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Revista Latino-Americana de Enfermagem

On-line version ISSN 1518-8345

Rev. Latino-Am. Enfermagem vol.16 no.spe Ribeirão Preto July/Aug. 2008 



Perceptions of drugs benefits and barriers to quit by undergraduate health students



Patricia Cid HenriquézI; Ana Maria Pimenta de CarvalhoII

IRN, M.Sc. in Nursing, University of Concepción, Chile
IIPsychologist, Faculty, University of São Paulo at Ribeirão Preto, College of Nursing, WHO Collaborating Centre for Nursing Research Development, Brazil, e-mail:




Several studies have exposed the consumption of drugs by undergraduate students in the health area, who are supposed to be examples of behavior and health educators. This descriptive correlation study aimed to relate the benefits of tobacco consumption and barriers to quit according to the perception of undergraduate students. Eighty third-year students, in three different courses, answered a self-applied questionnaire. The studied variables were: consumption conditions, barriers and benefits regarding drug consumption, family and personal characteristics. One-third of the students reported tobacco use; 5% reported the use of marijuana; 15% alcohol and 6% tranquilizers, more than once a month; 18% reported the consumption of tobacco and 13% reported the use of alcohol even before the age of 15. The perceived benefits were: relaxation, pleasure and social acceptance, whereas barriers for quitting were: habituation and addiction. According to the results, promoting self-responsibility of these future health professionals is recommended in their educational context.

Descriptors: students; substance related disorders; health; nursing




This century has been marked by the importance healthcare has gained in social policies that favor the population's biopsychosocial welfare. Healthcare could not be provided for everyone in 2000, but the focus has been changed from disease to health.

Health is a human right that is closely related to life and, as human rights are related to human care, healthcare involves not only actions that benefit people's health, but also one's own health(1-2). All people have to limit their freedom, both for their own benefit and for the benefit of others, by not performing actions that harm their health, such as the consumption of illicit drugs, tobacco or alcohol.

The consumption of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs acknowledgedly has a negative influence on people's health, thus constituting a Public Health problem. Global tendencies reflect an increase in the use of licit and illicit drugs, especially by young people, since drugs use has started at earlier ages(3).

The term drug is defined as "any psychoactive substance, including alcohol, tobacco, inhalants and drugs, which are self-administered without any medical supervision and aimed at changing someone's mood, behavior or thought, or simply for the purpose of having fun"(4).

Studies about drugs among the general population of Chile in 1994 showed that the licit drug most often consumed was alcohol, followed by tobacco. They also made it evident that one out of eight Chilean people, from 12 to 64 years old, had already consumed at least one of the three illegal drugs studied (marijuana, coca paste or cocaine) at least once in their lives(5). Over the years, the prevalence of tobacco consumption has increased from 38.94% in 1994 to 42.54% in 2004, due to a greater proportion of women who smoke(6). The young population, from 19 to 25 years old, presents the highest consumption prevalence, in which men showed a slight variation (59.33 to 59.73) over these 10 years, whereas young women increased tobacco consumption prevalence by over 10 points (42.54 to 55.01)(6).

As the consumption of tobacco increased, the number of deaths caused by tobacco consumption unfortunately increased as well. In 1985, 11,872 people died, rising to 15,088 people in 2005. In other words, the number of deaths caused by tobacco consumption increased by 4,000 in 20 years, until 2005(7).

Tobacco is a licit drug, considered harmful to people's health. This damage is caused by approximately 4,000 chemical components its smoke contains, namely nicotine (a chemical substance that causes addiction), tar (associated to the development of some kinds of cancer) and carbon monoxide (a toxic gas that delays or blocks the transportation of oxygen in the bloodstream)(8).

Studies have exposed a high prevalence of tobacco consumption among healthcare professionals, and this consumption is found to be higher among young professionals. Other relevant findings show that the prevalence of consumption in healthcare professionals is higher than the levels found in studies about the general population(9-10). The latter constitutes an alarming fact, since these people are in a unique position to promote strategies to prevent and quit the consumption of drugs. Besides, they are aware of the risk factors this consumption causes to their health and to the health of their future patients(11).

