Substance use among college students in the Netherlands: a closer look at the prevalence of use and risk perception
The use of party drugs (e.g. ecstasy, cocaine) among young adults in Europe is substantial and related to serious health incidents. These incidents are related to the perception of the risks associated with specific substance use. College students deserve unique consideration for prevention and interventions due to the prevalence of unique risk factors related to the student culture (e.g. newfound autonomy, peer pressure). For effective – tailormade - health education and prevention, it is important to acquire a more fine-grained picture of the substance use and accompanying user knowledge of the risks of the substances of choice in this population and subpopulations.
Two survey studies were conducted among college students in a prominent Dutch student city (Groningen), in order to map the prevalence of the use of (different kinds of) party drugs, the context of the use, and the knowledge of the accompanying risks. In order to ensure a representative sample of the student population, a stratified random sampling technique was applied and multiple locations were selected where students were asked to complete the survey. A total of 780 Dutch and international students in Groningen participated in the surveys.
Results and conclusions
The results show that the prevalence of use of party drugs among college students in Groningen - compared to Dutch and European young adults on average - is high: 30,8% of the Dutch students and 19,8% of the international students report having used party drugs recently; Ecstasy is the most used drug, followed by amphetamines and cocaine. Different patterns of use emerge. For example, members of student associations use significantly more party drugs compared to non-members. Also, specific party drugs are related to specific scenes (e.g. ecstasy and 4-FA are mainly used at large festivals, whereas cocaine is linked to the regular nightlife in the city). In general, Dutch students possess more knowledge about the risks of different kinds of party drugs compared to international students. With respect to specific knowledge, the most prominent results are that the risks of combining ecstasy with speed, uppers with downers, and party drugs with alcohol, are underestimated. Also, a large share of the users does not know that heroine and ketamine can resemble cocaine and are unaware of the risks of water intoxication. Other knowledge gaps, patterns of use, and their implications are discussed.