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Cadernos Saúde Coletiva

Print version ISSN 1414-462XOn-line version ISSN 2358-291X

Cad. saúde colet. vol.25 no.4 Rio de Janeiro Oct./Dec. 2017

http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/1414-462x201700040091 

Original Article

Use of psychoactive substances at least once in life among Brazilian university students at the beginning and end of courses and the associated factors

Uso de substâncias psicoativas pelo menos uma vez na vida entre estudantes universitários brasileiros no início e no final dos cursos e fatores associados

Laíza Rocha Dantas1 

Monalisa Cesarino Gomes1 

Larissa Chaves Morais de Lima1 

Bruno Rafael Cruz-da-Silva1 

Lívia Rocha Dantas1 

Ana Flávia Granville-Garcia1 

1 Departamento de Odontologia, Universidade Estadual da Paraíba (UEPB) - Campina Grande (PB), Brasil.


Abstract

Objective

Investigate the use of psychoactive substances at least once in life among students at the beginning and end of their courses and determine the associated factors.

Methods

A cross-sectional study conducted with a representative sample of 398 students in public university. The students answered a questionnaire validated for the evaluation of drug use and socio-demographic data. Poisson regression analysis was performed.

Results

A total of 56.3% and 13.3% of the students had used both legal and ilegal drugs. The following variables remained significantly associated with legal drug use in the final model: male sex (PR=1.48; 95%CI: 1.25-1.76), older age group (PR=1.23; 95%CI: 1.03-1.47), not living with parents (PR=1.20; 95%CI: 1.01-1.41), not having a religion (PR=1.37; 95%CI: 1.16-1.62) and taking a course in the health field (PR=1.33; 95%CI: 1.08-1.64). The following variables were significantly associated with ilegal drug use: male sex (PR=2.33; 95%CI: 1.35-4.02), older age group (PR=2.27; 95%CI: 1.28-4.02), higher monthly income (PR=1.73; 95%CI: 1.05-2.85) and not having a religion (PR=1.70; 95%CI: 1.02-2.84).

Conclusion

Legal and ilegal drug use at least once in life was associated with social factors, sex, age, income, religion, living situation and type of higher education course.

Keywords:  alcohol drinking; smoking; street drugs; students

Resumo

Objetivo

Investigar o uso de substâncias psicoativas, pelo menos uma vez na vida, entre os alunos no início e no final de seus cursos e determinar os fatores associados.

Métodos

Estudo transversal com amostra representativa de 398 alunos de uma universidade pública. Os alunos responderam a um questionário validado para a avaliação do uso de drogas e tiveram dados sociodemográficos coletados. A análise de regressão de Poisson foi realizada.

Resultados

Dos estudantes, 56,3 e 13,3% utilizaram drogas lícitas e ilícitas, respectivamente. As seguintes variáveis permaneceram significativamente associadas ao uso de drogas lícitas no modelo final: sexo masculino (RP=1,48; IC95%: 1,25-1,76), faixa etária mais avançada (RP=1,23; IC95%: 1,03-1,47), não residir na casa dos pais (RP=1,20; IC95%: 1,01-1,41), não ter religião (RP=1,37; IC95%: 1,16-1,62) e cursar área da saúde (RP=1,33; IC95%: 1,08-1,64). As seguintes variáveis ​​foram significativamente associadas ao uso de drogas ilícitas: sexo masculino (RP=2,33; IC 95%: 1,35-4,02), faixa etária mais avançada (RP=2,27; IC95%: 1,28-4,02), maior renda mensal (RP=1,73; IC95%: 1,05-2,85) e não ter uma religião (RP=1,70; IC95%: 1,02-2,84).

Conclusão

O uso de drogas lícitas e ilícitas, pelo menos uma vez na vida, foi associado a fatores sociais, sexo, idade, renda, religião, situação de vida e tipo de ensino superior.

Palavras-chave:  álcool; tabagismo; droga ilícita; estudantes

INTRODUCTION

The consumption of psychoactive substances is quite common among university students and varies from occasional use to dependence 1,2 . Thus, drug use has become a worldwide concern in recent decades due to the high incidence and association with risk behaviors, which can have serious consequences to health 3 . The prevention of drug use is essential, as abuse and dependence are public health problems that contribute to the increase in expenditures on medical treatment and hospitalization and play an important role in traffic accidents, urban violence and premature deaths 3 .

