New research on students, alcohol and drugs
SOS-UK’s Drug and Alcohol Impact programme supports and enables universities and students’ unions to embed social norms of responsible drinking on their campuses, and refocus the conversation on drugs towards reducing harm, and building healthier, safer, more productive student communities. The fundamental aim of the programme is to protect and foster student wellbeing.
To support our programme, we need improved understandings of student perceptions and knowledge of both drug use and alcohol consumption within the student population and on campus. Therefore, we undertook our annual students, drugs and alcohol survey in November 2022, with 1193 students nationally, and an additional 1634 students from universities participating in Drug and Alcohol Impact, completing it online.
The research covered the following issues:
- Patterns and practices of alcohol consumption/student drug use
- Perceptions of alcohol consumption/student drug use on campus
- Non-drinkers/drug users
- Impacts of alcohol consumption/drug use
- Reducing impact through responsible consumption/drug advice, support and university drug policy
With the release of our most recent students, alcohol and drugs survey findings, we are motivated to highlight our Drug and Alcohol Impact programme, along with outcomes and experiences of it.
The Drug and Alcohol Impact programme will:
- Recognise and reward institutions that demonstrate good practice in addressing student drug and alcohol use and who make student wellbeing a university-wide priority.
- Provide the opportunity to be part of a supportive cohort of universities working towards a shared aim. You can exchange best practices, share experiences, and learn from one another's successes and challenges.
- Give you access to resources, best practice and support, whether you are at the start of your journey focusing on student drug and alcohol use or have already introduced a harm reduction policy on campus.
The programme is recommended as a next step in the Universities UK sector-wide framework on harm reduction due to be released soon.
“We highly recommend that universities and students’ unions participate in the program to effectively implement the UUK national guidance. It benefits students' health and wellbeing and promotes a collaborative working culture to make sustained change happen.” (John De Pury, Assistant Director of Policy, UUK)
During the Drug and Alcohol Impact pilot, institutions demonstrated:
- Increased support for students seeking help (e.g., in-house senior drug and alcohol practitioner; improved referrals to external support;' peer support; support for students in recovery)
- Improved knowledge and understanding of student drug use.
- Partnerships researched drug and alcohol use at their institution
- New or refined comprehensive harm reduction statements and policies toward harm reduction and support for students.
- Increased information (e.g., harm reduction advice and information) made available to students.
- Relevant training for staff and student roles.
- Redevelopment of disciplinary procedures to include greater emphasis on support.
Feedback we have received from our partnerships on the programme include:
"Participation in the Drug and Alcohol Impact pilot has helped to pave the way for innovative methods to improve information, advice and support for students at Keele University." (Katie Laverty, Director of Student Support and Success Keele University)
“It enables the conversation about drugs to exist in the context of wellbeing and positive student experience and success, rather than a negative media, sort of perception or a completely legalistic perception.” (DAI interview participant, 2022)
Participants cited the following benefits of participation in DAI:
- Provides direction for this work
- Facilitates a joined-up approach between the students’ union and university
- Provides a tangible framework of actions to guide and prioritise action
- Supports collaboration and sharing of good practice between institutions
- Provides support and guidance
- Gives recognition for achievements in this area, which served as especially important in engaging senior management
Some of the key findings from our 2022-23 students, drugs and alcohol survey (data from our national survey) include:
- Respondents' perceptions of student drug use prior to starting university is slightly higher once they become a student, but overestimates reported use
- Top reasons behind drug use are: recreation(56%), to enhance social interactions (24%), to escape reality (19%)
- Cannabis is the most frequently reported drug used by respondents who currently use or have previously used drugs as a student
- 44% don't know if their university has a drug policy
- 40% feel confident that if they turned to their university for support with drug use that it would be dealt with appropriately
- 43% say that their university/college should not be punishing students who take drugs
Impacts of drug use:
- 21% missed a lecture/seminar/class
- For 25%, it has improved a mental health condition, but for 14% it has made a condition worse
- 36% say that it has helped them to make new friends
- 17% took risks with their personal safety that they would not have otherwise
From our students, alcohol and drugs survey (2022-23) findings, we discovered some differences between students from universities taking part in the Drug and Alcohol Impact programme, and those from across the UK who are not taking part in the programme. For example, 27% of respondents from universities on the programme, don’t know if their university has a drugs policy. Whereas, this figure is higher, at 44% for respondents from universities not on the programme. 48% of respondents from universities on the programme feel confident that if they turned to their university for support with drug use that it would be dealt with appropriately, whereas this figure is lower, at 40%, for respondents from universities not on the programme. Such findings could highlight the impacts of the programme on both students’ knowledge of their universities drug policies, and their confidence in the universities approach to drug use.