Alcohol Use, Drug Use, and Psychological Distress in University Students: Findings from a Canadian Campus Survey

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Mental health problems, alcohol misuse, and drug misuse are prevalent in postsecondary students. However, the links between mental health, alcohol, and drug use are tangled. The present study examined alcohol use and drug use as predictors of psychological distress in postsecondary students at a large metropolitan Canadian university. An online survey was used to collect data from 3288 undergraduate students using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), the Drug Abuse Screening Test (DAST), and the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K-10). There was a significant correlation between high-risk level alcohol use and moderate-to-severe mental distress (r = .422, 95% CI = .200–.602, p < .0005) and between intermediate-to-severe drug abuse and moderate-to-severe mental distress (r = .144, 95% CI = .011–.272, p = .034). The AUDIT score and gender were significantly associated with moderate-to-severe mental distress (χ2 = 94.288, p < .0005). The DAST score and gender were also significantly associated with moderate-to-severe mental distress (χ2 = 89.757, p < .0005) when referenced to the “no mental disorder” group. Heavy drinking and a high-risk level of drug use were both associated with psychological distress. The associations between the effects of alcohol and drug use on mental health might differ according to gender.


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International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction