Help with substance abuse

The instruction belongs to the following themes

By selecting a degree programme you are able to see the general content as well as the possible degree programme-specific content. You do not have to select a degree programme to see the Open University's instructions.

Substance abuse can have a strong effect on your general well-being and ability to study. You should seek help for substance abuse problems at an early stage.  In this instruction page you can find instances that help and support you in case of substance abuse and addiction. You can also find information of how substance abuse problems are handled at the University.

Where to get help?

FSHS recommends seeking urgent help from healthcare services if 

  • You have problems, such as sleeplessness, nervousness, anxiety or depression, that you have tried to resolve by using alcohol
  • You are unable to control your alcohol use by yourself
  • You are thinking that your alcohol use has already caused you physical health issues.

For professional help from healthcare services, please contact the following:

You can also find information about intoxicants and addictions, tests, and contact information for parties providing help from the following websites:

The University of Helsinki substance abuse programme

The University of Helsinki substance abuse programme for students aims to prevent the negative impact on studies caused by substance abuse as well as to provide guidance in and address issues when intoxicants affect study success and coping with studies. The aim of the University’s substance abuse programme is to emphasise prevention, recognition, guidance and early intervention.

This substance abuse programme for students has been drawn up in collaboration with the Finnish Student Health Service (FSHS) and the Student Union of the University of Helsinki (HYY) and is based on the substance abuse programme drawn up in 2019 under the coordination of Universities Finland (UNIFI).

The term ‘substance’ is used to refer to alcohol, drugs and prescription medication used with narcotic or intoxicating intent.

The aim of the University of Helsinki substance abuse programme is to

  • Promote the ability to study and work
  • Promote students' health and wellbeing
  • Prevent substance abuse issues
  • Present procedures to address students’ substance abuse problems and referral to treatment

The University of Helsinki substance abuse programme emphasises preventive activities and early support of students. The substance abuse programme promotes the maintenance of a safe study and work environment. In addition to preventive activities, the substance abuse programme presents instructions on how to act when encountering substance abuse problems and concomitant inappropriate behaviour. The substance abuse programme also provides information related to the consequences of attending studies or a traineeship under the influence of intoxicants or while behaving inappropriately.

According to subsection 3 of section 43 d of the Universities Act (558/2009), “the university must have written guidelines drawn up in cooperation with the student healthcare officials for preventing the use of narcotics by students and for intervening in drug problems” in order to have the right to demand a drug test certificate in situations referred to in the Universities Act. This programme contains the guidelines referred to in the Act.


As a student, you are responsible for your own study ability. As a university community, the University of Helsinki wishes to provide a safe study environment where substance abuse that has a negative impact on studies and teaching is prevented. This also means that issues are addressed when the need arises and students are referred on in problem situations.

The safety of the study environment means, for example, that no one participates in teaching or a traineeship or enters study facilities under the influence of intoxicants.

It is part of a study culture that is safe and takes others into account that, from the very beginning of studies, consideration is given to what is reasonable use of intoxicating substances. For example, in tutoring and other study community activities, attention should be paid to making sure that serving intoxicating substances does not develop into an intrinsic part of the group's activities. This also means that an alcohol-free option is always available and no one is pressured into using intoxicants on purpose, inadvertently, or, for example, by appealing to traditions.

The University communicates to new students and tutors about the substance abuse programme annually and the University’s wellbeing group (on the Flamma intranet) monitors the implementation of the substance abuse programme as well as the general wellbeing of students regularly through various feedback channels.

At the start of their studies, each student will be appointed a teacher tutor or equivalent individual performing the same duties under some other title. The teacher tutor is the student's support person for questions relating to the progress of his or her studies and for guiding the student in preparing their Personal Study Plan (PSP). Issues related to the coping, wellbeing and substance use of a student may arise during personal guidance. Teacher tutors will also be informed about the substance abuse programme and they will receive guidelines for addressing problems and referring students on.

At the University of Helsinki, the heads of academic affairs serve as substance abuse contact persons. They are tasked with giving advice and supporting students in addressing substance abuse problems and carrying out early intervention according to the guidelines presented in this substance abuse programme. The University’s heads of academic affairs (hereinafter substance abuse contact persons) will be trained in early-intervention discussions related to substance abuse problems, and teaching staff (teacher tutors, in particular) will be informed about how to refer students for treatment especially when the substance abuse of a student becomes evident in a supervision situation.

