A Qualitative Study of Drivers of Psychoactive Substance Use among Mekelle University Students, Northern Ethiopia



Psychoactive substance (PS) use is a public health concern among University students. Understanding the factors underlay the use helps to underpin effective preventive interventions. However, there is dearth of exploratory studies on the drivers of psychoactive substance use in Ethiopian universities. Here, we aimed to explore the drivers for psychoactive substance use among Mekelle University undergraduate students.


Exploratory qualitative study was conducted from April 1 to May 30, 2017. We conducted five focus group discussions (FGDs) and eleven in-depth interviews (IDIs) with students, proctors and bar owners. We also conducted three round interviews within two weeks interval with each of four key-informant researchers (KIR). Participants were selected purposively and the investigators conducted the discussions and the interviews using semi-structured guides. Data were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and imported into qualitative data analysis software for coding and analysis. An inductive approach was applied to crystalize non-repetitive emerging themes overarching the drivers for psychoactive substance use among university students.


The following themes emerged as drivers for psychoactive substance use among University students; (1)feeling helpless following detachment from family, (2) prior experience with substances, (3) socialization reasons, (4) low academic performance, (5) physical environment (explained by easy access to substance and limited recreational alternatives), and (6) sub-optimal organizational support.


Multiple drivers that range from individual to structural levels are involved in university student’s use of psychoactive substances, with socialization process at the center of the factors. Thus, the study appeals for a range of multifaceted interventions directed to the individual, interpersonal and organizational level factors.

Kahsay et al. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy (2019) 14:11 https://doi.org/10.1186/s13011-018-0190-1
Publication Date
Research Language