Background: Alcohol and illicit drug use are increasing among school children and young adults in the UK. Such increases have also been noted among university students and there is a need for a large survey across different universities and faculties. We report such a survey.
Methods: Information about drinking, use of cannabis and other illicit drugs, other lifestyle variables, and subjective ratings of anxiety and depression was obtained by questionnaire in a cross-faculty sample of 3075 second-year university students (1610 men, 1447 women, 18 sex not stated) from ten UK universities. The questionnaire was personally administered during scheduled lecture hours and almost all the students participated. The sample reflected the interfaculty and sex distribution and the proportion of non-white students at UK universities.
Findings: 11% of the students were non-drinkers. Among drinkers, 61% of the men and 48% of the women exceeded "sensible" limits of 14 units per week for women and 21 for men. Hazardous drinking (> or = 36 units per week for women, > or = 51 for men) was reported by 15% of the drinkers. Binge drinking was declared by 28% of drinkers. 60% of the men and 55% of the women reported having used cannabis once or twice and 20% of the sample reported regular cannabis use (weekly or more often). Experience with other illicit drugs was reported by 33% of the sample, most commonly LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), amphetamines, Ecstasy (methylenedioxymethamphetamine), and amyl/butyl nitrate which had each been used by 13-18% of students. 34% of these had used several drugs. Drug use had started at school in 46% of the sample; 13% began after entering university. The overwhelming reason given for taking alcohol or drugs was pleasure. Subjective ratings of anxiety on the hospital anxiety depression scale were high, and sleep difficulties were common, but neither related to alcohol or drug use.
Interpretation: There is a need for better education about alcohol, drugs, and general health in universities. Such education should include all faculties. It remains unclear whether university students' lifestyles are carried over into later life.