Guidelines related to more responsible use of alcohol at student community events

Principles for a safer place will be promoted at University events and student events organised by the University and the aim is to prevent substance abuse situations with concrete measures:  

  • The start and end time of the event is clearly communicated.
  • It is ensured that there is a varied and sufficient selection of alcohol-free drinks available.
  • Only mild alcoholic beverages are served at the event.
  • There is enough food and snacks served during the event.
  • It is ensured that alcohol is served in clear servings, so that the participants can remain aware of how much they have drunk.
  • The number of servings offered to participants will be limited.
  • Event organisers are trained in the responsible service of alcohol guidelines.
  • Serving alcohol to intoxicated individuals is not permitted.

Principles for a safer space

The aim is to take into account the principles for a safer space at student community events and facilities. There are many versions of principles for a safer space and one version is available on the University of Helsinki’s Student Union wikipages (in Finnish only). You can also take a look at the guidelines for safer space of the Guidance corner. The guidelines provide advice on planning events and provide instructions on addressing inappropriate behaviour. 

Recognising a substance abuse problem

A substance abuse problem refers to situations where the effect of alcohol or some other intoxicant threatens or hinders studies, traineeships related to studies, study ability and safety or the study atmosphere. Substance abuse may be apparent in appearing drunk or hungover, the smell of alcohol, or some other sign of substance use. If problems stemming from substance abuse during leisure time become evident in studies or a student attends studies while either drunk or hungover, guidelines presented in the substance abuse programme will be followed.

Substance abuse may be an underlying factor in many kinds of adverse behaviours as well as issues with life management and the ability to function, such as recurring short absences, tardiness or lowered academic performance. The FSHS aims to identify substance abuse in the first-year students’ health survey and provide help.

Intervening in substance abuse

When a student is found to have a substance abuse problem, the staff will make an effort to intervene as early as possible. The primary objective of the substance abuse intervention and the early intervention discussion is to support the student in their studies. In all situations, care must be taken to ensure that the legal protection of those involved is not violated. Depending on the situation, substance abuse problem intervention can take place, for example, in the following ways:

An early intervention discussion is the primary measure when a student’s substance abuse raises concern. An early intervention discussion should take place in an open atmosphere and the sensitive nature of a substance abuse problem must be taken into consideration. Early intervention discussions are always conducted one on one. A student’s substance use may not be discussed in a group or with other students present. The aim of the discussion is to express concern about the student's substance use and its impact on their studies and wellbeing. In these situations, the discussion itself can be considered early intervention but the situation should be reassessed within a couple of weeks by again asking the student how they are doing. During the early intervention discussion, it should always be suggested that the student contact an FSHS doctor for an assessment of the overall situation.

If substance abuse has clearly affected the student's study performance, endangered safety or, in a serious manner, the student’s own health, or the student’s drug use is at dependency level, the substance abuse contact person will organise a treatment referral negotiation for the student.

The treatment referral negotiation will be attended by 1) the student, 2) a representative of the FSHS, 3) a representative or representatives of the University/faculty (e.g., teacher or substance abuse contact person) and, when necessary, the student’s support person.

The aim of the treatment referral negotiation is to make the student understand the need for treatment as well as to seek it, and to ensure that appropriate treatment is available. The student is responsible for committing to treatment and the healthcare unit is responsible for the treatment. The University cannot assume responsibility for the treatment of the student and it does not have a right to gain information about the student’s treatment without legal grounds.

When a student’s behaviour causes disruption to teaching or endangers the safety of the study environment, the University may use the disciplinary measures that are described in the following chapter.


“When there are justifiable grounds to suspect that the student has a drug addiction, or is under the influence of drugs while in practical training or while performing practical tasks relating to studies”, the University “may oblige a student to present a drug test certificate” (section 43 d of the Universities Act).

When a student’s behaviour causes disruption to teaching or endangers the safety of the study environment, the University may use the following disciplinary measures (section 45 of the Universities Act):

  • Remove the student from the teaching situation
  • Revoke the right to study for three days
  • Give a written warning or
  • Suspend the student for a fixed term
  • The University may also revoke the student's right to study in situations referred to in so-called SORA legislation.