Undergraduate students from the health area, who are supposed to be an example of behavior and health educators, are not exempt from this habit either. A study has observed that students who smoked did not agree that they should be examples of good behavior(12). Other descriptive studies have found that these students showed a lower prevalence of consumption than health professionals and the population in general, and they consumed less tobacco than undergraduate students from other areas not related to healthcare(13-14).

Students from the health area prepare themselves to take care of people, but how do they take care of themselves? Those students, who are already taking the third year of a healthcare course, are expected to recognize that drugs damage people's health and to avoid its consumption. It is contradictory to think that the consumption of drugs is harmful for other people but not for their own health.

In this context, it is important to know the attitudes and/or motives of undergraduate students from different careers in the health area, who will work with disease prevention and health promotion.

The purpose of this study was to identify whether undergraduate students from the health area perceive benefits in the consumption of tobacco and other drugs, as well as the barriers to quit the consumption of these substances.



This descriptive and correlational study was carried out with the participation of 80 undergraduate students, in the second semester of 2005 and the first semester of 2006. The study universe consisted of 400 students, who were in the third year of three different courses in the healthcare area, at a university in Concepción, Chile. The course level was selected at random, and the non-probabilistic sample was composed by students who agreed to participate in the study.

A self-applied questionnaire was elaborated for this study and used for data collection. This instrument included biodemographical questions, a scale of risk factors and questions related to the study variables. Students answered this questionnaire at university, during class, after approving and signing the informed consent term.

Prior to data collection, an experimental test was applied, in order to make sure students understood the instrument and observe the time needed for its application. Ten undergraduate nursing students, from the first year of the course, agreed and participated in this stage. They took around 15 minutes to answer the test and did not show any difficulties regarding the focus of the questions.

Data were analyzed through descriptive (frequencies, percentages) and inferential (correlation) statistics. These data were then processed through SPSS version 12.0 software, at the Nursing Department of the University of Concepción.

After approval by the Ethics Committee at the School of, the administrators of the health courses were informed about the study and its purposes.



The study sample presented the characteristics shown in Table 1.



Students' ages varied from 20 to 27 years old, with more than half of them being female. Over one-third studied Nursing, and nearly one-third were taking Medicine. A smaller proportion studied Obstetrics.

The sample distribution according to the consumption of drugs is presented in Table 2.



More than half of the students stated they did not consume any drugs monthly; less than one-third consumed some kind of drugs monthly; and 2.4% consumed three kinds of drugs a month. Within the total sample, two-thirds stated that they did not currently smoke, 16.3% had been smoking for four to six years; and 2.3% had been smoking for over 10 years. Regarding the age they started smoking, 12.6% of the students were between 11 and 14 years old at the time they started; 22.4% were from 15 to 18, and 6.3% from 17 to 18 years old.

Table 3 presents the results regarding the use of tobacco and alcohol by relatives and friends, as well as the information provided by the academic disciplines about drugs.



Most students state that they do not have relatives who smoke, whereas 15% of them do. However, according to these students, less than half of their relatives smoke. Almost two-thirds of the subjects mentioned that their relatives do not drink, and less than-one third said that more than half of their relatives drink. Regarding their friends' habits, 38% of the undergraduate students stated that more than half of their friends smoke, and nearly one-third said that less than half of them do so. 27% do not have friends who smoke. More than one-third of the students remembered that they received information on drugs in subjects taken in the previous semester; the others indicated that they did not have any information about it, or that they simply did not remember. Most of the students believed tobacco consumption is a problem, and it is important to pay closer attention to students who do not think so. They also present similar ideas about alcoholism; most of them say it is a problem, whereas few students say it is not.

Table 4 presents results regarding the kind of drug consumed more than once a month.



More than two-thirds of the sample answered that they do not drink more than once a month, while 15% said the opposite. Four students consumed marijuana more than once a month, different from most participants, who did not use this substance. Nearly all students used neither cocaine, nor heroine or LSD.

