One in 10 UK Teens 'Tried Hard Drugs'

Pavankumar Kamat

February 12, 2021

A new study on rates of drug use among British teenagers found 1 in 10 tried harder drugs by age 17. The findings were published in a briefing paper by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the UCL Social Research Institute.

Researchers analysed data from the Millennium Cohort Study, a nationally representative sample of teenagers born during 2000-2002. Participants of age 17 years were asked about drug use, alcohol consumption, smoking and antisocial behaviours.

Thirty-one per cent of young individuals reported having tried cannabis and 10 per cent said they had tried harder drugs, including cocaine, ecstasy and ketamine by 17 years of age. Fifty-three per cent reported binge drinking (five or more drinks at a time), and 9 per cent reported doing this quite often (10 or more times in the past year). Forty-five per cent reported having tried smoking, and 12 per cent of the 17-year-olds were regular smokers.

There were variations in drug and alcohol use according to sex, education level of parents and ethnicity. Boys were more likely than girls to use cannabis (34% vs 28%), use harder drugs (12% vs 8%) and binge drink (56% vs 51%). Children of highly educated parents versus those having less-educated parents had a higher likelihood of having tried alcohol (89% vs 82%) and engaged in binge drinking (59% vs 50%). Teenagers of White ethnicity versus ethnic minority teens were more likely to use harder drugs (11% vs 5%) and binge drink (59% vs 21%).

Assaultive behaviours reduced from 32 per cent in 14-year-olds to 25 per cent in 17-year-olds, whereas the vandalism, graffitiing and use of a weapon were similarly practised at both ages. Reports of shoplifting rose from 4 per cent in early adolescence to 7 per cent later on.

Prof Emla Fitzsimons who co-authored the study said in the University’s press release: “To some extent, experimental and risk-taking behaviours are an expected part of growing up and, for many, will subside in early adulthood. Nevertheless, behaviours in adolescence can be a cause for concern as they can have adverse long-term consequences for individuals’ health and wellbeing, and their social and economic outcomes.”


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