What are the motives for controlled drug use in university students, and are they influenced by student experiences at university?


  • Niamh Woodhouse


Substance Use, Motivations, Student Experiences, Alcohol, Students, University, Illicit Drugs


Background: The levels of which UK university students use substances without the knowledge to do so safely is concerning. The public health consequences of problematic substance use are extensive including the economic cost, mental health issues and risk behaviours. However, there is a gap in the literature regarding the motivations behind these high levels of substance use and whether aspects of the university experience can influence these reasons. The aim of this study is to examine perceived motivations for controlled drug use in UK university students, and to determine if aspects of student experience influence these motivations in order to fill the gap in existing literature.

Methods: Data was collected via convenience sampling using a questionnaire. Of 88 participants who completed the survey, after screening, 67 students were included in analysis. Correlational analyses were used to determine the relationships between the following variables: university experiences and motivations for substance use, motivations for substance use and substances used, and university experiences and substances used. Relationships were deemed statistically significant when p<0.05.

Results: Of the 67 participants, only 10 reported no use of any substances. The most reported substances included alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and cocaine. All perceived motivations were above the scale midpoint of 2.50, with enhancement and social having the highest scores. Correlational analysis showed that while aspects of student experiences had significant influence on motivations for substance use, overall student experiences did not. Furthermore, enhancement motivations had significant relationships with cannabis, tobacco and cocaine and social motivations were linked to cannabis use. However, alcohol was negatively correlated with social, conformity, self-expansion and performance motivations. Finally, the majority of student experiences had no significant influence on students’ illicit drug use.

Conclusion: There is an increasingly high prevalence of substance use within UK universities, as well as a range of perceived motivations for this substance use. However, student experiences may not be as important an influence as previously imagined; future research should aim to discover what may be influencing students’ substance use and their motivations for taking illicit substances. The high level of substance use reported suggests a need for education in universities regarding alcohol, substance use and general health as well as greater promotion of welfare services offered to students.