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Home > Drug education among third-level students and its relationship to subsequent illicit drug behaviours and attitudes.

Breen, Andrew and Byrne, Fionn and Craig, Daniel and Henderson Moran, Roisin and Kelly, Maeve and Larkin, Niall and MacAteer, Cliodhna and Rogers, Alan and Shandilya, Avi (2021) Drug education among third-level students and its relationship to subsequent illicit drug behaviours and attitudes. Other thesis, School of Psychology, Trinity College Dublin.

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Illicit drug use among university students has been continuously increasing over time and presents a range of health risks. Education may potentially address this issue by encouraging students to avoid drugs and/or promote relevant skills to ensure safe use. The rationale for the present study is to evaluate the effectiveness of drug education, as delivered through Irish secondary schools, on risk perception towards drugs and drug behaviours through quantitative and qualitative methods. A survey was completed by 309 university students (183 females, 121 males, and 4 transgender/non-binary) aged between 18 and 25 (M = 20.71, SD = 1.13).

The survey measured drug education level using a novel scale based upon retrospective questions, while risk perception and drug behaviour scores utilized scales adapted from previous research. No association was found between drug education and either risk perception or drug behaviours. However, risk perception and drug behaviours were correlated. Additional analyses found males, frequent binge-drinkers, and those with higher perceived prevalence of drug use among peers to be more likely to use drugs. No relationship between socio-economic status and risk perception or drug use was found, however, students eligible for the SUSI grant (potential socio-economic status indicator) reported a higher level of drug-education than the rest of the sample.

Qualitative analysis of both student interviews and interviews with drug education experts was conducted to supplement the quantitative data with more rich information. A common theme found between both groups was an acknowledgement of drug education in Irish secondary schools as inadequate. This theme complements observations from the survey data, namely that a large majority of participants received either no drug education or only one class during secondary school. In sum, the present study considers the lack of consistent and evidence-based educational strategies in Irish secondary schools to account for the inefficacy of drug education in influencing attitudes or behaviours. 

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