41 per cent of respondents indicated that they were taking more drugs than before the pandemic. One in five said they were taking fewer drugs, and roughly the same number had not changed their drug consumption pattern. Nine respondents (2.4 per cent) quit taking drugs altogether. The remaining respondents (17 per cent) did not take any drugs before the pandemic, either – or drink, for that matter.
The main reason why students are taking more drugs is to feel different or better for a little while (38 per cent) or because they are bored (35 per cent). “I can tell that I’m subconsciously thinking of uni when I want to get some rest. Being high for a little while every once in a while helps me get centred again and really relax,” wrote one of them. Those students who said they take fewer drugs now do so because they go out less often (43 per cent) and have fewer social contacts (35 per cent). “I’ve moved in with my parents again,” one of them said by way of explanation.
‘Drinking at home is an indication that someone will turn into a problem drinker later’
Average alcohol consumption fell from 9.8 units before the pandemic to 9.5 units during the pandemic. That doesn’t constitute much of a decline, particularly when compared with the results of a similar survey of students attending Nijmegen Radboud University, whose alcohol consumption decreased by 50 per cent.
At the same time, nearly a quarter of all respondents indicated that they actually drank more during the lockdown. Men (teetotallers not included) present a diverse picture: one third drank more, another third drank less, and yet another third did not change anything about their alcohol consumption. Women were more likely to reduce their alcohol intake: 45 per cent said they drank less than before the pandemic, whereas 29 per cent drank more.
In other words, male EUR students, in particular, have been prone to treating themselves to some beers at home. Professor of Clinical Psychology and addiction expert Ingmar Franken is concerned about that. “Drinking at home is an indication that someone will turn into a problem drinker later. Back in the day, people drank when they went out clubbing, to make a positive experience even better. Now people are drinking at home, mainly to alleviate their negative feelings. Those people run a greater risk of turning into problem drinkers.”
Students love smoking weed at home
Aside from alcohol, cannabis proved to be by far the most popular drug with the respondents. Almost 60 per cent of respondents indicated that they sometimes used it. Many respondents said that they started smoking cannabis during the pandemic. One notable aspect was that nearly half of them indicated that they smoked every week.
The No. 2 drug, XTC (occasionally taken by 32 per cent), and No. 3, magic mushrooms/truffles (24 per cent), are not used nearly as often. The latter is only used more often than once a month by a very small number of students. Nitrous oxide is less popular now than it used to be; its use has nearly halved since EM held its previous survey on drug use in 2017. Cocaine and Ritalin are taken by fewer students than nitrous oxide, XTC and magic mushrooms, but those students who do take them tend to do so more regularly.
Some respondents explained how taking drugs at home can actually be a fun activity. “My flatmates and I have tried a lot of things because everyone was at home anyway and keen to do something.” Boredom, too, will result in experimentation. “I tried cocaine for the first time ever. I probably wouldn’t have done it without the pandemic, but hey, I’m at home all the time, anyway,” a medical student wrote. An ESHCC student told us the following: “After trying speed and seeing that the effects weren’t too bad, I was more open to the idea of trying ketamine and LSD. For the sake of experimenting, but also because I was bored and had a lot of time on my hands. If there are hardly any social events you can attend, or if you have no hobbies or activities, you’ll have more time to do drugs.”
‘I tried cocaine for the first time ever. I probably wouldn’t have done it without the pandemic, but hey, I’m at home all the time, anyway’
There are significant differences between the various faculties. The survey confirmed the cliché that ‘future bankers’ are fond of snorting the odd line. Students attending the Rotterdam School of Management and the Erasmus School of Economics, and even the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication, were most likely to say that they take drugs. Medical students are a little more likely to watch their health. Faculty of Medicine students had the lowest drug use figures, by a considerable margin.
Regularly using hashish and weed at home ‘will never be entirely devoid of risk,’ says Franken. “Alcohol is more addictive than weed, but it’s hard to kick any habit. And there is a correlation between weed and lung cancer, although the relation isn’t as clear as it is with tobacco.”
It seems pretty obvious why XTC, nitrous oxide and other party drugs have been used less often lately – people can’t go clubbing. “XTC is a club drug par excellence,” says Franken. “That’s what people associate it with – the sense of connectedness with other people who have also taken it, and having a really great time.” Nitrous oxide, too, has become less popular. For one reason, there haven’t been many parties lately where balloons were passed around, but there’s a little more to it than that. “Four years ago we all thought there were hardly any risks associated with nitrous oxide. We now know that frequent use may cause people to be paralysed. You can end up in a wheelchair.”
Being a more successful student
Another reason why some respondents take drugs is to be more successful in their studies. Some 11 per cent of respondents told EM that they sometimes take Ritalin. It is known that many people use Ritalin – which is technically a stimulant drug used to treat ADHD – to be more focused on their work. Although Franken is realistic about the (fairly minimal) risks, he does recommend that students do not take the drug. “Of course ADHD patients have shown us that Ritalin users are not going to collapse and die in droves, but Ritalin may cause cardiovascular issues. And if you’re susceptible to those in the first place, this may just push you over the edge.”
One ESSB student wrote that he ‘micro-doses’ magic truffles to be better able to focus. Franken confirms that that is the effect truffles have on people. “People who take truffles mainly wish to ‘take a holiday inside their own head’. Micro-dosing psychedelics does have an effect: your body will produce serotonin. This will improve your mood, but your focus will not improve. Because you’re in a better mood, though, you may be able to let go of negative feelings, which then makes you better able to focus.” Still, Franken says, any active ingredient you ingest without your doctor telling you to do so is a bad idea.
Deliveries after curfew
The way in which students obtain their drugs has changed, too. Back in the day, when students went to clubs and attended parties, they would often have friends who’d have some drugs on them. Now they have to get them themselves. Franken says this makes things just a little more challenging. “Now you have to find a dealer yourself, meaning you are also making a more conscious decision.”
However, an RSM student told us this wasn’t all that challenging. “It’s easy. There’s a wide range of drugs out there and an immense number of dealers. I have noticed that dealers are extremely professional these days. [When we were locked down,] they made deliveries 24/7, even after curfew. You can pay by card, and the quality [of the drugs] is usually quite all right.”
Now that the restrictions are gradually being relaxed, what will students’ drug consumption pattern be like? Franken ‘does not have a crystal ball’, but he is concerned. “The greatest concerns are drinking at home and making up for lost time.” The latter is Frank’s term for the ‘rebound effect’: once clubs reopen their doors, many students will want to feel like they did before the pandemic, including all the drugs. “They’ll want all the alcohol and party drugs they’ve had to go without.”
As for students who have taken up drinking at home, Franken fears that they may not be able to kick that habit. “People who never used to drink while home alone may end up keeping on doing it.”
About this survey
The survey was available from 11 to 20 May and was publicised on all of EM’s channels. 373 students took the survey, of whom 54 per cent were male and 45 per cent female. The distribution of the respondents across the faculties was largely consistent with the size of the various faculties’ student bodies. One notable exception was the Erasmus School of Law. Only 6 per cent of respondents said they attended ESL, even though the faculty houses 17 per cent of all EUR students. 131 of the 373 respondents completed the survey in English. Although there was no question in the survey that explicitly asked the respondents if they were Dutch or international students, we feel it is somewhat safe to assume that international students (who made up 19 per cent of EUR’s student body in 2019) were overrepresented in this survey. For many of them, last year was the first time they could legally acquire soft drugs.