Sociocultural differences between former and current users of psychoactive drugs in a sample of college students


Demographic attributes
Family background
Scholastic aspects
Attitudes towards drugs
Reasons for abstention from drugs


Pages: 95 to 108
Creation Date: 1979/01/01

Sociocultural differences between former and current users of psychoactive drugs in a sample of college students

M.Z. KHAN Professor of Criminology, Institute of Criminology and Forensic Science, 4-E Jhandewalan Extension, New Delhi 110055, India
N. PRABHA UNNITHAN Research Fellow, Institute of Contemporary Corrections and Behavioral Sciences, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas 77341, U.S.A.


The paper presents the results of a study on the underlying sociocultural factors which distinguish "former users" of drugs from "current users" among the college youth. Belonging to a similar social milieu, the two sets showed little difference in many respects. There were, however, features on which the two differed. Those who gave up drug use were mostly from the middle or lower strata of society, and had tolerant but drug abstaining family members. They were mostly junior students pursuing "professional courses", and had fewer drug-using friends. Also they did not view drugs with favour. Giving up drug use had been mainly their personal decision, perhaps prompted by the influence of their family members and peer-group and by their own experience with drugs. Thus the former users have been found to differ noticeably from the current users.


Most drug use surveys among college youth focused on the extent of the phenomenon (Mott, 1976; Blum et al., 1969; Einstein et al., 1972). Often these studies have subdivided students into two broad groups - those who have used and those who have not used drugs. This has greatly facilitated a comparative study of the social-psychological antecedents of users and nonusers. This approach has contributed to identify persons who became addicted (Imlah, 1970) though the question remains open as to how much these surveys have been used as a basis for developing programmes directed at social intervention in the drug-related problems.

The problem caused by drug abuse has not only persisted but has also added to itself a few more dimensions. A general increase in the incidence of drug-use was reported (McGlothin, 1975). What is more, it has started filtering down to school-age children (Wiener, 1970), touching off dark forebodings. New substances such as phenciclidine are appearing on the drug-scene. To expect that the upcoming generation would remain untouched by this drug-wave, and that it would be able by itself to avoid contact with some form of drug, is wishful. Unmistakably ominous, the situation calls for a research-strategy which, among other things, may also be helpful in chalking out a viable intervention programme.

In this respect, a study of "former users" holds much promise. By contrasting them with those who are current drug users, valuable information on the differential sociocultural background can be obtained, which by itself may be of considerable scientific interest. What is of greater pragmatic significance is the fact that former users are persons who have tried but have eventually given up drugs - on their own. If those characteristics are identifed on which former users differ or tend to differ from current users, a self-sustaining drug-intervention programme would not be arduous to conceive.

This is not to say that a comparative study of different user-categories has not been done. Fish et al. (1974) have compared "occasional" and "regular" users and the dichotomy evolved has been on the basis of self-assessment by the student subjects themselves. British researchers, for example Somlekh et al. (1975), have followed a somewhat similar approach while studying the drug problem among the college youth. With a little modification Mott (1976) sets forth the categories of "over-users" and "regular users". Relatively recently, Dodge (1977) has carried out a comparative study using three user-categories: consistent non-users, systematic users, and heavy users. Rarely do "former users" find any noticeable place in these and similar studies. An exception is that of Vaillant (1966) who has carried out a twelve-year follow-up study of narcotic addicts after institutionalization; but, apart from several other limitations, it focuses on non-students. Thus, in the vast body of literature, the category of former users is found to be insufficiently researched.

This kind of gap in the existing body of literature on the problem of drug-use among the college youth further underlines the need for a focused study which would contrast "former users" with "current users" of psychoactive drugs. Such an exercise may help in getting at the factors which underly the experimentation with habit-forming drugs, and the subsequent abstention from them. The present paper is a modest attempt to bridge this gap. At the outset, it may be pointed out that the paper proceeds on the assumptions that drug-use is a part of social behaviour, and that drug-use springs front certain social-psychological situations which are basically common to the use of all habit-forming drugs. It is with these assumptions that the paper attempts to examine the hypothesis: "Among students, former drug users differ from current users in terms of their sociocultural attributes". Following the Canadian Government Commission of Inquiry (1970), the present paper regards drugs as those substances which are taken for their "psychotropic or psychoactive properties as defined by their capacity to alter sensation, mood, consciousness or other psychological or behavioural functions". Similarly, in respect of drug-use, it goes by what the United Nations Social Defence Research Institute observes: "it refers to all drug-use which is not indicated on generally accepted medical grounds" (1976). A brief reference to the conceptual as well as methodological problems involved in formulating a user-typology has already been made. Indeed, the number, type and quantity of drugs used as well as the frequency of use, have been commonly utilized to develop user-categories. The present study, for reasons of simplicity, has been guided by the frequency of drug-use. On the other hand, attention has been paid to those variables which constitute the social milieu of the college youth.


