Illicit Drug Use Among Canadian University Undergraduates

Edward M Adlaf, Andrée Demers, Brenda Newton-Taylor


The purpose of this study was to examine rates and patterns of illicit drug use among Canadian university undergraduates, to compare these rates with those for non-university samples, and to describe drug-use trends among university undergraduates in the province of Ontario between 1988 and 1998. A national mail survey was carried out based on a stratified 2-stage sample design. The sample comprised 7,800 Canadian undergraduates from 16 universities (52% of eligible respondents). Approximately 47.5% reported use of an illicit drug during their life, 29.6% in the previous 12 months, and 18.7% since the beginning of the academic year. Cannabis was by far the most widely used drug (47.0%, 28.7%, and 18.2%, respectively). Many of the gender and regional associations were similar to those found in general-population surveys. Comparisons to non-university peers did not indicate elevated rates among university students. Among Ontario university undergraduates the use of cannabis, hallucinogens, methamphetamines, crack, and heroin remained stable between 1988 and 1998. The use of cocaine declined from 4.8% to 1.7%. Rates of illicit drug use were not appreciably higher than those among their non-university peers. Other public-health issues, such as heavy drinking and poor mental health, override those related to illicit drug use.

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