Studies show that students are more likely to drink, smoke and take drugs than the general population.
Peer pressure, cheap student bars and the freedom of living away from home all contribute to the choices students make.
Be aware of the dangers associated with smoking, drinking and taking drugs so you can make an informed decision about the way you live your life and care for your health.
Students and alcohol
Student life can seem to revolve around alcohol, with the student bar and local pubs often the centre of the college social scene.
Drinking in moderation is an enjoyable and usually harmless feature of student life. Getting drunk regularly can have potentially serious physical, social and academic effects. Even drinking to excess just occasionally can be damaging.
In the short term, drinking too much can impair academic performance because it affects concentration and makes you more likely to miss classes, hand in work late and do badly in exams.
It can also put you at immediate risk of serious harm, ranging from date rape to car crashes. If you’re drunk, you’re also more likely to be a victim of violence or to have unprotected sex, which carries all the associated risks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancy.
In the longer term, regularly drinking too much can cause liver disease, an increased risk of heart attack, weight gain and a number of different cancers. These problems are now occurring at younger ages as alcohol use has increased.
The healthy choice in the short term is to take just a little extra care to protect yourself and your friends when you are going out drinking. For example, know your own limits and make sure you know how to get home safely.
If you’ve had a heavy drinking session, you should remain alcohol-free for a full 48 hours to give your body time to recover.
Over the longer term, you need to have an idea of how much you’re drinking on a regular basis, in units of alcohol, so you can keep your risks low. The NHS recommends that:
- men should not regularly drink more than three to four units a day
- women should not regularly drink more than two to three units a day
Use this alcohol tracker tool to check how much you’re drinking.
Students and smoking
As with alcohol, there can be a lot of social pressure for students to smoke.
Smoking increases your risk of lung cancer and heart disease. It prematurely ages the skin and triples your chance of getting wrinkles around your eyes and mouth. It also causes impotence and reduced sperm count in men, and reduces fertility in women.
It can lead to gum disease, makes the body store fat around the waist and increases the risk of cellulite.
Don’t assume that smoking will help you through the stress of exams. Medical evidence shows that smoking doesn’t actually calm you down. It’s simply the case that nicotine cravings between cigarettes make you feel stressed and anxious, so when you have one you feel temporarily calm. You’ll feel less stressed once you quit and no longer have cravings.
If you’re already a smoker, becoming a student could be the ideal time to quit. Going to university or college is a fresh start and a new way of life, and this is your chance to start your new life in a positive, healthy way.
Read how the NHS can help you stop smoking.
Students and drugs
Almost half of 16 to 24 year olds in England and Wales have tried drugs at least once, most commonly cannabis. Experimenting with drugs can sometimes be presented as part of the “student experience”.
But drugs are illegal for a reason. As well as the risks to your mental and physical health, using them can make you more likely to have unprotected sex, which in turn can increase your risk of being infected with an STI and having an unplanned pregnancy.
A small but significant proportion of regular drug users can come to rely on cannabis or become addicted to drugs such as heroin or cocaine. Any such addiction can have a disastrous effect on studies and health.
The legal penalties for drug possession can be severe for some drugs. Possession of a class A drug, such as cocaine, can lead to up to seven years in prison. Also, your university will not look kindly on you if you’re arrested for drug possession. Many universities would ban you from campus, or drop you from your course.
It’s not just illegal drugs that you need to be wary of. There are legal substances for sale with potential health risks. Read more in our article about legal highs.
The best way to minimise your risk from drugs is not to use them. Failing that, find out as much information as you can about any drugs you’re using, including the risks, the potential for addiction and what happens when you mix one drug with another or with alcohol.
Read more about drugs and their effects.