You can read more about these procedures from the appended University of Helsinki substance abuse programme for students. The PDF file also includes forms related to disciplinary sanctions.

Data processing and confidentiality

A student’s personal health data are also processed when dealing with a substance abuse problem. The regulation states that “data concerning health" means personal data related to the physical or mental health of a natural person, including the provision of healthcare services, which reveal information about his or her health status.

. Students’ personal data with regard to their health status and functional capacity in processes related to the granting, revocation and reinstatement of rights to study and disciplinary measures may be processed only by individuals who prepare or make decisions on admission, on revocation or reinstatement of the right to study, or on disciplinary action or by those who issue statements on these matters. Moreover, an individual in the service of the University as well as elected officials must not disclose confidential information obtained in the service of the University.

Responsibilities and duties

The various active bodies of the University’s substance abuse programme and their respective duties related to prevention and acting on substance abuse situations are presented below

It is the responsibility of students to

  • Arrive for studies in a state appropriate for studying
  • Promote a safe and responsible substance use culture through their own actions
  • Seek help for their substance abuse problems

It is the responsibility of the party supervising the student/teacher tutor to

  • Intervene without delay in the reduced study ability of a student and in substance abuse situations with an early intervention discussion
  • When needed, refer the student to student healthcare services

It is the responsibility of peer tutors to

  • Take into account that only some students use alcohol and that alcohol-free environments are preferred at events. The University provides tutors with enough training on group supervision and on a responsible substance use culture in the student community. Getting to know people is facilitated through goal-oriented exercises, not intoxication.
  • Promote the Student Union’s and the University’s principles for a safer space and their implementation in student communities and student events:

It is the responsibility of the substance abuse contact person to

  • Ensure that the serving of alcohol at faculty events is done responsibly (see section 1.1)
  • Communicate and distribute information on the University of Helsinki’s substance abuse programme for students (guidelines are centrally provided for the Instructions for Students and the Instructions for Teaching websites)
  • Cooperate with student healthcare services to prevent substance abuse problems
  • Map the status of substance abuse issues at the faculty and draw up a summary of the situation if, for example, the educational institution or first-year student surveys so demand
  • Intervene without delay in the reduced study ability of a student and in substance abuse situations with an early intervention discussion
  • When needed, refer the student to student healthcare services
  • Arrange with healthcare services (usually the FSHS) the practicalities of drug testing

It is the responsibility of the Student Union to

  • Ensure that there is always an alcohol-free alternative available at Student Union events and promote the principles for a safer space at events
  • Aim to prevent problems caused by substance abuse

It is the responsibility of student healthcare services to

  • Support the substance-free life of students and the prevention of substance abuse
  • Participate in the meetings of the wellbeing group/substance abuse contact persons and the implementation of training related to the prevention of substance abuse problems
  • Provide information related to the effects of substance abuse on health and study ability in conjunction with health checks and appointments
  • Highlight issues promoting a substance-free lifestyle and health at wellbeing events and on its website
  • Aim to identify detrimental substance abuse in the first-year students’ health survey and by actively addressing substance use during appointments
  • Screen for alcohol abuse with the AUDIT test and provide guidance and advice to users at risk
  • Guide substance-addicted students to services responsible for substance abuse treatment
  • Participate as an invited party to treatment referral negotiations
  • Support the substance abuse rehabilitee’s return to studies

It is the responsibility of the University's wellbeing group/ faculty to

  • Promote a substance-free study environment and the responsible use of alcohol
  • Regularly communicate and distribute information about the University of Helsinki’s substance abuse programme for students every academic year (Guidance Coordination Services provides the guidelines for the Instructions for Students and Instructions for Teaching websites as well as for tutor training, etc.)
  • Plan substance abuse prevention
  • Agree on shared operating methods and handling of other issues related to wellbeing
  • The wellbeing group will monitor the substance abuse situation at the University/faculties.
  • The university/faculty must ensure sufficient training and support resources in order for the parties/teacher tutors to be able to engage in early intervention discussions and/or refer students to support services.
  • Clearly define the/those University party(ies) (dean and substance abuse contact person or their deputies) who can compel the student to present a drug test certificate.