Alcohol, illicit drug use, and other lifestyle variables, as well as stress, anxiety and personality were evaluated in 194 first year medical students. 45% of the students reported drinking above the recommended UK limits for alcohol consumption. The age at which the first full drink of alcohol was taken was predictive of the current level of alcohol use. Cannabis was the most frequently used illicit drug (45%). There were significant positive associations between alcohol consumption and experiences such as missing study, becoming more sexually involved and getting into a physical fight or argument. There were also significant positive associations between the personality characteristic of psychoticism and alcohol and illicit drug consumption. The effectiveness of current health education on alcohol and illicit drugs is questioned. Copyright (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd.