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Publication, Part of

Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England, 2021

National statistics

National Statistics

Correction to sources of information on drug use data (part 10)

Following the initial publication it was discovered that around half of pupil responses to the question on 'Sources of helpful information about drug use' had been excluded from the results. This was corrected and the affected tables and commentary have been re-issued. 

In Part 10: Young people and drugs: the context, the affected outputs were tables 10.19, 10.20 and 10.21, and the associated chart and commentary in the section on 'Sources of helpful information about drug use'. Though some of the quoted figures changed by 0-3 percentage points, there was no effect to the order of contribution of the most common sources.

4 November 2022 00:00 AM

Part 8: Drug use prevalence and consumption

Introduction

Evidence has demonstrated immediate and long term risks to young people’s health and wellbeing associated with the use of legal and illegal drugs. These risks vary with the type of drug taken.

Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (2006): Pathways to problems.

There are particular concerns about the relationship between drug use and mental health problems among young people. For example, there is evidence to suggest that young people who use recreational drugs run the risk of damage to mental health including suicide, depression, psychotic symptoms and disruptive behaviour disorders1,2. Addressing the use of drugs, particularly amongst young people, has long been a focus of government policy due to the awareness and concern over the harms described above.

This part covers the prevalence of drug use, factors associated with drug use in the last year, and the availability and awareness of drugs.

The questionnaire covered the following drugs or types of drugs: amphetamines, cannabis, cocaine, crack, ecstasy, heroin, ketamine, LSD, magic mushrooms, mephedrone, methadone, poppers (e.g. amyl nitrite), tranquillisers, volatile substances such as gas, glue, aerosols and other solvents, new psychoactive substances (NPS), nitrous oxide and ‘other’ drugs (not obtained from a doctor or chemist).

Increase in drug prevalence since 2016

The following changes/issues have affected this part of the report, specifically drug prevalence measures relating to: ever taken drugs, taken drugs in the last year and taken drugs in the last month (tables 8.1 to 8.8):

  • NPS (previously known as legal highs), and nitrous oxide (laughing gas) were added to the list of drugs included for overall drug prevalence measures in 2016. Both are covered by the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 which restricts the production, and sale and supply of such substances. When psychoactive substances are removed from the 2016 measure, the overall drug prevalence figure (table 8.6c) falls by 3 percentage points (24.3% to 21.3%). This adjusted version is shown in the time series data in tables 8.6 to 8.8.
  • In 2016, even when accounting for the addition of NPS to the measures, there was a large and unexpected rise in overall drug use prevalence; 14.6% in 2014, to 24.3% in 2016 and 23.7% 2018. Further investigations identified that some of this change was driven by an increased likelihood of pupils not answering questions on whether they had tried individual drugs. Neither the reason for this, nor exactly how much of the change in prevalence this accounts for is clear, though some level of genuine increase is evident.

All drug prevalence measures presented in this report are directly comparable between 2016 and 2018. However, for the reasons outlined above, it is not recommended that direct comparisons are made with drug prevalence data prior to 2016. See the Data Quality Statement (Coherence and Comparability) for further details.

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1. British Medical Association, Board of Science and Education, London (2003): Adolescent Health,

2. Patton G et al (2002): Cannabis use and mental health in young people: cohort study. 

 


Pupils who have ever taken drugs

Pupils who have ever taken drugs, by year

In 2021, 18% (confidence interval 16-21%) of pupils reported they had ever taken drugs, down from 24% in 2018.

 

Pupils who have ever taken drugs, by sex and age

17% of boys and 19% of girls had ever taken drugs (not a statistically significant difference). Prevalence for boys fell from 25% in 2018. 

The likelihood of having ever taken drugs increased with age, from 7% of 11 year olds to 32% of 15 year olds. 


Pupils who have taken drugs in the last year

Pupils who have taken drugs in the last year, by year

12% (confidence interval 10-14%) of pupils said that they had taken any drugs in the last year, down from 17% in 2018.

 

Pupils who have taken drugs in the last year, by sex and age

In 2021, 11% of boys and 13% of girls had taken any drugs in the last year (not a statistically significant difference). These proportions have fallen from 18% and 16% respectively compared to 2018.

The likelihood of having taken any drugs in the last year increased with age, from 3% of 11 year olds to 24% of 15 year olds.


Pupils who have taken drugs in the last month

Pupils who have taken drugs in the last month, by year

In 2021, 6% (confidence interval 5-7%) of pupils said that they had taken any drugs in the last month, which is a fall from 9% in 2018.

 

Pupils who have taken drugs in the last month, by sex and age

Boys and girls were equally likely to have taken any drugs in the last month (6%). This has fallen from 11% for boys, and from 8% for girls compared to 2018.

The likelihood of having taken any drugs in the last month increased with age, from 2% of 11 year olds to 13% of 15 year olds.


 

Factors associated with taking drugs in the last month

A logistic regression model was used to explore which characteristics might be associated with having taken any drugs in the last month. This identifies associations, not causes; in other words, factors which identify pupils with an increased or decreased likelihood of having taken drugs in the last month. See Appendix B3 for more information on the regression model used.