Knowledge on what population groups are associated with the use of psychoactive substances is necessary to the establishment of drug prevention programs based on reliable data from epidemiological studies, thereby allowing health policies to be directed in a more effective manner 4 . Previous studies have found a relationship between the male sex and older age with an increased consumption of drugs 2,5 . However, this relationship needs to be further clarified with regard to the early consumption of drugs.

Upon entering the university environment, many young adults experience a set of changes in their daily lives, such as distance from their families, the formation of new friendships, greater independence and greater responsibility in the form of academic expectations 6 . This new situation can exert an influence on one’s health, especially with regard to drug use, as such factors can play either a protective role or increase the risk of using such substances 5,6 . A previous study reports that students in the first year of university are at greater risk of experiencing the consequences of alcohol use, as they are often individuals who did not regularly drink alcoholic beverages in high school and began such use in the first year of their undergraduate education 7 . However, no studies have evaluated use of legal and street drugs in students the beginning and end of their courses. Moreover, most studies have evaluated the consumption pattern found in specific courses, whereas the present investigation offers an evaluation of students in different fields of knowledge. Other aspects also need to be explored in addition to course issues. Socioeconomic position and religion are examples, as they may act as confounders in this relationship.

The aim of the present study was to investigate the use of licit and illicit psychoactive substances at least once in life in a representative sample of Brazilian university students at the beginning and end of their courses and determine associated factors.

METHODS

Study population

A cross-sectional study was conducted with a representative sample of students at the State University of Paraíba (Brazil) in 2014. The sample size was calculated considering a 5% acceptable error, 95% confidence level, a population sample of 1632 students and an estimated prevalence rate of 50%. The minimum sample was determined to be 312 students, to which 20% was added to compensate for possible dropouts, leading to 374 students. Due to the rounded figures in each course, the sample comprised 400 students. Students were selected from all courses of the Campus I of Universidade Estadual da Paraíba, which has the highest number and variety of courses. In order to be included, students had to be on the first or last semester of the course. Students of these semesters were selected through a simple random draw, proportionally to the size of the course in relation to the total number of students in the campus. Classes are offered in the morning, afternoon and at night on the following areas: biological sciences, physical education, nursing, pharmacy, physical therapy, dentistry, psychology, management, accounting sciences, social communication, statistics, mathematics, chemistry, sanitary and environmental engineering, physics, computer sciences, philosophy, geography, history, languages, pedagogy, sociology and law.

Pilot study

A pilot study was conducted to test the methodology and comprehension of the questionnaires. The university students in the pilot study (n = 40) were not included in the main sample. The “face validation” method was performed with 10% of the respondents to assess the participants’ understanding of the responses. For such, the researchers asked the participants to explain in their own words what they understood for each item 8 . As there were no misunderstandings regarding the questionnaires or the methodology, no changes to the data collection process were deemed necessary.

Data collection

After receiving clarifications regarding the objectives of the study, the participants signed a statement of informed consent. Data collection involved the administration of the Alcohol, Smoking and Substance Involvement Screening Test (ASSIST), which was created by the World Health Organization 9 and has been validated 10 . The ASSIST contains eight questions on the use of nine classes of psychoactive substances (tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, stimulants, sedatives, inhalants, hallucinogens and opiates). The questions address frequency of use in one’s lifetime as well as in the previous three months, problems related to use, concerns regarding use on the part of individuals close to the user, negative impacts on the execution of expected tasks, unsuccessful attempts to quit or cut down on use, compulsive feelings and the use of injectable substances. Each item has response options corresponding scores. For tobacco and street drugs, a score of 0 to 3 points was considered indicative of occasional use, a score of 4 to 26 points was indicative of hazardous use/abuse and a score of ≥ 27 points was suggestive of dependence. For alcohol, a score of 0 to 10 points was considered indicative of occasional use, a score of 11 to 26 points was indicative of hazardous use/abuse and a score of ≥ 27 points was suggestive of dependence 10 . For the present study, the variable was dichotomized for lifetime use (the use of a legal and/or street drug at least once in life).

