Objective: This study investigated if there was a significant relationship between physical abuse during childhood and experiencing psychological distress and substance abuse among university students.
Methods: This cross-sectional study utilized a questionnaire to collect retrospective data from 382 university students (103 males and 279 females) about their substance use patterns, level of psychological distress and their exposure to physical abuse. The data were then analysed using bivariate statistics.
Results: Most (61.8%) participants met the criteria for being physically abused, however, only 27.2% recognized the experience as abuse. Another 38.9% of the students reported moderate to severe psychological distress. There was a significant relationship between being physically abused and experiencing higher levels of psychological distress (p < 0.001). Cannabis was the most frequently utilized illicit drug (10.3%) while alcohol was the most frequently utilized licit drug (37.4%). Drug abuse was found to be significantly associated with being physically abused during childhood (p < 0.05).
Conclusion: Even though the results obtained are not generalizable, this study has provided important preliminary information, that experiencing physical abuse increases the likelihood of having higher levels of psychological distress and becoming a substance abuser during adulthood; thereby identifying an overlooked area to target anti-drug use interventions.