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There has long been a decline in smoking among university students, while at the same time the use of snuff has become more common. The past few years have seen the appearance of electronic cigarettes.

In terms of alcohol consumption, the number of university students consuming little or no alcohol has increased in recent decades. In addition, the risks attached to alcohol consumption seem to have decreased, particularly among male students.

During the first decade of this millennium, drug experimentation and use became more common among university students but began to decrease again in the 2010s.

In other words, substance use trends can be seen among university students too. Some of them are in line with trends seen in the general population, but in many respects university students are ahead of the general population.

Intoxicants can be classified in many different ways, e.g. according to their mechanism of action or legal status. Legal intoxicants in Finland are alcohol, tobacco products and caffeine, whereas drugs are illegal intoxicants. Drugs can be classified into cannabinoids, opioids, stimulants and hallucinogens according to their mechanism of action.

As regards medicinal agents affecting the central nervous system, their method and purpose of use define whether we are talking about medical use or substance abuse: taking a sleeping aid as prescribed and instructed by a doctor is medical use, but taking a greater dose than prescribed together with alcohol or injected into a vein is substance abuse, even though the substance is the same. On the other hand, an otherwise illegal cannabis product may be considered as a medicine if the user has a doctor’s prescription for it and special permission granted by the authorities.

Some chemical compounds such as solvents, glues or gasoline, which have their own particular uses, can be inhaled for intoxication purposes. This is referred to as substance abuse of legally-acquired products.

During the past few decades it has been found that certain behaviour patterns can lead to addiction. These behavioural addictions are typically associated with behaviours that are rewarding in the short term, such as gambling, internet use, sex or shopping. Eating disorders share features of addictions but are not usually considered as behavioural addictions. Behavioural addictions involve disturbances in the same areas of the brain as substance addictions. Certain medicinal agents, e.g. those used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, may result in the development of a behavioural addiction.

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