This study examined the prevalence of illegal drug use in UK students and motivators behind such behaviour. Additionally, we explored possible relationships between substance use, psychosocial motivators, and psychiatric distress. N=543 students completed online measures of substance use, anxiety, depression, perceived stress, insomnia. A series of reasons behind their use were ranked based on importance. Reported cannabis, cocaine, nitrous oxide, ketamine and MDMA use were most prevalent based on lifetime, past year, and month assessments. The experience of anxiety, depression, perceived stress, and insomnia were related to increased reports of substance use. Poor self-confidence and self-medication were key motivators of illicit drug use in those presenting greater psychiatric distress. These outcomes add to the sparse body of literature concerning illicit substance use in relation to psychiatric distress amongst UK students. Furthermore, we provided novel insight into the psychosocial motivators of such use.