We asked Sheffield students for their opinions about drug use at university

Do students believe there is a drug problem at uni?

Hide Images

Put simply, students use recreational drugs, two in five according to the NUS.

This may be to reach a high not achievable by alcohol, or increasingly to reduce stress, anxiety and better mental health.

Speaking to students for the purposes of this article, over 70 per cent agreed university has given them a greater access to recreational drugs, and 48 per cent of students admitted they have used drugs of some sort whilst at uni. The majority of responses came from first and second years.

University presents students with the ability to escape from home life. Students quickly learn how to look after themselves and no longer feel they are being watched for every decision they make. Instead, they realise a greater sense of individuality never previously experienced.

It is because of these newly found freedoms that university life is attacked for "promoting" drug use among young people. Often, media outlets have been led to label universities as institutions which fail students regarding drug education and consumption.

The University of Sheffield's Students' Union has been criticised for giving students advice on safe drug consumption. We covered this story ourselves, which can be found here.

Another article covers a policy at the University of Buckingham which forces students to sign a contract promising not to take drugs. Sir Anthony Seldon, the University’s Vice-Chancellor, said the decision was made because universities are "failing their students on drugs and mental health". But wouldn’t measures introduced to expel students for drug use also fail them in a similar way?

There have been cases where drugs have been a problem for students. In the past, students have been taken early because of drug use, which could be traced to the accessibility of drugs and lifestyles students choose at university.

Joana Burns, a student who passed away after taking MDMA at Sheffield Students' Union

Despite all the coverage though, the opinions of students towards drug consumption are often undervalued, regardless if the topic concerns them and those they know best. The maturity of students when it comes to drug use is something that is often overlooked.

Perhaps drug consumption at university is focused on too much. Are the problems facing drug consumption at university not equal to those in everyday life?

The NUS have sided with students, and argue those found in possession of drugs “should not be reported to the police or permanently excluded” if found guilty. This is because mental health has increasingly become a cause for drug use, and heavy punishment may prevent students from receiving support for drug use in the future if they need it.

So, with a wider picture surrounding views towards drug use, we set out to find the opinions of students themselves towards the treatment and consumption of drugs in university life. We especially wanted to focus on views about the label of students' "drug problem". Here are your opinions about drug culture at university.

What are your opinions about drug use on a recreational basis?

Most students were not against their peers consuming drugs as long as it was done in a safe environment and without the pressure of others.

One student responded: "As long as people feel safe and are with friends whilst taking drugs recreationally, it’s absolutely fine."

Another said: "People can do what they want around me, just don’t force me or judge me for not doing it and we’ll be fine."

Darcy, in second year, told The Sheffield Tab: "I don't mind other people doing drugs, but I personally choose not to do them myself".

Others, however, did disagree with drug consumption: "Drugs are a ticking time bomb. People take them and because they don’t have a bad reaction one time, they keep doing it."

One student though, summed up the general opinion accurately: "Uni is the time to experience things and people are old enough to make their own decisions about what they put in their body, it's nothing to do with me."

The responses given indicates there is a strong opinion among students that drug consumption at university is not necessarily something that should be opposed, as long as the criteria mentioned above is met. Do the media then overestimate the problems of drug consumption at university?

Should university students be treated with harsh punishments for drug use, and will harsher punishments have any effect on drug consumption?

The responses here were extremely mixed. Some students believed they should not be treated with harsh punishments if found consuming or in possession of drugs. "We should focus more on keeping students safe rather than locking people away for drug use", one student responded.

Others offered different means of resolution, such as simply taking drugs away from the person, community service, or education to support students where necessary. A number even supported the legalisation of drugs, which has said to make drugs safer by making them regulated.

Just as many students agreed with the need for harsh punishment in order to reduce the use of drugs: "Students should be reported to the police, the same as any other person. They shouldn’t be treated differently."

When it comes to the success of harsh punishments though, students seem to disagree with the media almost completely. Where some students did argue they deserve equal punishment to anyone else, most still agreed that harsh punishments will prove unsuccessful to tackle drug use fully.

"Drugs will always be taken. It's something we will never be able to stop completely in our life times", said one student. "Outlining risks and how to be safe with drugs i.e. safe dosages would be a much better option."

Some students believe that as mental health is a core factor for drug use, education should be used to address it rather than harsh punishment such as expulsion. Maybe, universities should focus on mental health, not drugs. It can take up to six weeks at some institutions to be seen for the support a student may need.

Others believe drugs will be consumed regardless if harsh punishments are used, just as the case is with drugs consumption outside university.

Guy, a second year student, told us he thinks that "students will always take drugs in some capacity, so it should be made into a safer environment with drug testing facilities set up around student areas".

Perhaps here it can be proposed the media magnifies university drug use. Maybe, there is no "drug problem" specific to universities, but a problem with drugs in general.

Do you feel students are careless or sensible when taking drugs?

Predictably, many students responded that their peers were careless when it comes to drug consumption.

Some argued this was because students don’t fully know where their drugs are sourced from, even if they frequently go to the same dealer. One said: "Students are careless. They don’t actually know what they’re taking half of the time."

Others felt this was because drugs are used for boasting rights: "I feel some are careless and use drugs dangerously and to 'show off' – e.g. mixing drugs and taking unsafe doses just to prove they can."

There were, however, reassuring responses too, "Students can be careless, but most are sensible," said one student.

Other responses showed students take care with what they consume and are educated when it comes to drugs. "I feel that students are generally aware of the danger of usage and thus strive to minimise the dangers of them."

Where students are careless, it is often because some feel pressured and consume in an unsafe environment: "More experienced students show more sensible tendencies. They know their limits and know the extent to how drugs affect them."

Then, some students responded in a manner which recognised maturity when it came to drug consumption. Many students did confess to the carelessness of drug consumption which has been so heavily reported, but many other students responded with more positive opinions, something which unsurprisingly has not been considered by the media and something only students themselves can recognise. Should there be discussion about the problems and pressures of university life, rather than drugs themselves?

It is therefore clear a variety of opinions exist when it comes to drug use at university. There is a common opinion that university life is dangerous, that it gives students a greater accessibility to drugs and allows students to use drugs as a tool to show off personality.

However, there is also an opposing opinion among students, that drugs are often used to better mental health or through peer pressure, and those who take drugs for other reasons do so responsibly.

The media have highlighted the carelessness of drug consumption among students, which admittedly has become a problem and will probably always be one. But, when students themselves were asked about drug use, the responses raised some questions about the "drug problem" often talked about.

Is drug consumption at university any different to drug consumption in everyday life? Should people start to ask questions about the pressures and stresses of university life rather than the drugs which are used to deal with it? Are harsh punishments really the right way to deal with drug use? Do universities have a "drug problem"?

With these questions in mind, I’d like to know your opinions. The survey is still open and can be completed anonymously here. What do you think about drug use at university?

If anyone is seeking help for drug addiction or is concerned about the drugs they consume, please visit https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/drug-addiction-getting-help/ for advice and support.