Fishy figures

nutt letter to times

Professor David Nutt writes to the Times to make a point about the importance of survey design.

As you can see he is pointing out that the way that the study that was reported recruited participants was likely to lead to over reporting of drug use.

When the Home Office last reported on drug use by adults they were able to show prevalence levels by various occupations including those who were full-time students.

What that data shows us is that while full-time students were the most likely to say that they have used drugs compared to other occupations it remains the case that 83.9% don’t report using drugs.

student drug use 2012

This is important as Professor Nutt says because giving the impression that drug use is rife amongst student populations sets a social norm that may be self-fulling in that it sets expectations for future generations of university students.

Students and Drugs

The Telegraph report on drug use by UK university students:

One-in-four students at British universities admitted to having taken ‘legal highs’, of whom 39 per cent said they had experimented with salvia. Salvia is one of the most powerful known hallucinogenic herbs.

The people who conducted the survey put further flesh on the bones:

Over half of university students (54%) admit to taking some form of illegal drugs since they have been at university. Unsurprisingly cannabis is the most common drug tried at uni – 77% of those who have tried an illegal drug have tried cannabis. Ecstasy / MDMA (39%), cocaine (24%), Mephedrone or meow meow (18%) and legal highs (17%) were also cited amongst students as drugs they have tried since starting university.

What they don’t say is what their methodology was for conducting their survey so we need to treat the results with some caution.  And I note that the most recent Home Office analysis of the Crime Survey for England and Wales, report that 14.6% of students said that they had taken a drug in the last year.

What the survey does reveal is that there is a misconception about the use of drugs amongst this peer group:

90% of students think that their peers have tried illegal drugs whilst at university, whilst in reality almost half of respondents (45%) have never tried any form of illegal drugs.

Alcohol/Energy Drink Mixes Linked with Casual, Risky Sex

As with the real world there is increasing interest in academic circles in the mix of alcohol and caffeine.

This study looks at the link between drinking alcohol mixed with energy drinks (AmEDs) and the sexual behaviour of university students.

The authors conclude:

The results seem to indicate that AmEDs may play a role in the “hook-up culture” that exists on many college campuses, says study author Kathleen E. Miller, senior research scientist at UB’s RIA.

The problem is that casual or intoxicated sex can increase the risk of unwanted outcomes, like unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual assault and depression, says Miller. And previous research has linked energy drink consumption with other dangerous behaviors: drunken driving, binge drinking and fighting, for example.

The researchers suggest that their findings are because mixing alcohol with energy drinks makes it harder to assess the level of intoxication which can lead to unintentional drunkenness.

Read more here.

UK student alcohol consumption

If this paper is right then we really ought to be doing quite a lot more about drinking at university.

Consuming weekly alcohol levels considered hazardous was common (58%) with nearly 70% of responders binge drinking at least once over that period; most students (80%) were, however, following the government’s recommendation for two consecutive alcohol-free days per week.