Adhering to an ex post facto research design, the study focuses on college students. As part of a larger work, it has been conducted in Jabalpur, India. After forming strata, of the 27 colleges in the town, nine have been randomly selected and subsequently, from each of them, classes/sections have been selected with 147 clusters. This permitted the number of students to be proportionate to the size of stratum concerned. Through this kind of multi-stage cluster sampling design, 6,404 students have been selected for study; however, due to the student-absenteeism, the sample has ended up with 4,415 respondents.

Aiming at personal, family, scholastic, companionship, psychological and drug information, a self-reporting questionnaire has been developed in two languages - English and Hindu - for the purpose of this study. It has been pretested and standardized before being administered confidentially in a group-setting on the sampled students, interrupting the normal instruction-schedule of the classes. The information thus collected bas been coded and processed electronically. Initially, the respondents have been divided on the basis of the frequency of use of psychoactive substances into eight categories: (i) never used; (ii) tried earlier but discontinued with no intention to resume; (iii) less often than once a month; (iv) about once a month; (v) about once a week; (vi) several times a week; (vii) daily; and (viii) addicted where a respondent indicates that he cannot do without a particular substance.

In order to have the subsamples of former users and current users, category (i), relating to non-users, has been dropped. Category (ii) represents former users ( n 1 = 616). The categories from (iii) to (viii) have been merged into one, so as to secure the subsample of current users ( n 2 = 1,282). It may be noted that the two subsamples, due to reporting bias, may possibly overlap with each other, particularly in respect of those who are former users or less frequent users. Nevertheless, since the size of the sample is relatively large, this may not seriously affect the analysis.

Towards examining the hypothesis, the data have been cross-tabulated. For want of space, the presentation of the cross-tables has been deferred. Raw data are on computer-file with the Data Bank, ICSSR, New Delhi. Further, proportions, averages and statistical tests of chi-square and contingency coefficient have been used. These statistics, however, do not sufficiently bring out differences between the two groups, namely, former and current users. In this direction, therefore, the Mann-Whitney Test ( U) has been used wherever ordinal measurement has been achieved.

A little elaboration on the method of computation of U statistic would not be out of place: usually applied on individual observation, it has been here used on categorized or grouped data. As a try-out, the statistic has been computed, using smaller artificial data, first, in the form of "individual observation", and then in the categorized form in accordance with the procedure described below. The two U values thus obtained do differ but the difference is negligible, justifying this kind of computational modification. In this procedure, code categories relating to a given ordinal variable have been regarded as ranks, and the frequency in a given rubric as tied observations. Thus, U values have been computed with the method described by Blalock, 1972. An example may clarify the procedure followed:

Former users and current users of drugs and their attitude towards drugs



Attitude towards drugs
Former user
Current user
T cf
314 568 882 882 389403 389403 138631
299 660 959 1 841 1 695 561 1 306 158 407 238
2 53 55 1 896 1 798 356 102 795 3 738
615 1 281 1 896
549 607
n 1
n 2
R 1

T cf = Total cumulative frequency,

T c = Total of cumulative ranks computed by using the formula: n ( n+ 1)/2,

T RR= Total of ranks obtained by subtracting the cumulative rank total of the preceding row, and

T R = Proportionate total of the ranks in the smaller sample (R 1).

n 1 = size of the smaller subample,

n 2 = size of the larger subsample, and

R 1 = sum of ranks in the smaller subsample.

Apart from R, through the above procedure, the computation of U statistic, tied observations, and standard normal variate follows standard procedures (for instance, see Blalock, 1972).

