More than half of students surveyed report using an illicit drug

The most commonly used drugs are cannabis cocaine and ecstasy

More than half of students surveyed felt drug use is a normal part of student life. Photograph: iStock

More than half of students surveyed felt drug use is a normal part of student life. Photograph: iStock


A major national survey to determine the prevalence and type of drug use among the third-level student population in Ireland has found that more than half of students surveyed reported using an illicit drug, with one-third reporting drug use in the last year, and one-fifth reporting using drugs in the last month.

The Drug Use in Higher Education Institutions (DUHEI) survey analysed over 11,500 responses from students across twenty one higher education institutions, to give a national picture of drug use among Irish third-level students. The survey population included undergraduate and postgraduate students aged 18 years and over.

More than half of students surveyed felt drug use is a normal part of student life, but more than half also felt drug use has a somewhat negative or an extremely negative impact on student life.Of those who had used drugs during Covid-19, one in three students had decreased their use; while just less than one in four had increased their use over this period.

One in four male students report current drug use compared with one in six females. The survey found that current drug use rises year on year to peak in the last two years in college.

The most commonly used drugs are cannabis (52 per cent); cocaine (25 per cent); ecstasy (23 per cent); ketamine (16 per cent); mushrooms (12 per cent); amphetamines (9 per cent) and New Psychoactive Substances (8 per cent). Cocaine has replaced ecstasy to now be the second most common drug used by students.

For the majority of drug types, the age of first use was between 19-21, whereas for cannabis it was between ages 16-18. One in four current users starting use before they were 16 years of age. Over one in two current users, are at moderate or substantial risk of harms arising from their drug use.

Important resource

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris said the report is an important resource for the department and our higher education institutions.

“It helps understand the prevalence of drug use and the range of drugs being used by our students as well as detailing the impacts and effects, including harms caused by drug use in our student population. This data is vital to map the extent of the issue and will help us to develop appropriate responses and monitor trends in drug use in higher education over the coming years.”

The My Understanding of Substance-use Experiences (MyUSE) research team in University College Cork (UCC) developed the study. The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) vice president for welfare, Somhairle Brennan said the findings of this report show how normalised drug culture has become in the student community, and therefore highlights the need for tailored supports directed specifically at students who use drugs.

“This can, and should, be done through the Framework for Response to the Use of Illicit Substances in Higher Education, which encourages the development of policies and plans on an institution by institution basis.

“USI strongly supports the inclusion of drug harm reduction strategies and believes this should be an integral part of the supports provided. This report gives us a clear insight into drug use by students and enables us to shape proper supports based on need, and so we thank every student that shared their experiences for this research.”