Home > CLAN survey reveals high levels of alcohol and drug use among college students.

Sinclair, Hamish (2005) CLAN survey reveals high levels of alcohol and drug use among college students. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 14, Summer 2005, pp. 5-6.

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On 25 April 2005 the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Mr Sean Power TD, announced the publication of The Health of Irish Students report.1 The report incorporates the results of the College Lifestyle and Attitudinal National (CLAN) survey and a qualitative evaluation of the College Alcohol Policy Initiative. The aim of the CLAN survey was to establish a national student profile of lifestyle habits, including living conditions, general health, mental health, dietary habits, exercise habits, accidents and injuries, sexual health and substance use – tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs. This information will be used in planning for student needs and as a baseline in monitoring trends over time. This article will focus on the CLAN survey and its results in relation to student alcohol and illicit drug use.2

With regard to alcohol use, three out of every four drinking occasions were binge drinking occasions for male students, compared to three out of every five for female students. Binge drinking is a term used to describe a single occasion of excessive or high-risk drinking, defined in this survey as drinking at least four pints of beer or a bottle of wine or equivalent at one drinking occasion. These figures indicate that this pattern of high-risk drinking is the norm among college students, with more male than female binge drinkers.

The likelihood of students experiencing adverse consequences from their own drinking increased with more frequent binge drinking episodes. Students who were regular binge drinkers, defined as binge drinking at least weekly, were three times more likely to have experienced money problems (32% vs. 10%), fights (22% vs. 6%), accidents (13% vs. 4%) and unprotected sex (19% vs. 6%) than were students who were binge drinking less frequently, or were not binge drinkers. Regular binge drinkers were also twice as likely as other student drinkers to be current smokers (38% vs. 18%) and recent cannabis users (54% vs. 25%). Regular binge drinking can also interfere with academic performance. For example, regular binge drinkers were twice as likely to miss classes due to alcohol (61% vs. 27%) and to report that their studies were affected (39% vs. 19%). 

With regard to drug use, cannabis was the most common illicit drug used by students, with over one-third (37%) reporting that they had used it in the past 12 months (Table 1). Ecstasy was the second most used illicit drug, followed by cocaine, magic mushrooms and amphetamines. For all drugs, the levels of use were higher among students than among those of a similar age group (15–24 years) in the general population (Table 1). The use of solvents (inhalants) was particularly high. Male students were more likely to use illicit drugs than were female students. Significant differences (p<0.01) between genders were observed for cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine, magic mushrooms and solvents.


Table 1   Illicit drug use in past 12 months by undergraduate full-time students (CLAN survey) compared to those aged 15–24 years in the general population


Used in last 12 months

CLAN survey



General population*

(15–24 years)











Magic mushrooms















*  National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Drug and Alcohol Information and Research Unit (2005) Drug use in Ireland & Northern Ireland. Bulletin 1. First results (revised) from the 2002/2003 drug prevalence survey. Dublin: National Advisory Committee on Drugs.


The report recommends ten actions required to ensure that the college environment is more conducive to the positive health and well-being of all students. Acknowledging that alcohol-related harm was particularly high and of major concern, the report recommends the implementation of all five elements of the college alcohol policy framework.3 In addition, the report recommends that a programme of ongoing research should be agreed to allow for monitoring of trends and evaluation of programmes and interventions.


The CLAN survey was carried out among undergraduate full-time students in 21 third-level colleges in Ireland during the academic year 2002/2003. The colleges included seven universities, twelve institutes of technology and two colleges of education. A national sample size was calculated using a three per cent precision and a 95 per cent degree of confidence, with a breakdown for the colleges based on each college population. Each participating college generated a random sample from its computerised enrolment list of full-time undergraduate students, distributed the self-completed survey questionnaire by mail to selected students and collected the completed questionnaires by mail or by using drop-off points on campus.


A total of 3,259 students responded to the survey, giving a reported response rate of 50 per cent. No information is given in the report about those who did not respond, so it is not possible to tell if they differed in any way from those who did respond. Of those who did respond, 38 per cent were male and 62 per cent were female. Based on Department of Education and Science figures, the gender breakdown for persons receiving full-time education in the academic year 2002/2003 was 46 per cent male and 54 per cent female.4 Thus there would appear to be a slight over-representation of female students in the CLAN survey.  


1. Health Promotion Unit (2005) The Health of Irish Students. Dublin: Health Promotion Unit, Department of Health and Children.


2. Hope A, Dring C and Dring J (2005) College Lifestyle and Attitudinal National (CLAN) Survey. In: Health Promotion Unit. The Health of Irish Students. Dublin: Health Promotion Unit, Department of Health and Children.


3. Health Promotion Unit (2001) Framework for developing a college alcohol policy. Dublin: Health Promotion Unit, Department of Health and Children.


4. Department of Education and Science (2004) Statistical Report 2002/2003. Dublin: Stationery Office. 


Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Issue Title
Issue 14, Summer 2005
April 2005
Page Range
pp. 5-6
Health Research Board
Issue 14, Summer 2005
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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