Skip to main content
Creating a new NHS England: NHS England and NHS Digital merged on 1 February 2023. All references to NHS Digital now, or in the future, relate to NHS England. More about the merger.

Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England

This survey helps central and local government to better understand young people's behaviours and to develop policies, plan services and new initiatives and to monitor and evaluate their impact.

About the survey

One of the ways the survey findings are used is to shape services and regulation that help to support and protect young people, including recent laws banning smoking in cars and plain packaging on cigarette boxes.

The SDD publication Series

The Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People publication series includes links to the latest report and all previous SDD reports published by NHS Digital.

Why we do this survey

Smoking, drinking and drug use amongst young people are key public health concerns. This survey provides vital information, which is used by central and local government to better understand these behaviours and to develop policies, plan services and new initiatives, and to monitor and evaluate their impact.

As well as being used across government departments (such as the Department of Health and Social Care, the Home Office and Department for Education) and local authorities, the data is also used by a wide variety of other organisations, including NHS England, other NHS bodies, charities and voluntary organisations. Academic institutions also use the data for research purposes.

Managing the survey

The 2016, 2018, 2021 and 2023 surveys are being carried out by Ipsos (global market research and public opinion specialist) on behalf of NHS Digital. In 2020 the survey did not go ahead due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Fieldwork for the 2023 survey will be carried out from September to December of 2023. The survey report is scheduled for autumn 2024.

Survey review

Before each survey, the methodology and information provided to participating schools and pupils is reviewed and approved by an ethics board at the National Children's Bureau (NCB).


Participants are aged between 11 and 15. For each survey, around 1 in 7 secondary schools in England is randomly chosen to take part. Nearly every type of school with pupils in years 7 to 11 is eligible for selection, and only very small schools and special schools are excluded.

What the survey involves

The survey fieldwork takes place during the autumn term and only requires a small time commitment from schools taking part. Pupils are given a self-completion questionnaire to complete in exam conditions, which takes about 40 minutes. Each stage of the short process - from agreeing to take part to the survey being completed - is organised and supported by experienced Ipsos staff.

Data collected

The survey includes information on:

  • prevalence of smoking, drinking and drug taking among school children
  • use of e-cigarettes and emerging drugs
  • types of alcohol and drugs taken
  • how often pupils smoke, drink and take drugs
  • where pupils obtain cigarettes, alcoholic drinks and drugs
  • pupils' attitudes to these behaviours
  • predictors of the likelihood of smoking, drinking and drug use among school
  • from 2018, the survey also collects some information about well-being, and the relationship to risky behaviours

What we do with the answers

The survey is completely confidential and the information is anonymous. We don't ask pupils to put their names on the questionnaire and it is not possible to identify a pupil from the published results.

Findings from the main survey are published in a report and tables which are freely available on our website. An anonymised copy of the dataset is available on the UK Data Service (UKDS) for the purposes of not-for-profit research. Access is restricted to registered users of the UKDS within UK higher education or further education, central and local government, NHS, research companies and charities.

Other researchers outside of these categories can apply to NHS Digital for permission to use the dataset. However, the purpose must be for not for profit research that would benefit the UK health and social care system or patients.

Unfortunately, due to other priorities and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic the SDD 2018 dataset is not yet available. We hope to make this available to access via UKDS in summer 2023.

Survey datasets

The anonymised Smoking Drinking and Drug Use among young people survey datasets can be accessed via the UK Data Service. Strict measures are in place regarding who can access the data and users will need to agree to the licence conditions about use. Researchers interested in accessing the datasets will need to register with UK Data Service in the first instance.

For more information about the additional restrictions applied to each survey year dataset please visit the DARS Population Health Surveys


Make sure you are receiving our latest information about SDD by subscribing to our bulletins. Manage your preferences on our bulletins subscription page.

Last edited: 29 December 2022 3:18 pm