Since the power-efficiency of the U statistic approaches 95.5 per cent for moderate to large-sized samples, it would facilitate a decision with confidence whether former users and current users of psychoactive drugs differ in terms of a given variable.


Before proceeding further, it would be appropriate to look into the frequency of use of psychoactive substances among the college youth. Table 1 shows that commonly used drugs were analgesics (15.2 per cent) - trade names being Analgin, Matacin, Ultragin. Next in preference was tobacco (10.9 per cent) closely followed by alcohol (9.2 per cent). The cannabis-type drugs, bhang and ganja, were used by 6.3 per cent and 1.6 per cent of the students, respectively. It is important to note that cocaine, heroin and LSD were being used by only a negligible proportion of the students. Drug use was more common among male students. However, in the use of analgesics the females compared well with the males. Females were also found to be involved in sizeable proportions in the use of alcohol and bhang. The prevalence rates of drug use among the college youth seem to be moderate. Focusing on former and current users in respect of type of drugs used, there were proportionately more former users who used amphetamines, barbiturates, bhang, LSD and pethedine, while there were more current users who used alcohol, analgesics, tranquillizers and tobacco.


Use of psychoactive substances among students in Jabalpur (Percentages}


Valid Responses (N)


Former user



Current user

4335 77.9 6.9 10.7 4.5 100.0
4334 81.9 7.2 10.5 0.4 100.0
4347 82.9 7.9 8.5 0.7 100.0
4346 83.4 10.3 5.9 0.4 100.0
4335 96.3 2.1 1.5 0.1 100.0
4327 98.2 0.6 1.0 0.2 100.0
4337 97.9 1.5 0.5 0.1 100.0
4334 98.6 0.8 0.5 0.1 100.0
4333 99.3 0.5 0.2 0.0 100.0
Opium, morphine and heroin
4334 99.4 0.3 0.3 0.0 100.0
4334 99.2 0.6 0.2 0.0 100.0
4333 99.6 0.2 0.1 0.1 100.0
4329 99.6 0.3 0.1 0.0 100.0

As referred to earlier, the two categories, former and current users, . represent 14.1 per cent and 29.5 per cent of the total student-population respectively. The question was raised as to whether these two categories were identifiable groups in terms of drug-related variables? Table 2 shows that the two groups mildly tend to differ in respect of the level of awareness of psychoactive substances. The number of drugs known to and mentioned by the students has been the criterion in coding this variable.

The current users had marginally more awareness of drugs than the former users. It would be noticed that the measures of chi-square and contingency coefficient did not differentiate former users from current users, the associated probability being greater than ten per cent. The U statistic shows some differences but they are not very significant ( U = 409746; z = --2.026; p 0.02). Focusing on the "first use", the time-referent being the year of schooling, it was found that the distribution was significant ( x 2 = 5.711; p 0.01) but no meaningful association was seen between the two variables ( C = 0.068) nor did the U statistic bring out any significant differences. With regard to the sources of suggestion for the initial use of drugs, "Self" as a suggestion-source was overwhelmingly mentioned by both former and current users. It was found that campus friends and off-campus acquaintances were proportionately more important as the suggestion source for the former users, and physician and family members for the current users. This was underscored by the values of chi-square and contingency coefficient ( p 0.001). Similar was the case with reasons recorded by the respondents for using drugs. The distribution was found to be highly significant ( X 2 = 1 16.218; df = 14; p 0.0001). The value of contingency coefficient also showed that the two variables were associated with each other ( C = 0.263). Though the presentation was deferred, an examination of the cross-table revealed that the former users tended to give simple reasons for using drugs such as "curiosity", "current fashion", "kicks" and "celebrating occasions". On thc other hand, the current users offered relatively more weighty reasons such as "relief from tension", "easing depression" and "improving study".


Cross-tabulated data on former and current drug users with drug-related variables


Chi- square X> 2

Degrees of freedom df

Contingency coefficient C

Probability p




Awareness of drugs
4.39269 2 0.05174 0.1500 409746
- 2.02640
First use
5.71130 2 0.06751 0.0100 277882 1.03612 0.2347
30.60555 6 0.13291 0.0010
Reasons for use
116.21804 14 0.26293 0.0001

It would thus be justifiable to infer that the two user-types were identical insofar as drug awareness-level and "first-use" were concerned. They did show some differences in terms of suggestion-source and reasons for the use of drugs which themselves were the product, more or less, of environmental forces. In view of this, an examination of the sociocultural attributes of former and current users became all the more relevant. Towards highlighting probable differences between the two user-types among the students, the analysis of data dealt with the demographic, family and scholastic aspects. Attitudes were also studied towards drugs of both the former users and the current users as well as the reasons offered by the former users for giving up drug use.

