Cork: Substance Abuse Among Students Highlighted By Study

18 Feb

Substance use among students in Cork
by Jean Long

Alcohol and drug use among third-level students in Ireland is a concern and has been reported in the CLAN survey.1 In a later study,2 students aged 18 and over attending the student health department of University College Cork over a two-day period in November 2008 were invited to complete a questionnaire on alcohol and drug use. The questions were based on the items used in the CLAN survey, with some minor changes.

The aim of the study was to estimate the use of alcohol and other drugs among students attending health services in the college. The study also described adverse consequences associated with alcohol use among students attending the centre. The response rate was high, with 181 (91.4%) of 198 questionnaires completed. Three quarters (137) of the respondents were female. This mirrors the 3:1 ratio of female to male attendance at the centre. Over half (53%, 96) of the participants were under 21 years of age.

Alcohol use

Almost all (98.3%, 178) drank alcohol at some point in their life and the average age at first use was 15.9 years. Just over three quarters (76.2%, 138) had consumed at least one alcoholic drink in the last week. The preferred types of alcohol consumed by females were spirits (95.6%, 131), followed by beer or cider (77.4%, 106) and wine (75.2%, 103), those favoured by males were beer or cider (95.5%, 42), spirits (93.2%, 41) and wine (72.7%, 32).

Binge drinking was defined as drinking at least four pints of beer or cider or a bottle of wine or its equivalent on a single drinking occasion. Binge drinking was a frequent occurrence; 151 (83.4%) students reported binge drinking in the previous 12 months. A significant number of students (81, 44.8%) binge drank once a week or more. Men (45.5%, 20) were more likely to binge drink than women (44.5%, 61).

The positive reasons students gave for drinking alcohol were sociability, enjoyment and as a means of relaxation. One in 20 students drank because they were lonely or depressed. All students who drank alcohol reported experiencing at least one adverse consequence as a result of their own drinking. The majority (63%, 114) reported suffering at least one adverse consequence of someone else’s drinking.

Illegal drug use

Cannabis was the illegal drug most commonly used by students: 49.2% (89) had used it at some point in their lives, 26.5% (48) had used it in the year prior to the survey, and 12.7% (23) had used it in the last 30 days. Of those who had used cannabis in the past year, 43.8% (21) used it on more than ten occasions. Approximately 15% (24) of students did not answer the questions on cannabis use. Cocaine ranked second among the illegal drugs most commonly used, with 6.9% (12) reporting use in the previous year; ecstasy was in third place at 4.0%. Ecstasy use was confined to female students, while cocaine use was more common among male students. Eight students declined to answer the questions on cocaine and ecstasy use. No respondent had used heroin, drugs by injection, or crystal meth.

It would not be appropriate to compare the findings of this study to those of the CLAN survey as this study was conducted among a sub-sample of students who were attending a health service rather than among the general population of students.


1. Hope A, Dring C and Dring J (2005) College lifestyle and attitudinal national (CLAN) survey. Dublin: Department of Health and Children. Available at

2. Cahill E and Byrne M (2010) Alcohol and drug use in students attending a student health centre. Irish Medical Journal, 103(9). Available at


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