Drug use of students in Groningen: Lots of XTC and THC, not much GHB or LSD

What’s up with the drug use of students in Groningen? How often are they taking drugs? Is their drug use affecting their studies? A total of 255 Dutch and 63 internationals filled out our drug survey. As it turns out, weed and hash are the clear favourites, followed by nitrous oxide and ecstasy.

Let’s start with a huge disclaimer: If you conduct an online survey, it will almost invariably attract people who have an interest in the relevant topic. In other words, if you ask students about their drug use, those with actual drug experience are more likely to complete the survey than those who have never tried drugs.

65 percent have tried ecstasy or MDMA at least once

This is why we have always preferred paper surveys: simply drop by all the canteens and classrooms and ask people to fill in the questionnaire. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t an option during the current pandemic. To avoid contaminating the results, we made it clear online that students without any experience with drugs could also participate. While we assume this will have had some effect, we cannot rule out the possibility that the proportion of drug users in our survey results is higher than the actual proportion among all students. Please keep this in mind when reading the results.

Drug use of students in Groningen
Whether survey results are higher than the actual figures or not, the results do show that Groningen students use a lot of drugs. Over 95 percent have smoked a joint, 72 percent have inhaled nitrous oxide from a balloon and 65 percent have tried ecstasy or MDMA at least once.

Almost 17 percent use once a month, and ten percent take drugs once a week or more

Those are pretty high percentages, even if we take the aforementioned disclaimer into account. However, the results immediately become more nuanced when we factor in the frequency of use. Over 72 percent use drugs a few times a year or less. Almost 17 percent use once a month, and ten percent take drugs once a week or more.  

Alone or with friends
Another noteworthy outcome: only a small number of students (12 percent) use drugs on their own. Most prefer to do drugs at home with friends, followed by drug use on nights out. While the score for drug use on nights out may well have been higher in a normal year (i.e. without a lockdown), close to 90 percent of respondents currently use drugs at home with friends.

If we examine students answers as to whether they have been using more or less drugs during the lockdown, we can even cautiously conclude that drug use with friends reflects the lack of nightlife more than any preference for home use. Nearly 42 percent started using less or much less drugs during the lockdown. 24 percent used the same amount of drugs, while some 34 percent used more during the past year of COVID.

Problematic drug use
So do students regard their own drug use as problematic? Not really, as it turns out. Almost 50 percent claim they wouldn’t have any trouble quitting drugs altogether. A mere 11 percent said they would find this difficult, and only one student described the idea of quitting as ‘very difficult’. Some 32% of students reported having done something they regretted while under the influence of drugs.

More than 60% occasionally feel guilty about their drug use

An even greater proportion, almost 60%, couldn’t remember parts of at least one evening or night over the past year. About 4% actually experience this type of blackout at least once a week. Over 43% indicated that the use of alcohol and drugs had occasionally had a negative impact on their academic results. More than 60% occasionally feel guilty about their drug use.

Tolerance and openness
Students tend to be rather open about their drug use. Almost a third of respondents reported that their friends and family were aware of their use, and almost 45 percent reported that almost all their friends were aware. A quarter of the participating students tend to be more secretive: 23% only told a few friends while 1% didn’t tell anyone at all.

So what are their general views on drug use? Given the high level of drug use, one would expect to find many advocates for the legalisation of all drugs. However, this did not prove to be the case. Only 4% are in favour of complete legalisation, 86% are in favour of legalising certain drugs and 10% are against all legalisation.

Alcohol consumption
Since we were already inquiring about substance use, we also included the most socially accepted drug: alcohol. After all, although alcohol is perfectly legal it is equally harmful when consumed in large quantities and can also be quite addictive. Again, this is an unusual year to be surveying: bars and other forms of nightlife have been closed for a long time due to the lockdown. Naturally, this doesn’t mean students have stopped drinking.

A large majority (62%) don’t drink any alcohol on normal weekdays

Over 70% of respondents reported having had six or more drinks on one or more occasion in the past month. Almost 12% even consumed six drinks or more on nine or more occasions in one month. 15% were drunk more than four times in one month, and just under 40% of students never got drunk at all. A large majority (62%) don’t drink any alcohol on normal weekdays. However, that all changes if there’s a party on the weekend: only 7% of respondents avoid drinking any alcohol at parties.