Table 5 shows that over two-thirds of the students stated that they either do not use tobacco or have quit smoking. On the other hand, one-fifth considered themselves occasional smokers (consumption of less than seven cigarettes a week) and 11.3% were daily smokers (consumption of more than seven cigarettes a week).



Regarding their non-smoking behavior, one-third of the students answered it was a personal option, whereas students who smoke explained their smoking behavior by saying they had been influenced by friends. Most of the students perceived the following benefits of drugs consumption: relaxation, pleasure and social acceptance by peers. Barriers perceived for quitting drug consumption were habituation and its effects.

A negative correlation was observed between the condition of being a smoker and the study variables, such as the age students started smoking, how long they have been smoking, the number of cigarettes smoked per week, support for quitting alcohol, support for quitting tobacco and risk factors.



Some of the students who started the consumption of cigarettes early have maintained this consumption over the years, and have also started using other drugs. A relevant fact was the increase in consumption observed during the 15-to-18-year-old period since, during the last two years of this period (17 and 18 years old), they started going to university. Furthermore, a group of researchers has observed that students start smoking in their first year at the university, and those who already smoked before going to university increased their consumption frequency(13).

Ten students from this study started smoking before they were 14 years old, a fact that is similar to results found by studies with the Chilean national population(15).

More than two-thirds of the students stated that they do not consume any drugs, or have simply tried them; but the other third must be observed, especially because, as they advance in their studies, they start consuming other drugs(16). Students who do not consume drugs said it was their personal option, showing a behavior that can be considered an intrinsic motivation, if compared to the results of other researchers(17).

Undergraduate students in the healthcare area do perceive benefits in the consumption of tobacco. Examples are instance, relaxation, pleasure and social acceptance by their peers, and similar results have been observed in students from a healthcare university in Colombia(18). Some researchers express that current lifestyles lead to this "consumer happiness" behavior, which aims for individual pleasure and leads to the "consumption of not only goods, but also one's own life"(19). The barriers identified were habituation and its effects.

Most of the students consider the consumption of alcohol and tobacco as a health problem, but it is alarming that some students from the healthcare area think that it is not, similarly to other studies with healthcare students and professionals who did not perceive any risks for themselves either - only for other people(16,20). Professionals and students from this area cannot deceive themselves by thinking that drugs are harmful for other people but not for them. The question is: how is it possible to show them that they are wrong?

Professionals who dedicate themselves to healthcare should facilitate a favorable environment to quit smoking, which should not inspire guilt or reproach in the person. Public health intervention initiatives should focus on equality models, the image and advantages of a drug-free lifestyle, instead of focusing only on the long-term consequences drugs represent to health.

People are free to make decisions in their lives, but this freedom is limited by social policies (for instance, the restriction on smoking in healthcare environments). As people choose a university career, they accept the behavior rules proposed by health organizations, such as the ethics codes, but do these codes really rule people's behavior?

By taking part in a university community, people develop their knowledge, such as the knowledge to know and do things, which loses strength when it is not followed by the knowledge to live and be. The authors recommend the establishment of strategies to develop the theme of drugs prevention and rehabilitation in the disciplines of careers that affect students' behavior. Furthermore, it is important to motivate future health professionals to keep up preventive behaviors and promote their self-responsibility. In the disciplines of ethics, it is important to stress the social responsibility of health professionals and the value of human rights, such as health and life.



Acknowledgements to the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission/CICAD of the Sub-Secretary of Multidimensional Security at the Organization of American States/OAS, the Brazilian Anti-Drugs Secretary/SENAD, faculty members at the University of São Paulo at Ribeirão Preto College of Nursing, WHO Collaborating Centre for Nursing Research Development, Brazil, to the population who participated in the studies and to the representatives from eight Latin-American countries who participated in the I and II On-Line Specialization Program for Research Capacity-Building on the Drugs Phenomenon-PREINVEST, offered in 2005/2006 by the University of São Paulo at Ribeirão Preto College of Nursing, as a distance education course.



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Recebido em: 15.6.2007
Aprovado em: 7.3.2008

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