The following socio-demographic characteristics were also collected: gender, age group, marital status, ethnicity, paid work, living situation (residing with or without parents), course in which the student is enrolled, part of the day in which classes are concentrated, period of the course and religion. The questionnaires were administered in the classroom setting and anonymity was ensured.

Statistical analysis

Descriptive and inferential statistics were conducted. Bivariate and multivariate Poisson regression analyses with robust variance were performed to determine the strength of associations between the independent variables and the use of legal and street drugs at least once in life (p < 0.05). The Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS for Windows, version 20.0, SPSS Inc, Chicago, IL, USA) was used for the statistical analyses.

Ethical considerations

The present study received approval from the Human Research Ethics Committee of the State University of Paraíba (process number 34161214.7.0000.5187) in compliance with Resolution 466/2012 of the Brazilian National Health Council. All participants read and signed a statement of informed consent.

RESULTS

A total of 398 university students participated in the present study, corresponding to 99.5% of the total determined by the sample calculation. The loss of two students was due to incomplete questionnaires. A total of 56.3% reported having experimented with legal drugs at least once in life and 13.3% reported having experimented with street drugs. Regarding legal drugs, 54.3% of the students reported having used alcohol some time in life and 20.4% reported using tobacco. Among street drugs, marijuana was the most prevalent, with 10.6% of the students reporting having used this drug at least once in life ( Table 1 ).

Table 1 Frequency of legal and street drug use among university students 

Variable Frequency
n(%)
Alcohol
Yes 216(54.3)
No 182(45.7)
Tobacco
Yes 81(20.4)
No 317(79.6)
Marijuana
Yes 42(10.6)
No 356(89.4)
Cocaine
Yes 8 (2.0)
No 390(98.0)
Amphetamines or ecstasy
Yes 9(2.3)
No 389(97.7)
Inhalants
Yes 21(5.3)
No 377(94.7)
Hypnotics/sedatives
Yes 11(2.8)
No 387(97.2)
Hallucinogens
Yes 11(2.8)
No 387(97.2)
Opiates
Yes 5(1.3)
No 393(98.7)

Tables 2 and 3 display the results of the Poisson regression analyses for the use of legal and street drugs at least once in life according to the independent variables. The following variables were significantly associated with legal drug use: the male sex (PR = 1.48; 95% CI: 1.25 to 1.76), an older age group (PR = 1.23; 95% CI: 1.03 to 1.47), not residing in the parents’ home (PR = 1.20; 95% CI: 1.01 to 1.41), not having a religion (PR = 1.37; 95% CI: 1.16 to 1.62) and taking a course in the health field (PR = 1.33; 95% CI: 1.08 to 1.64). The following variables were significantly associated with street drug use: the male sex (PR = 2.33; 95% CI: 1.35 to 4.02), an older age group (PR = 2.27; 95% CI: 1.28 to 4.02), a higher monthly income (PR = 1.73; 95% CI: 1.05 to 2.85) and not having a religion (PR = 1.70; 95% CI: 1.02 to 2.84).

Table 2 Bivariate and multivariate Poisson regression models for legal drug use at least once in life among university students according to independent variables  

Variables Legal drug use Bivariate Multivariate
No Yes Unadjusted PR* Adjusted PR**
n(%) n(%) (95% CI) p-value (95% CI) p-value
Sex
Female 116(54.5) 97(45.5) 1.00 1.00
Male 58(31.4) 127(68.6) 1.50(1.26-1.79) <0.001 1.48(1.25-1.76) <0.001
Age group
≤ 21 years 93(51.4) 88(48.6) 1.00 1.00
> 21 years 81(37.3) 136(62.7) 1.28(1.07-1.54) 0.006 1.23(1.03-1.47) 0.021
Marital status
Single 148(44.8) 182(55.2) 1.00 - -
Married/Divorced 26(38.8) 41(61.2) 1.11(0.89-1.37) 0.341 - -
Ethnicity
Caucasian 67(41.4) 95(58.6) 1.07(0.90-1.27) 0.428 - -
Non-Caucasian 107(45.3) 129(54.7) 1.00 - -
Family income
< 3 times BMMW 132(45.4) 159(54.6) 1.00 - -
≥ 3 times BMMW 41(38.7) 65(61.3) 1.12(0.93-1.34) 0.219 - -
Paid work
No 113(50.0) 113(50.0) 1.00 - -
Yes 61(35.5) 111(64.5) 1.29(1.08-1.53) 0.003 - -
Resides with parents
No 45(33.1) 91(66.9) 1.31(1.11-1.55) 0.001 1.20(1.01-1.41) 0.031
Yes 129(49.2) 133(50.8) 1.00 1.00
Religion
No 23(26.1) 65(73.9) 1.44(1.22-1.69) <0.001 1.37(1.16-1.62) <0.001
Yes 151(48.7) 159(51.3) 1.00 1.00
Course
Health sciences 32(36.4) 56(63.6) 1.23(0.99-1.53) 0.054 1.33(1.08-1.64) 0.007
Exact sciences 60(42.6) 81(57.4) 1.11(0.91-1.36) 0.292 1.14(0.94-1.39) 0.166
Human sciences 82(48.5) 87(51.5) 1.00 1.00
Classes
Morning/Afternoon 111(48.1) 120(51.9) 1.00 - -
Night 63(37.7) 104(62.3) 1.19(1.01-1.42) 0.038 - -
Period
First year 98(47.8) 107(52.2) 1.00 - -
Last year 76(39.4) 117(60.6) 1.16(0.97-1.38) 0.091 - -