Demographic attributes

Table 3 shows that rurality-urbanity and regional, religious and caste affiliations of the respondents as well as the duration of stay in Jabalpur, did not show any significant differences. On the other hand, a few demographic variables were seen to be important in this regard. It was observed that the female students were not much involved in drug use but they were proportionately over-represented in the category of current users compared with former users. Although there was not much association between the two variables ( C = 0.078), the U-test showed significant differences. This suggested that once having started using drugs, female students were more likely to continue using drugs than male students. Regarding age, current users were seen to be marginally older than former users ( U = 395255; z = 2.851; p 0.002). Interestingly, more married students were found to be current users, though the trend was not very strong as indicated by different statistical values.


Cross-tabulated data on former and current drug users with demographic variables









11.73011 1 0.07837 0.0010 370526
- 2.26582
8.99621 3 0.06971 0.0200 395255 2.85121 0.00210
Marital status
7.83028 3 0.06446 0.0500 373408 2.47163 0.00680
6.12112 3 0.05511 0.1500 374365 0.26745 0.39380
6.33496 3 0.05883 0.1500
6.03953 6 0.05636 0.4000
4.15716 6 0.04892 0.6000
Duration of stay in Jabalpur
1.27208 4 0.02611 0.8000 361592 1.60374 0.05480

Family background

The variables such as family education, occupation and income have been studied in relation to drug-habit by many researchers (Zax et al., 1965; Bates et al., 1969). Similarly, Hartjen and Quinney (1971) reported that in the predominantly lower class neighbourhood of New York's Lower East Side, there were 183 regular drug-users out of every ten thousand population; from this stems the probable nexus between socio-economic class and drug-habit. The question was raised whether these aspects had a relevance to the drug-user typology under review?

Table 4 presents statistics obtained by cross-tabulating the dichotomous variable with those relating to family background of the students. It indicates that the place of residence of the students ("at home" and "away from home"), the composition of their family (family size, single/joint family, and normal/ broken family), tension situations in their family, and parental restrictions on choosing friends showed little meaningful difference between the two sets (former and current users)., Nonetheless, there were many variables which attracted attention. The two sets significantly differed in terms of their family educational status (coded on the basis of the educational levels of all the family-members); the current users came from better educated families. This was what the highly significant U value indicated ( U = 322693; z = 3.395; p 0.005). Parallel was the case with family income. Current users had better per capita family income (average: Rs. 165 per month) than former users (average: Rs. 152). The trend that the current users were from higher strata of society was further confirmed when we examined the variable of socio-economic status.

In this context, the value of chi-square and contingency coefficient were found to be significant and even more significant was the U statistic ( U = 428460; z = 3.546; p 0.0023). Nonetheless, the current users compared with the former users also faced more parental restrictions in that their late return in the night was resented by their parents; but statistical values were not found to be very significant. However, this trend was kept up, rather forcefully, when we examined the two user-types in relation to the parental control they were subjected to. The distribution of the user-types in relation to parental control was found to be highly significant ( X 2 = 36.503; p 0.001). The value of contingency coefficient ( C = 0.139; p 0.001) also underlined some degree of association between the two. The drug-habit of the family members was also stated. The current users had more members in their family who used druids than the former users. This trend was mildly supported by the statistical values of chi-square and contingency coefficient ( X 2 = 15.478; df = I; C = 0.089; p 0.001) and strongly supported by the Mann-Whitney Test ( U = 466723; z = 3.373; p 0.004).


