Original Research

Second and third year medical students’ self-reported alcohol and substance use, smoking habits and academic performance at a South African medical school

Annelize Vorster, Anthonie M. Gerber, Lynette J. van der Merwe, Sanet van Zyl
Health SA Gesondheid | Vol 24 | a1041 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hsag.v24i0.1041 | © 2019 Annelize Vorster, Anthonie M. Gerber, Lynette J. van der Merwe, Sanet van Zyl | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 05 December 2017 | Published: 23 September 2019

About the author(s)

Annelize Vorster, Department of Basic Medical Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Anthonie M. Gerber, Department of Basic Medical Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Lynette J. van der Merwe, School of Medicine, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Sanet van Zyl, Department of Basic Medical Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa


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Abstract

Background: Health professional students frequently use alcohol and narcotics. The potential impact on academic performance and professional behaviour is concerning.

Aim: This study aimed to determine self-reported use of alcohol, illicit substances (e.g. cannabis, lysergic acid diethylamide [LSD], magic mushroom, cocaine, crack, ecstasy, methamphetamine and heroin), prescription medication and smoking habits, correlating academic performance.

Setting: Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Free State.

Methods: An observational, descriptive, cross-sectional study design was used. Information was obtained using a self-administered questionnaire, capturing demographics, self-reported academic performance, drinking and smoking habits, and substance use. Coded responses were analysed using the Remark Office OMR 8 Software System. Descriptive statistics were calculated for categorical variables.

Results: Completed questionnaires comprised 171 students. A total of 78.4% of second year and 82.8% of third year students reported using alcohol. Twenty-two per cent of second year and 24.1% of third year students reported cannabis use. In the second year group, three (2.7%) students reported using magic mushroom, two (1.8%) reported cocaine, two (1.8%) reported ecstasy and one (0.9%) reported using methamphetamine. Only third year students reported using LSD or ‘crack’. Cigarette smoking was common – 31.5% and 35.1% in both groups, respectively. Smokeless tobacco devices were used by 8.5% of second year and 7.1% of third year students. Almost 40% of both groups reported that they had smoked a water pipe. Academic performance achieved was mostly 60% – 69% (38.9%) among second year students and 70% – 79% (46.6%) among third year students.

Conclusion: Self-reported use of alcohol and drugs and smoking among medical students is alarming. Additional student support, early identification and referral for management and/or rehabilitation should be a priority at tertiary institutions responsible for training future healthcare professionals.


Keywords

Alcohol; Drug abuse; Medical students; Smoking habits; Academic performance

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