PR: prevalence ratio; CI: confidence interval; BMMW: Brazilian monthly minimum wage

* Unadjusted Poisson regression for independent variables and legal drug use at least once in life

** Variables incorporated into multivariate model (p < 0.20): sex, age group, paid work, residing with parents, religion, course, time of day in which classes are concentrated and period of course

Table 3 Bivariate and multivariate Poisson regression models for street drug use at least once in life among university students according to independent variables  

Variables Street drug use Bivariate Multivariate
No Yes Unadjusted PR* Adjusted PR**
n(%) n(%) (95% CI) p-value (95% CI) p-value
Sex
Female 196(92.0) 17(8.0) 1.00 1.00
Male 149(80.5) 36(19.5) 2.43(1.41-4.19) 0.001 2.33(1.35-4.02) 0.002
Age group
≤ 21 years 167(92.3) 14(7.7) 1.00 1.00
> 21 years 178(82.0) 39(18.0) 2.32(1.30-4.14) 0.004 2.27(1.28-4.02) 0.005
Marital status
Single 287(87.0) 43(13.0) 1.00 - -
Married/Divorced 57(85.1) 10(14.9) 1.14(0.60-2.16) 0.676 - -
Ethnicity
Caucasian 143(88.3) 19(11.7) 1.00 - -
Non-Caucasian 202(85.6) 34(14.4) 1.22(0.72-2.07) 0.442 - -
Family income
< 3 times BMMW 259(89.0) 32(11.0) 1.00 1.00
≥ 3 times BMMW 85(80.2) 21(19.8) 1.80(1.08-2.98) 0.022 1.73(1.05-2.85) 0.030
Paid work
No 202(89.4) 24(10.6) 1.00 - -
Yes 143(83.1) 29(16.9) 1.58(0.96-2.62) 0.072 - -
Resides with parents
No 109(80.1) 27(19.9) 2.00(1.21-3.28) 0.006 - -
Yes 236(90.1) 26(9.9) 1.00 - -
Religion
No 69(78.4) 19(21.6) 1.96(1.18-3.27) 0.009 1.70(1.02-2.84) 0.040
Yes 276(89.0) 34(11.0) 1.00 1.00
Course
Health sciences 73(83.0) 15(17.0) 1.51(0.81-2.83) 0.193 - -
Exact sciences 122(86.5) 19(13.5) 1.19(0.66-2.17) 0.551 - -
Human sciences 150(88.8) 19(11.2) 1.00 - -
Classes
Morning/Afternoon 202(87.4) 29(12.6) 1.00 - -
Night 143(85.6) 24(14.4) 1.14(0.69-1.89) 0.598 - -
Period
First year 181(88.2) 24(11.7) 1.00 - -
Last year 164(85.0) 29(15.0) 1.28(0.77-2.12) 0.332 - -

PR: prevalence ratio; CI: confidence interval; BMMW: Brazilian monthly minimum wage

* Unadjusted Poisson regression for independent variables and street drug use at least once in life

** Variables incorporated into multivariate model (p < 0.20): sex, age group, family income, paid work, residing with parents, religion and course

DISCUSSION

Studies on the use of legal and street drugs have revealed important data on the situation in Brazil. However, investigations that seek to evaluate factors associated with drug use remain scarce, despite the fact that individuals who take drugs have the potential to develop hazardous use. Thus, the present findings can contribute toward the prioritization of prevention programs for population groups at risk of drug abuse. The prevalence of legal and street drug use in life was similar to that found in the first household survey on drug use in Brazil 11 . First contact with drugs occurs at an increasingly early age and can contribute to the development of risk consumption.

Alcohol, tobacco and marijuana were the most frequent drugs reported by the students, which is in agreement with other studies involving the university population 1,12,13 . The male sex and an older age were associated with the use of legal and street drugs in life, which is also in agreement with data described in previous studies 12,14,15 . Silva and Tucci 5 report that the association between the male sex and risk use may be because males are given freedom and independence at an earlier age, which facilitates the onset of drug use in public places 16 . Thus, it is important to establish programs directed at this group in an attempt to avoid first contact or minimize harmful effects.

A higher monthly income was associated with street drug use in life. Moreover, not living with one’s parents favored the use of legal drugs. These characteristics may result from a better socioeconomic status. A previous study reports that the risk of drug use increases when the parents are separated or when young individuals live with other people, which are considered strong indicators for the emergence of psychoactive drug use 17 . Adapting to life outside the family environment contributes to independence as a consequence of the lack of parental supervision 18 . Moreover, a higher family income has been reported to be a risk factor for greater alcohol intake 19 , likely due to greater access to locations of frequent use as well as greater purchasing power.

Religion was considered a protection factor. Students who followed a religion were less prone to experiment with either legal or street drugs. Indeed, studies have demonstrated that individuals who practice a religion belong to a group with established, shared values and norms 12,20,21 . Thus, the effects of religiousness on drug use may be mediated by better self-control and less tolerance for deviant behavior 2,22 . Cultural agents therefore have the potential to affect drug use and the social norms or practices that govern the use of specific substances within a given culture 23,24 .

A greater prevalence rate of street drug use in life was found among students in courses in the health field. It should be stressed that students in the health field could one day go on to become involved in drug prevention and treatment programs 25,26 . Thus, despite scientific knowledge on the consequences of drug use, other factors must be involved in this habit. This relationship may be explained by the fact that students in the health field have a clinical component in their curriculum, which can increase the level of stress, leading to a greater frequency of the use of psychoactive substances 27 . However, this relationship has not been fully clarified and more specific studies are needed.

No significant differences were found between students at the beginning and end of their courses with regard to drug use in life. It is possible that drug use tends to begin at increasingly younger ages, as demonstrated in studies involving schoolchildren 14,21 .

The present study has limitations inherent to the cross-sectional design and the memory of participants, as information bias may have occurred at the time of filling out the questionnaire, such as the time since the last use of drugs and the fear of having personal responses published. However, measures were taken to minimize possible errors, such as the use of validated questionnaires and the execution of a pilot study. Moreover, students were instructed regarding the questions and were assured of the confidentiality of their answers. Self-administered questionnaire in the classroom setting is the most widely employed method for the evaluation of the prevalence of substance use among university students due to the better cost-benefit relationship, the low number of refusals and the assurance of anonymity.

Users of psychoactive drugs generally only seek healthcare services in more advanced stages of substance abuse. However, early intervention, even prior to initiating a habit, can exert an influence on healthy choices by individuals, as the use of psychoactive drugs directly affects health and academic performance 28 . The results of the present study could be used to understand what population groups are vulnerable to the use of legal and street drugs. Awareness and prevention policies directed at specific groups are the most successful actions, such as providing information and strategies for coping with stress as well as training programs for professors to facilitate the early detection of drug use.

Study carried out at Campina Grande, Brazil.

Financial support: none.

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Recebido: 20 de Março de 2017; Aceito: 21 de Fevereiro de 2018

Corresponding author: Ana Flávia Granville-Garcia – Departamento de Odontologia, Universidade Estadual da Paraíba (UEPB), Rua Baraúnas, 351 – Bairro Universitário – CEP: 58429-500 – Campina Grande (PB), Brasil – Email: anaflaviagg@hotmail.com

Conflict of interests: nothing to declare.

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