Cross-tabulated data on former and current drug users with family-related variables









Place of residence
9.42038 3 0.07048 0.0100
Family size
3.88673 3 0.04561 0.3000 361824
Single/joint family
1.46441 1 0.00282 0.3000 360629 1.18525 0.0322
Family educational status
12.92364 2 0.08432 0.0100 322693 3.39535 0.9050
Per capita family income
15.77851 4 0.09266 0.0100 397869 3.36125 0.0005
Family socio- economic status
12.47447 2 0.08092 0.0100 428460 3.54614 0.0023
Normal broken family
1.98406 1 0.03281 0.2000 377264 1.23796 0.1093
Parental reaction to returning home late
8.00157 2 0.08088 0.0100 155005
Tension in the family
1.44315 6 0.03381 0.9700
Parental restrictions regarding choosing friends
1.98971 2 0.03296 0.4000 356784
Parental control
36.50300 2 0.13934 0.0010 336619 4.09416 0.0001
Drug use in the family
15.47791 1 0.08876 0.0010 466723 3.37553 0.0004

Scholastic aspects

Barker and Adams (1963) found that most drug users were scholastically "underachievers" and McGlothlin (1975) reported that their level of participation in campus activities was relatively low (see also, Carey, 1968; Gadourek et al., 1972). This was considered when in, dying the former and current users of psychoactive drugs and it was observed as indicated in table 5 that the former and current users differed little in relation to their early school background. With the increase in years of college education, the chances of abstaining from drugs decreased. This was substantiated by the statistics; the highly significant values of contingency coefficient as well as U statistic reinforced this contention. Perhaps senior students who had experimented with drugs or were taking them got involved to such an extent that later on it became difficult for them to turn away from drugs. An analysis of the course of study pursued by the respondents showed interesting details. Proportionally, the students pursuing professional courses like Medicine, Engineering and Agriculture were over-represented in the category of former users as compared with their counterparts pursuing nonprofessional courses. This observation assumed a significance in view of the fact that professional students in this study had been rather conspicuous for their drug-habit. In terms of academic achievement (coded on the basis of the performance in the last formal examination), the two groups were not strongly differentiated: the values of chi-square and contingency coefficient were insignificant and the U statistic indicated only mild differences. In India, most college students are financially dependent for their education on parents/guardians. In addition, they also receive, formally or informally, some amount as pocket-money. The data showed marginal differences in this regard; Rs. 50.88 per month was the average for the former users and Rs. 55.72 for the current users. Although the U test showed some differences ( U = 331353; z = 2.474; p 0.0068), the value of contingency coefficient was not very meaningful ( C = 0.079; p 0. 1).


Cross-tabulated data on former and current drug users with scholastic variables


x 2







School background
4.73261 5 0.05023 0.5000
Class of study
56.93327 6 0.17068 0.0010 428820 3.12531 0.0009
Course of study
36.24770 7 0.14061 0.0010
Academic achievement
4.64980 3 0.05062 0.3000 338226 2.05711 0.0197
Pocket money
8.76884 4 0.07932 0.1000 331353 2.47387 0.0068
Cocurricular activity
11.04918 1 0.07587 0.0010 421162 3.21205 0.0007
Outdoor activity
3.89778 1 0.04534 0.0500 407534 1.91019 0.0287
Leisure-time activity
11.76779 1 0.07857 0.0010 424631 3.41528 0.0002
12.88999 2 0.08449 0.0100 380869 3.50125 0.0002
Drug use by favourite sportsman
4.67556 1 0.07498 0.0300 78538 2.09321 0.0183
Drug use by favourite teacher
2.24604 1 0.03881 0.1500 251929 1.45152 0.0755
Drug use by favourite film-star
5.07456 1 0.06686 0.0300 145056 2.16198 0.0154
Knowledge of student drug-use
7.50772 1 0.06378 0.0100 390797 2.27249 0.0116
Drug use by Friends
25.29828 3 0.11557 0.0010 422483 3.69757 0.0001

The further question was raised as to how did the two user-types fare in relation to campus-activities. Except in the case of outdoor activity all the other variables, namely, the level of cocurricular activity, leisure-time activity and dating showed significant differences. While the former users were found to be proportionately over-represented in the high level of leisure-time activity, the current users were more represented in the field of cocurricular activity and "dating". It may further be noted that in all these cases the U statistic denoted sharp differences.

