Substance use, abuse and risky sexual behaviour among students studying health related courses in a tertiary institution in western Kenya

  • J.N. Mangeni
  • G.W. Mbuthia


Background: Substance abuse among university students in Kenya is currently a major public health concern. Drugs such as tobacco and alcohol are now widely and easily available in the universities. Colleges therefore form the main locus of substance abuse, with more than 40% of students already affected. Health care professionals are believed to be the lead in healthy practices but as well can be a serious source of safety lapses for patients if they engage in substance misuse. Although this is a very important subject area, studies regarding prevalence of substance abuse especially among students undertaking health related courses remain scant.

Objective: The study sought to determine substance use/abuse and likely consequences among student studying health related courses at a tertiary institution.

Study Setting: The study was conducted among students undertaking health related courses in the College of Health Sciences within a large tertiary learning institution in Western Kenya.

Study Subjects: The College of Health Sciences has four main schools; Medicine, Nursing, Dentistry and Public Health. Two schools; school of Medicine and school of Nursing were picked using simple random sampling. Proportionate sampling was then applied to each group. In total, 376 students from both the Bachelor of Science in Nursing and medicine programs were interviewed using a pre-tested questionnaire.

Results: The main substance commonly used and abused among students in the college of Health Sciences is alcohol. Other substances include; cigarettes, miraa and cannabis. About 37% of all the students interviewed had ever consumed alcohol. Of those who had taken alcohol, 35.6% were nursing students while 64.4% were medical students. More males (56.8%) than females (43.2%) drink alcohol. Factors associated with substance abuse include: gender; females are less likely to use/abuse substances compared to males (P;0.007, A.O.R; 0.518, C.I.0.373 - 0.908), religion; Muslim students are less likely to participate to use/abuse substances compared to other religions (P;0.005; A.O.R;0.173 C.I;0.046-0.504) and type of student residence; students renting rooms outside are more likely to use/abuse substances compared to their counterparts living in the hostels (P;0.158;A.O.R;4.58,C.I;0.556-22.955). There was a strong association between alcohol use and engagement in risky sexual behavior (X2=20.4, P: 0.001). Students who take alcohol are more likely to suffer other effects such as quarrels (16.8%), fights (12%), injuries (12.2%), loss of money/valuables (19.4%) and relationship problems.

Conclusions: Substance use and consequently abuse among students at the college of Health sciences is moderately high and there is a potential for this vice increasing further. Behaviour change strategies should be designed to address this problem among students at the college of health sciences.


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eISSN: 0012-835X