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Prevalence and association of perceived stress, substance use and behavioral addictions: a cross-sectional study among university students in France, 2009–2011

Marie Pierre Tavolacci12*, Joel Ladner23, Sebastien Grigioni24, Laure Richard4, Herve Villet5 and Pierre Dechelotte24

Author Affiliations

1 Rouen University Hospital, Clinical Investigation Center CIC 0204, 1 Rue de Germont, Rouen Cedex 76031, France

2 Inserm, U1073, Rouen University Hospital, Rouen, France

3 Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Rouen University Hospital, Rouen, France

4 Department of Nutrition, Rouen University Hospital, Rouen, France

5 Regional Observatory of Health, Rouen, France

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:724  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-724

Published: 6 August 2013



University students face multiple stressors such as academic overload, constant pressure to succeed, competition with peers as well as concerns about the future. Stress should not be considered on its own, but should be associated with potential risk behaviors leading to onset of substance use and related problems heightened during the university period. The aim of this study was to determine the prevalence of main substance use and behavioral addictions among students in higher education in France and to examine the relationship with perceived stress.


A self-administered questionnaire was filled out by university student volunteers from Upper Normandy (France) either by anonymous online questionnaire or by paper questionnaire. Data collected included socio-economic characteristics, Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), substance use (tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis) and hazardous behaviors: alcohol abuse problems, smoking, consumption of cannabis, eating disorders, and cyber addiction.


A total of 1876 students were included. Mean PSS score was 15.9 (standard deviation = 7.2). Highly stressed students (4th quartile) were compared with lesser stressed students (1st quartile). A positive relation was observed between female gender, regular smokers, alcohol abuse problems, risk of cyberaddiction and especially eating disorders (AOR = 5.45, 95% CI = 3.42-8.69), and increasing PSS score. PSS score however, was not significantly related to the curriculum, regular alcohol use, drunkenness or binge drinking even after additional controlling for use of other substances. We found a significant negative association between stress and practice of sport: students with the most physical activity were less likely to report perceived stress (4th quartile: AOR = 0.57, 95% CI = 0.39-0.80).


This cross-sectional study among university students in France revealed that perceived stress was associated not only with known risks such as alcohol misuse, but also with new risks such as eating disorders and cyber addiction. These results could help to develop preventive interventions focussing on these risk behaviors and subsequently improving stress coping capacity in this high-risk population.