The importance of imitation-models in relation to the college youth can hardly be over-estimated (see for example, Lawrence et al., 1974). These may also have a bearing on drug-related behaviour. With this in view, the position of the former users and current users of drugs had been ascertained in relation to certain likely models. It has been observed that the two groups showed insignificant differences in terms of the perceived drug-habit of their favourite teacher. With regard to the drug-habit of the favourite sportsman as well as favourite film-star, some differences did become visible, but they did not amount to much. The values of chi-square and contingency coefficient were found to be negligible, and the U values were only marginally significant. Attention was also paid to the peer-group. It was found that the current users were more informed with regard to the drug-use by students than the former users; however, the statistical values were not very significant. At the same time, the current users were found to have reportedly many friends who were using drugs compared with the former users who had few or no such friends. The statistics further supported this consideration.

Attitudes towards drugs

As both the drug-user types have had differing experience with drugs, they may as well have differing attitudes towards drugs, drug-use and drug users. The exploration of these aspects is presented in table 6. The question was raised as to whether all habit-forming drugs should be freely available in the open-market? It may be noted that in Jabalpur, most of the drugs like alcohol, bhang, ganja and analgesics were freely available. Others such as charas, LSD and the like were scarce. A few drugs, including opium and cocaine, were banned. It is in this context that the responses of the students to the question raised above might be examined. It is worth noting that the proportion of current users who agreed that all the drugs should be freely available in the market was greater than that of the former users who felt so. However, the correspondence between the two variables was not very clear ( C = 0.096; p 0.01), nor was the statistical difference very significant ( U = 343142; z = - 2.277; p 0.12). Furthermore, the opinion of the respondents has been elicited on the statement, "Legal control over the possession of contraband drugs should be lifted". Again, more current users were seen to be positive about this statement than the former users. In this case also, the difference between the two groups was not sharp enough: "Most drug-users in college are among the more independent, thoughtful and creative students", and "Most drug-users in college are to be found among the more confused, immature and insecure students" are the two inter-related statements on which the views of the students had been ascertained. In keeping with the previous trend the former users, on the whole, tended to disagree with the first statement and agree with the second. The converse was true for the current users. It may further be pointed out that, statistically, differences between the two sets Were significant, or even highly significant;


Cross-tabulated data on former and current drug users with attitudinal variables


x 2







Response to:
Free availability of drugs
18.07479 4 0.09882 0.0100 343142
Lifting drug laws
13.12252 4 0.08574 0.0150 314378 2.68171 0.0037
Whether drug users are outstanding
19.80776 4 0.10654 0.0001 293127 4.16449 0.0001
Whether drug users are not outstanding
13.79352 4 0.08749 0.0100 381775 3.36044 0.0005
Whether drugs impair academic work
3.01573 4 0.04117 0.6000 352297 0.75737 0.2266
Disciplinary action against drug users
6.72810 4 0.06132 0.1500 365705 2.08991 0.0183
Drug attitude scale
25.88308 2 0.11605 0.0010 427628 3.44107 0.0012

In response to the question "do the drugs impair academic work" the two groups were found to be more or less evenly distributed. The students also responded to the statement: "Disciplinary action should be taken by the college authorities on drug-users". The differences between the two groups in this regard had been found to be only marginal. This was also supported by the marginally significant values of chi-square, contingency coefficient and U statistic.

In order to secure a comprehensive as well as integrated estimate of the predisposition of the students towards psychoactive drugs, a composite variable had been evolved by taking into account the six statements analysed and discussed above. The distribution of the data was found to be significant ( X 2 = 25.883; p 0.001). The two variables also showed a degree of association ( C = 0.116). The former users and current users also showed highly significant differences insofar as their over-all attitudes toward drugs were concerned.

Reasons for abstention from drugs

A matter also connected with the central theme of the present enquiry was why some students had eventually given up the use of psychotropic drugs. Table 7 shows the reported answers by former drug users. In the case of four students out of every five who gave up drug-use it had been predominantly a personal decision. "Moral principles" had also weighed with some respondents (6.58 per cent). Others had been influenced by parents, friends or social norms. Are these reasons unique to former users? Obviously, the former users cannot be compared with the current users in this respect--but they can be very well compared with non-users. External data reveal that reasons such as lack of interest, personal dislike and moral principles were relatively more important to the non-users, while "health hazards", "influence of parents" and "bad trip", to the former users.


