Full-time university students in the US are more likely to be heavy drinkers than young adults who aren't enrolled in college, according to a new federal report.

But they're no more likely to experiment with other drugs, including marijuana, than other people their age. And college students are far less likely to smoke cigarettes than other young adults.

Those findings come from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), using data from the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

The survey found that roughly 59.8 per cent of full-time college students aged 18 to 22 drank at least monthly, compared to 51.5 per cent of young adults not in college.


More strikingly, while only 17.9 per cent of university students smoked cigarettes in the past month, a whopping 32.6 per cent of young adults not in college were past-month cigarette smokers.

Full-time students were more likely than non-students to perceive a "great risk of harm" from heavy cigarette use (72.5 per cent versus 62.7 per cent) and daily binge drinking (63.9 per cent versus 55.3 per cent). But the perceived risk of harm in regular marijuana use was about the same in both groups - 17.9 per cent among college students, 16.7 per cent among non-students.

Public health researchers have traditionally maintained that attitudes among teens and young adults about the risk of using various substances predict the actual use of those substances.

"Youths who perceive high risk of harm are less likely to use drugs than youths who perceive low risk of harm," as the SAMHSA report's authors put it.

But researchers are finding more and more that this seemingly ironclad relationship doesn't always hold true. In the SAMHSA study, college kids were more likely than non-students to say that binge drinking is risky, but they were also more likely to do it anyway.

Other recent studies have shown that teenagers have become less likely to use marijuana over the past decade. But over the same period, they've also become less likely to say that there's a great risk of harm with frequent marijuana use.

Among the college students in the SAMHSA study, attitudes towards marijuana use have seen the biggest shift in the past decade.

In 2004, 37.5 per cent of full-time college students saw "great risk" in using marijuana regularly. By 2014, that number had fallen by more than half, to 17.9 per cent.

Attitudes about the risk of drinking, smoking cigarettes or doing other drugs have remained fairly static over the same time period.