The 7 factors (explanatory variables) shown below had a significant association with having taken any drugs in the last month. The size of the circles represents an estimate of the relative contribution to the model. See Appendix B3.4 for details of how this has been determined (additionally data table 8.10 shows the odds ratios for each possible value of each variable in the model).

It was estimated that being a smoker had the strongest association, followed by having a family who don't discourage drug use, and then drinking alcohol.


Whether pupils have ever been offered drugs

Pupils who had ever been offered any drugs, by age

In 2021, 31% of the pupils reported that they had been offered at least one of the drugs asked about.

Older pupils were more likely to have ever been offered drugs, rising from 12% of 11 year olds to around half of 15 year olds. This difference is likely to reflect accumulated experience, as well as the genuinely increased probability that older pupils will be offered drugs.

 

Pupils who had ever been offered drugs, by type

For this question, pupils were able to state more than one drug type.  The chart below shows only the most common responses. For the full list see data table 8.23. 

Pupils were almost twice as likely to have been offered cannabis than any other individual drug, with 17% of pupils having been offered cannabis. 9% and 8% of pupils said they'd been offered volatile substances (glue, gas, aerosols or solvents) and cocaine respectively. 


Types of drug taken

Drug types taken in last year, by year

For this question, pupils were able to state more than one drug type.  The chart below shows only the most common responses. For the full list see data table 8.6f. 

Cannabis is the drug that pupils are most likely to have taken in the last year, with 6% saying they had done so in 2021. However, this is down from 8% in 2018, and 13% in 2003.

Falls were also seen in use of nitrous oxide, volatile substances, cocaine and crack.

The proportion saying they had taken a class A drug has been around 2% to 3% since 2010.

 

Number of different drugs and type of drug taken in the last year

This analysis was based only on pupils who had taken drugs in the last year.

Among those pupils who reported any drug use in the last year, two thirds (66%) took only one type of drug. This included 34% who took cannabis only, and 15% who took volatile substances only.

34% reported taking two or more types of drug, including 20% who had taken at least one class A drug.

 

Types of drug taken in the last year, by number of occasions took drugs in the last year

This analysis was based only on pupils who had taken drugs in the last year.

Pupils who took class A drugs in the last year (including or excluding other drug types) were most likely to have taken drugs on more than 10 occasions, with 55% having done so. This compares to 17% for those who had only used volatile substances, and 21% for those who had only used cannabis.

Only 11% of class A users had taken a drug on just one occasion in the last year.

 

Early experience of drug taking

This analysis was based only on pupils who had ever taken drugs. It represents both the first occasion a pupil used drugs, and any other types of drugs used when the pupil was at that age. Pupils were able to state more than one drug type.

Drugs taken at age of first drug use

Pupils’ early experience of drug use was most likely to involve cannabis (42%) or volatile substances (39%).  10% took a class A drug at the age of first drug use.

The chart below shows only the most common responses (for the full list see data table 8.30). 

 

Drugs taken at age of first drug use, by age first took drugs

Pupils who tried drugs at an earlier age were more likely to report using volatile substances at that age; 69% of pupils who first took drugs at age 11. Pupils who first took drugs at an older age were more likely to report taking cannabis; 80% of pupils who first took drugs at age 15. 


Impact of Covid lockdowns on drug use prevalence

Drug use prevalence, by how many times pupils met people outside of home/school in the last four weeks

Prevalence for drug use in the last month was much higher for pupils who had met other people outside home/school most often over the last four weeks; 19% for pupils who had met other people every day, compared to 5% for pupils who met people once a week, and 2% for pupils who had never met other people.

 

 

Drug use prevalence, by how pupils took part in school learning during the last school year

Prevalence for drug use in the last year was higher for pupils who continued to go to school all the time during the last school year; 20% compared to 10% for pupils who studied from home all or most of the time.

The differences for drug use in the last month were not significant.

 

Estimates of drug use prevalence from other data sources

The Crime Survey for England and Wales provides information on drug use for adults aged 16 or over.  In 2019/20, around one in five adults aged 16 to 24 years had taken a drug in the last year, with no changes in last-year drug use for the majority of individual drug types.

Drug misuse: findings from the 2019 to 2020 Crime Survey for England and Wales

Estimates for Scotland are available from the Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey (SALSUS) which covers 13 and 15 year olds. It reports that in 2018, 6% of 13 year olds and 21% of 15 year olds had ever used drugs. 

Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey

Estimates from Wales are available from the Welsh government Student Health and Well-being Survey, which covers children aged 11 to 16. In 2019/20 the survey reported that 15% of young people reported having ever used drugs in their lifetime with laughing gas (nitrous oxide) and cannabis the most commonly used drugs.

Student Health and Well-being Survey

Results from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS) reported that there were 14,291 young people in contact with alcohol and drug services between April 2019 and March 2020, a 3% reduction on the number the previous year and a 42% reduction on the number in treatment since 2008 to 2009.

National Drug Treatment Monitoring System: Substance misuse treatment for young people, 2019 to 2020


Last edited: 4 November 2022 9:35 am