drug use, this isn’t always seen as problematic or culturally embedded at their place of study with 57% saying they don't have a problem with students taking drugs recreationally, and 48% say student drug use isn't as problematic as is widely thought.
- The main reasons cited for using drugs by those that use them are recreation (57%), stress relief (21%) and boredom (21%).
- Cannabis is the most frequently reported drug used by respondents that currently or have previously used drugs, with 10% saying they currently use cannabis every day.
- The majority of drug users say they know what to expect from the drugs they use (81%) but there is less certainty when it comes to knowing what is in the drugs they are taking (59%).
- Two thirds of respondents either don't if their place of study has a drugs policy, if if they are aware one exists, don't know what it contains (69%).
- 59% say they feel confident that if they turned to their university for support with drug use that it would be dealt with appropriately. This falls to 40%amongst respondents that currently use drugs.
- Respondents who currently use or have previously used drugs say that it has helped them make new friends (41%) but has led to missed university class commitments (17%) and taking risks with personal safety (15%).