UBC and drugs

The Ubyssey received responses from over 400 UBC students on their drug and substance use habits. Collecting this type of information via Google Forms, where we can’t interview respondents directly, isn’t ideal — but it revealed interesting and compelling trends about student substance use.


Alcohol use on campus appears to be markedly polarized.

The common perception is that UBC has less of a ‘drinking culture’ than other major Canadian universities — Maclean’s famously listed us as Canada’s second worst school for partying in their 2016 post-secondary report. In line with that, a fair chunk of participants in our survey (13 per cent) reported that they did not drink. This is fairly consistent with a recent study conducted by the University of Victoria, which found that around 83 per cent of Canadian students drank alcohol.

However, another group of students drink much more frequently and to greater excess. We noted that around 47 per cent of students reported drinking at least once a week, with 4 per cent of those drinking as often as three times per week. While the net rate of drinking for all UBC students (including non-drinkers) was around 3.5 drinks a week, students who drink at least once a week reported a much higher rate of 6.4 drinks per week. As well, 16.5 per cent of students reported binge drinking (consuming four or more drinks in a short time period) at least once a week; for these drinkers, the number of drinks per week was anywhere from 4 to 26.

What students seem to agree on is that the campus culture around alcohol is less than healthy — arguably because students have little opportunity to learn to drink responsibly.

“A [student’s] only two options are to go to the frats or have a gathering in their rooms in residence,” wrote one respondent. “So they basically have two unideal options to consume substances and socialize.”

The rate of cannabis use on campus was lower than you might think — 52 per cent of respondents say they’ve never smoked or otherwise taken cannabis, and 37.3 per cent use it on a monthly basis or less. An outlier category of 9.2 per cent reports using cannabinoids at least once a week, many of them as often as three or four times a week. In this grouping, the leading cause of usage was not recreation, but often stress.

“I'm in [computer science] and I have to smoke weed every night to calm myself from the stress UBC gives me,” wrote one respondent. “This is the only way for me to maintain an 80+ [per cent] average.”

Study Drugs

“Study drugs” refers to amphetamine-based prescription substances like Modafinal, Adderall and Ritalin. While these drugs are typically prescribed to treat ADHD, more and more students are using them as performance enhancers to increase their energy and focus while studying or writing papers. The usage rates for study drugs among respondents was a great deal lower than alcohol or cannabinoids — 84.2 per cent said they had never taken study drugs without a prescription.

However, as with alcohol and cannabis, there was a noted subset who use extremely frequently — 40 per cent of study drug users report taking the drug on a weekly basis or more. In the responses section, many indicated they used study drugs in order to support their intense professional commitments.

“Booze and Modafinil are the two things that get me through school,” wrote one respondent. “Having a job, maintaining relationships, be [sic] active in the school community, and getting good grades takes a lot of time and usually sleep get[s] reduced.

“So, Modafinil keeps you awake and booze helps with the stress of having such a full plate during the school year.”

All things considered

What all of these results tell us is that student substance use at UBC isn’t adequately examined or discussed. While the vast majority of students use either alcohol or other substances, only 27.4 per cent said they were universally comfortable discussing them.

However, discussing substance use seems not only ideal, but necessary. In general, respondents were either extremely light or extremely heavy users of alcohol and substances. But almost every student who does drink has engaged at one point in binge drinking (82 per cent of all surveyed).

In the comments, students called for increased discussion and awareness of the realities of substance use.

“A lot of students don't recognize their limits and often consume alcohol and substances to the point of poisoning or overdose,” wrote on respondent. “There doesn't seem to be enough education at UBC around substance use.”