Understand the risks to health of substance misuse, so you can make decisions and get help if necessary.


Find out more about:

Defining substance misuse

Substance misuse indicates consumption of psychoactive and intoxicant substances, legal and illegal, at a level which is harmful and/or problematic.

The University of Sussex makes every reasonable effort to ensure that the welfare of others is not jeopardised by the misuse of alcohol or illegal substances.

The consequences of misusing drugs and alcohol are many and include:

  • temporary and permanent impaired judgment and ability
  • absenteeism
  • poor academic performance
  • dysfunctional relationships
  • serious damage to both physical and mental health.


It is important to be mindful of the risks associated with excessive alcohol intake and how to protect yourself from alcohol misuse.

Important: The legal drinking age in the UK is 18-years old. Misusing alcohol, especially in public, can be a criminal offence and can lead to arrest and prosecution. Driving under the influence of alcohol is also an offence. Find out more about alcohol and the law.

Alcohol and your studies

Attending any university teaching or course activity while under the influence of alcohol is not permitted and can lead to disciplinary or other institutional action.

You must ensure your behaviour is appropriate while you are taking part in your course and that you are not under the influence of alcohol.

Reduced alertness and impaired judgment associated with alcohol consumption can compromise your own health and safety, and that of others.

Health effects

It’s a good idea to limit your alcohol intake because drinking too much can affect you in various ways.

At the time – if you drink too much, you are more likely to take risks, including walking home alone, having unprotected sex, getting into fights or getting involved in an accident. As alcohol is a depressant, it can lower your mood further if you are already feeling upset. Binge-drinking can lead to alcohol poisoning.

The next day – you may have a hangover and have suffered from lack of sleep. You may be unable to complete your work or attend lectures. You may have no memory of the night before or have feelings of regret about things you’ve done.

Longer term – you will be more likely to gain weight. You’ll also be susceptible to various cancers, liver disease, infertility, and heart disease. Heavy drinking can affect your personal relationships, energy levels and ability to concentrate, which will have a knock-on effect on your studies.

Reducing your drinking

Here are some ways to limit the amount of harm you might experience as a result of drinking alcohol:

  • don’t drink on an empty stomach – eat before (and/or during) drinking alcohol
  • have a drink of water or soft drink to quench your thirst before you start drinking alcohol
  • ask for spirits and mixers to be served in a tall glass – your drink will last longer without adding any extra alcohol
  • alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic ones to make a good night last longer (it’ll also be cheaper)
  • avoid buying drinks in rounds, or playing drinking games, so you can drink at your own pace
  • keep your drink safe – alcohol is the most commonly used date rape drug, so keep an eye on your drinks, don’t leave them unattended and don’t accept any drinks if you didn’t watch them being poured. If you suddenly feel very drunk or out of control, ask a friend you trust to get you home and do the same for friends in the same situation
  • check in with yourself – if you feel like you’re reaching your limits then switch to soft drinks to avoid things getting worse.

When to cut back on alcohol

Consider making changes to your alcohol intake if:

  • it gets harder to stop once you have started a drinking session
  • you regularly drink more than the recommended safe limits
  • you are drinking more to get the same effects, drinking alone or drinking in the mornings to get going
  • it affects your studies, leading to difficulties in concentration, mood swings and guilt feelings
  • it affects your relationships
  • you feel anxious or tremble when you try to cut down your intake
  • if you or your friends are concerned about your drinking.

If reducing your intake is difficult to do, consider getting appropriate help; talk to a counsellor or seek medical support to manage withdrawal symptoms.

Support services

If you think you might have an alcohol problem, you should get help to stop the problem becoming worse.

If you’re concerned that you are drinking too much, you can do this quick self-assessment (Drinkaware).

University support

If you’re having problems cutting down by yourself, you can get in touch with Therapeutic Services for a session with one of our Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners or a referral into local alcohol support services.

You can also speak to a student advisor from the Student Centre about any concerns you have about your life as a student.

If you are registered at the campus Health Centre, each nurse has training in “alcohol brief intervention” so don’t be afraid to say you are concerned about your drinking and may need help.

Local support

You can get information and support from:

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Legal and easily available drugs such as caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and prescribed medications are all ways of altering mood and can be increasingly relied upon to affect and control one’s psychological state. Street drugs can be used in the same way or be seen as a lifestyle choice associated with a particular subculture.

The majority of occasional users come to no long-term harm, but some start to experience problems that can get worse as their intake increases and the consequences start to affect health and wellbeing.

This can happen in a number of ways and may vary according to your mental state. For example, a mood-altering substance may make you feel more emotionally unstable or undermine your ability to deal with a vulnerability that is already there.

There are other risks. Withdrawing from a drug you’re taking a lot of may lead to symptoms because there may be a physical dependency on the drug. Drugs can interact with each other, and with alcohol or prescribed medication, which could even be life-threatening. Illegal drugs are not quality-controlled, so it’s hard to regulate the dosage.


The possession, use, and distribution of controlled or illegal drugs may be a criminal offence that can lead to arrest and prosecution. Find out about the types of drugs and penalities.

Reporting suspected drug dealing on campus

Drug-dealing endangers the safety of our community. If you have concerns or information about drug-dealing on campus, you can report it anonymously by calling Security: 01273 678234.

Smart drugs for studying

Image and Performance Enhancing drugs (sometimes called "smart drugs") claim to help you focus or study better.

Some "smart drugs" prevent sleepiness and fatigue. The idea is that if you can stay awake to study all night, you’ll learn more. However, we know this isn’t the case. Getting good quality sleep and making sure you eat well and drink plenty of water, is actually very beneficial for the brain.

There can be unintended negative consequences of using these drugs.

Using illegal drugs, or prescription drugs that weren’t prescribed for you, is also dangerous because you can’t be sure what's in them.

You can improve your ability to study without drugs.

Reducing drug risks

The best way to stay safe when it comes to drugs is easy – don’t use them. However, for those who do decide to use drugs, there are ways to reduce the risks associated.

Find out about reducing the harms associated with drug use.

Drug testing kits

Often, drugs are mis-sold or cut with other substances, meaning they may not have the effect you were expecting. This can result in dangerous situations, especially if the drugs contain a harmful substance.

Testing drugs before using them, can help users to make informed decisions. Sussex Students’ Union provides free drug testing kits.

University support

Our Therapeutic Services team offers a confidential consultation with a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner. To book one of these sessions, register with Therapeutic Services and a member of the team will then be in touch to offer you an appointment.

You can also speak to a student advisor from the Student Centre about any concerns you have about your life as a student.

Local support

You can get information and support from:

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In the UK it is illegal to smoke in all public enclosed spaces, including workplaces. This includes vehicles which serve the public including taxis, buses and trains.

You can smoke outside or in your own home, however it’s important to know you cannot smoke in most rented accommodation.

It’s well-known smoking is bad for your health – you can get support if you want to quit smoking.

Smoking on campus

Smoking cigarettes or vaping (using electronic cigarettes) is not permitted inside University buildings.