Reasons for abstention from drugs given by former users a




Not interested or curious
137 28.19
I enjoy life even without using this substance
119 24.49
Risk of physical/mental dangers, deteriorating health, dependence on the substance
69 14.20
Personal hatred or dislike for the use of the substance
58 11.93
As a matter of moral principle
32 6.58
Influence of parents
23 4.73
Influence of friends
23 4.73
Due to a "bad trip"
14 2.88
Risk of social disapproval
6 1.23
Non-availability of/no access to, the substance or the substance is too expensive
5 1.03
486 100.00

Non-response rate was 21.10 per cent.


The present enquiry has attempted to bring into focus sociocultural similarities and dissimilarities, between the two user-types, namely, former users and current users of psychoactive substances among college students. It has been found that the former users and the current users do not show much difference in terms of their awareness of drugs. Apparently, they have started to use drugs approximately at the same time, though their sources suggesting them to use drugs as well as their reasons for use have been somewhat diverse. The question was raised why some of them - the former users-discontinued drug-use? Indeed, behind this kind of abstinence, there can be several underlying factors as well as ostensible reasons. The present enquiry, adhering to a comparative approach, has attempted to look into both.

The two sets showed more similarities than dissimilarities in terms of their demographic attributes, some minor differences notwithstanding. This may be due to the fact that they represented a similar social environment, or else, that using or abstaining from drugs was influenced by factors other than demographic attributes. Furthermore, attention was paid to family conditions. Staying at home or away from home, family composition and family tensions were found to be of not much relevance in this regard. On the other hand, social class, as defined by family educational status, income and socioeconomic status, differed in a significant manner.

The former users in greater proportion were from the lower or middle social class. Perhaps it was affluence and not deprivation which sustained drug-use among the college youth. The former users, at the same time, were markedly less subjected to parental control. It was found that a smaller proportion among the family members of the former users compared with the current users were using drugs.

Considering scholastic background, the former users were not very different from the current users insofar as their pocket-money was concerned. The impact of different imitation-models with a pro-drug image was also insignificant. Nonetheless, on several other parameters the two groups were different. For instance, most of the former users invested a smaller number of years in college education. They were pursuing professional courses like Medicine, Engineering and Agriculture. Their participation in the campus-activities such as cocurricular activity, leisure-time activity, and, to some extent, dating, was noticeably low. In other words, the current users were more involved in campus-activities. The former users had been moving in the company of those who were relatively less involved in drug-use.

For understandable reasons, the former users of drugs have less favourable attitudes than the current users towards psychoactive drugs. The difference between the two groups of students was sharp and clear in their responses on the issue of the relationship between drug-use and creativity. The difference was further amplified with regard to their over-all attitude towards drugs.

As a logical corollary, the present study has also enquired into the reasons which led the former users to give up drug-use. It was found to be largely a matter of personal decision. Among other reasons which the respondents reported were mostly familial and companionship influence and their own unpleasant experience with drugs.

We may, in retrospect, identify those among students who were likely to continue with drug-use. On the basis of data it may be presupposed that the students who were economically well-off and came from the upper strata of society, whose parents were restrictive and whose family members were given to drug-use, who had been for some years exposed to college atmosphere, had drug users among friends, and who themselves had pro-drug attitudes were likely to continue drug-use. On the other hand, those students who were from middle or lower-middle classes of society, who had understanding parents and the family members uninvolved with drugs, who moved in the company of non-users and whose attitudes towards drugs were unfavourable, tended to give up drugs. These factors, the reasons for the use of drugs and the reason for the abstention from drugs, may have some relevance to intervention-programmes. In order to be efficacious, a drug-intervention programme, among other things, could: (i) involve parents and family members; (ii) cope with peer-group influence; and, above all, (iii) motivate the youngsters to make their own decision on giving up drugs (see also Einstein, 1974), perhaps through drug-education.

To recapitulate, the former users did not differ from the current users on all the counts, nor was it to be expected that they would. Nonetheless, the present data indicated that on several counts these two groups differed perceptibly. The former users differed ab initio from the current users in terms of the suggestion-source for experimenting with drugs, as well as the reasons for drug-use. There were also a number of familial, scholastic and attitudinal factors which set them apart. The hypothesis under examination was, thus, amply substantiated. sm


The article is based on a study which was supported by a grant from the Department of Social Welfare, Government of India. The views expressed therein are, however, the responsibility of the authors.


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