Moving away from home and living independently may provide you with the freedom and opportunity to experiment with alcohol and/or recreational drugs. For many people, this is part of university life but it’s really important that you are able to make informed choices about alcohol and drug use, understand the risks and know how to get help if drug or alcohol misuse becomes a problem.  

These pages look at some of the substances you might encounter, explains what is legal and illegal in the UK and tells you where you can get information, help and support for your alcohol or drug use.

Alcohol info


In the UK the legal age for purchasing alcohol is 18. When buying alcohol, you will need a valid form of identification to prove your age, such as a driving license or passport. Many London bars and retailers operate a “challenge 25” policy. So, if you appear to be under the age of 25 to the person serving you, you can expect to be asked for ID.

Drinking alcohol is an accepted part of social life for many people in the UK, although more and more people are choosing not to consume alcohol, or significantly reduce their intake for health or personal reasons. If you do choose to drink alcohol there are short and long-term health risks associated with excessive drinking and binge drinking. If you want to check how much alcohol you are consuming, there are a number of handy self-assessment tools you can use. The Drinkaware tool helps you understand the health risks associated with the amount of alcohol you currently consume - give it a go!

Want to change the way you drink?

Drinkaware have a free app that helps you to track your alcohol consumption and exoenditure. It also calculates your weekly units and helps you to set goals to moderate and change your drinking behaviour. Find out more and download the app.

Coping with university drinking culture

The drinking culture at university is often seen as just another part of the social side of student life. But for many new students, the glorification of drinking can be one of the biggest concerns about going to university in the first place, and understandably so. However… it’s an interesting fact that an increasing number of students choose to abstain from alcohol, with a 2018 National Union of Students survey finding that 1 in 5 students are teetotal (don’t drink alcohol at all).

Although it can feel like there is enormous pressure to take part in the drinking culture at uni, there are lots of opportunities to get involved in activities that don’t centre around alcohol or are completely alcohol free.

The Union run events and activities that are alcohol-free – especially during Welcome. You can join a club or society that focuses on one of your hobbies or interests and you can encourage your friends to take part in social activities that don’t involve drinking. If you want to dance like your life depends on it but without the pressure of drink or drugs, a quick internet search for “sober raves” will give you a host of options for alcohol free events across London.

If you are heading out for the night and you plan to drink, there are a couple of simple things that you can do to stay in control and ensure that you have a great time.

  • Have a meal before you go out and grab some snacks between drinks. This can help slow down the absorption of alcohol, helping you stay in control 
  • Sip a glass of water between drinks to stay hydrated and slow down your alcohol consumption over the course of the night – or even better, alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks
  • If you are heading round to a friend’s for pre-drinks, try and avoid drinking too much too quickly as this can really have an impact later on in the evening

Drug info

Recreational drugs

Recreational drugs and psychoactive substances are chemicals that are used to alter a person’s state of mind. There are many reasons why people take drugs; to party and for fun is one reason but some people take recreational drugs to self-medicate in order to help them cope with difficulties like anxiety or depression. It’s helpful to understand the risks associated with taking drugs so that you can make informed decisions about their use.

Be in the know

It is illegal to consume, produce, supply or possess most recreational drugs and psychoactive substances in the UK. If you are from another country, the laws around drugs in the UK may be different to what you are used to at home. The penalties if you are caught can be significant and may have an impact on your life in the future. Check out Talk to Frank for detailed information about recreational drugs and the penalties associated with possession and consumption.

The quality and composition of recreational drugs is completely unknown and there is a real risk that you are taking something that is contaminated or has been mis-sold to you as something else. Like alcohol, there are short and long-term health risks associated with taking drugs.


If you or a friend experience a bad reaction after taking an illegal substance it is really important that you seek medical advice immediately. Dial 111 for medical advice if you are concerned or if it is an emergency dial 999 for emergency health services.

Blurry brain shape made out of pills

Study drugs at university

‘Study drugs’ or ‘Smart drugs’ are terms used to describe prescription drugs that are misused by people because of the perception that they aid concertation and enhance performance. When prescribed, these drugs are used to treat conditions like ADHD, ADD or narcolepsy.

Like other drugs, they have varying side effects which can include skin reactions, insomnia, psychiatric disorders and reducing the effectiveness of hormonal contraceptives. The NHS has analysed research from several universities that indicates the commonly used study drug, Modafinil, does not enhance performance or concentration. Read more about this study here.

The use or ‘study’ or ‘smart’ drugs can seem tempting, however there is no evidence that these substances enhance performance. It’s important to know that the sale and use of these drugs without a prescription is illegal in the UK.

Getting help info

Getting help with your alcohol or drug use

If you’re worried about your alcohol or drug use, help is available. You can receive support and treatment for alcohol and drug addiction through the NHS. Find a local service near you:

Your doctor is a good place to start if you’re looking for support and they can help refer you to specialist services. If you’re not ready to speak to a medical professional or specialist service, you can talk to an advisor at the Imperial College Union Advice Centre who can offer you confidential, impartial advice. You can also talk to staff in your department or staff in your hall.

Frequently asked questions

If you’re concerned about the amount you are drinking, there are lots of online tools that can help you monitor your alcohol consumption and help you cut down on your drinking:

If you’re worried you might have a serious dependency or problem with alcohol, you should talk to your doctor for professional medical support. You can also talk to an advisor at the Imperial College Union Advice Centre who can help you access specialist support.

The College has a Student Alcohol and Substance Misuse Policy that sets out the responsibilities of students, department staff and student services. The Policy outlines that students must not bring or use illegal substances on College premises under any circumstances.

However, if you do have a problem with drug or alcohol misuse, the College will support you in accessing professional help and advice.

There are lots of substances that are classified as illegal in the UK with a range of different penalties, depending on the circumstances, amount and intended use of drug you possess. The UK’s drug information site, Talk to Frank, has a list of substances and their classification under UK law on their website. DrugWise also details the background behind UK drug laws on their website.


‘Legal highs’ is a misleading term that describes a range of drugs that replicate the effects of common recreational drugs. They are also known as ‘New Psychoactive Substances’. These drugs now fall under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 which means their production, supply and possession are illegal in the UK. For more information visit DrugWise.

If you’re worried about your friend’s drug and/or alcohol use, you might find it helpful to sensitively let them know your concerns. It can be tricky to start a conversation, but we have some advice on how to approach these situations which you can view here. If you are seriously concerned about a friend’s wellbeing or safety then it’s important that you tell someone. Information about  who to contact and what happens next is available here.

It’s important to remember that you are not responsible for your friend’s difficulties and expert help is available. The most effective thing you can do is signpost your friend to one or more of the specialist support services listed on this page and be sure to look after yourself as well.