Why do you use drugs?
So why do students use drugs? We decided to phrase this in the form of an open question, resulting in some surprising and largely positive answers. “For fun” was the most frequently mentioned answer, followed by many variations on “trying things out” and “experimenting”. Many respondents also mentioned “friends”: ‘Everyone in my circle of friends does it’, ‘You can have deeper and better conversations with your friends’, ‘It makes evenings with friends more fun’.

However, respondents also mentioned some less positive reasons for their drug use. Some students want to escape reality (‘life is too boring’, ‘I use out of boredom’), others are trying to block out their feelings (‘I want to push away my emotions sometimes’).

Drug use is no harmless pastime, and the responses clearly show that most students are well aware of this fact

Only a few view drugs as more than an escape, an experiment or something fun. These individuals roughly fall into two categories: the introverts who use drugs to become more extroverted (‘My social anxieties disappear, I can connect with others more easily’) and the psychonauts (‘I take psychedelics sometimes to learn more about myself’, ‘I want to be able to experience life from a different perspective).

Best and worst experiences
We also asked the students to share their best and worst drug experiences.  This led to many interesting, beautiful, funny and sometimes horrific responses. We have decided to feature these stories throughout this booklet rather than simply mentioning some of them here. The answers provide an interesting insight into the appeal of drug use to young people: drugs seem exciting and thrilling both because of the potential for amazing experiences and the associated sense of danger. Drug use is no harmless pastime, and the responses clearly show that most students are well aware of this fact. For every story about a great trip or a deep conversation, there is also one about a (near) psychosis or involuntary drugging. The fine line between euphoria and misery can be so thin that a virtually identical situation or mood can produce both the best and the worst imaginable experience – or as one student put it: ‘My best experience? Paradigm Helsinkistraat. Worst experience: Paradigm Suikerunie.’

International students
International Hanze UAS students certainly don’t shy away from drugs either; however, they do use far less hard drugs in comparison with their Dutch peers. Some 92% have smoked a joint (compared to 95% of Dutch students), 37% have used ecstasy or MDMA (compared to 65% of Dutch students). Balloons filled with nitrous oxide appear to be a very Dutch phenomenon. 33% compared to 72%.

International students also use drugs far more infrequently: almost 51% use drugs a few times a year or less, compared to 72% of Dutch students. Less than 20% take drugs once a week or less.

Internationals use far less hard drugs in comparison with their Dutch peers

As it turns out, the characteristic Dutch openness about drugs isn’t just a cliché. Over 50% of international students (Dutch students: 23%) only discuss their drug use with a few close friends. 12% don’t tell anyone (as compared to only 1% of Dutch students) while 10% will discuss their use with friends and family (as compared to almost a third of Dutch students). Attitudes towards legalisation are also different: twice as many international students believe that drugs should remain illegal.

So how problematic do internationals find their own drug use? As with Dutch students, just under 50% claim they would have no difficulty quitting drugs altogether. The number of students to have done something they later regretted while under the influence is also almost exactly the same. However, the number of international students who can no longer remember parts of an evening or night during the last year is more than 10% lower. The number of students (31%) who reported that drugs had a bad influence on their studies is actually 12% lower.

More or less the same applies to drinking among international students: despite some heavy drinking, they do seem to be a bit more well behaved than their Dutch counterparts. Almost half (47%) of the international students said they had not been drunk in the month before the survey. Over 20% drink eight glasses of alcohol or more during a night out.

Would you like to read more about the drug use of students in Groningen, including the drug survey, including figures, experience stories of Groningen students and drugs, interviews with researchers and a dealer, and illustrations and cartoons by Groningen’s best cartoonists and illustrators? Order the booklet DRUGS: Students & drugs in Groningen for free (at least if you are a Hanze student) via this link and we will send you a copy!

Photo: Jasper Bolderdijk (c) – A festival in Oosterpoort, Groningen. The people on the photo have nothing to do with the content of the article.