44 per cent of 11-15 year olds have ever had an alcoholic drink, survey shows

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NHS Digital1 must be quoted as the source of these figures

Regional data available within this report

2 November 2017

44 per cent of 11 to 15-year-old pupils have ever had an alcoholic drink2, 19 per cent have ever smoked cigarettes3and 24 per cent have ever taken drugs, latest estimates for 2016 published today show.

NHS Digital's Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People, England: 2016 report gathers anonymous data from 11 to 15-year-olds, which is then used by the government to monitor trends and gain a better understanding of their impact. 

In a survey conducted by Ipsos Mori, 12,051 students from 177 schools across England were asked questions under exam conditions about their lifestyles, including their experience of smoking, drinking and drug use, their consumption of cigarettes and alcohol over the previous week and their awareness and availability of specific named drugs.

Smoking estimates
Almost one in five pupils had ever smoked cigarettes - similar to 2014, but a significant fall from 1996 when 49 per cent of pupils had ever smoked.

The report shows:

•                  Girls (20 per cent) were more likely to have ever smoked than boys (18 per cent).4

•                  3 per cent of pupils were regular smokers (at least one cigarette a week).

•                  20 per cent of regular smokers were committed to giving up; they had tried in the past and said that they would still like to. However, over twice as many (44 per cent) were unconcerned about dependence on smoking; they had never tried to give up and did not want to.

•                  The proportion of pupils reporting exposure to second hand smoke in a car fell from 34 per cent in 2014, to 26 per cent in 2016. A ban on smoking in cars with under-18s present was introduced by the government in 2015.

E-Cigarette Estimates

•                  25 per cent of pupils reported that they had ever used e-cigarettes up from 22 per cent in 2014. Weekly e-cigarette usage remains low but has increased from 1 per cent to 2 per cent since 2014.

•                  E-cigarette use was strongly linked to cigarette smoking status. Most regular smokers (93 per cent) reported having ever used e-cigarettes, with 27 per cent reporting regular use. 13 per cent of non-smokers reported having ever used e-cigarettes.


Alcohol estimates
44 per cent of pupils had ever had an alcoholic drink. These results are not comparable with previous years due to a change in the questions5.

The report shows:

•                  Girls (11 per cent) were more likely than boys (7 per cent) to have been drunk in the previous four weeks.

•                  Pupils who had consumed alcohol in the last week consumed an average of 9.6 units that week.6

•                  Beer, lager and cider accounted for more than half of the units of alcohol consumed by pupils in the last week (57 per cent). These drinks made up two thirds of boys' consumption (66 per cent), compared with less than half of girls' consumption (47 per cent).

Drug use estimates
24 per cent of pupils had ever taken drugs, an increase from 15 per cent in 2014. Part of this increase may be explained by the addition of questions on Nitrous Oxide and New Psychoactive Substances. After allowing for this, however, it still represents a large increase which has not been seen in other data sources.7 Therefore, the results for drugs taking from this survey should be treated with caution and more years of data are needed to understand if this is a genuine trend.


Read the full report

1.                NHS Digital is the national information and technology partner to the health and care system. Our team of information analysis, technology and project management experts create, deliver and manage the crucial digital systems, services, products and standards upon which health and care professionals depend. During the 2016/17 financial year, NHS Digital published 292 statistical reports. Our vision is to harness the power of information and technology to make health and care better. Find out more about our role and remit at www.digital.nhs.uk

2.                Pupils were asked "Have you ever had an alcoholic drink - a whole drink, not just a sip?"

3.                Excludes e-cigarettes which are asked about separately.

4.                All pupils were asked about their cigarette smoking behaviour. Pupils were categorised in three ways based on the responses given:

                                                    i.     Regular smokers (defined as usually smoking at least one cigarette per week);

                                                   ii.     Occasional smokers (defined as usually smoking less than one cigarette per week); or

                                                  iii.     Non-smokers.

The term 'current smoker' used in this report includes regular and occasional smokers.  'Ever smoked' includes 'current smokers' plus 'ex-smokers' and those who have 'tried smoking once'.

5.                Data prior to 2016 is not comparable due to a change in the survey question.  Whilst this means the survey now gives an improved picture of the proportion of young people who have drunk alcohol, comparisons with previous years are not valid. 

6.                Quantities of alcohol were converted into units of alcohol, using a standard method described in detail in Appendix B of the 2016 report. 

7.                Other data sources considered include The Crime Survey for England and Wales (16 to 17 year olds only), Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey, 2015, Hospital Episode Statistics England 2016-17 and National Drug Treatment Monitoring System.  The reported increase for drugs in this survey applies to all demographic groups and across several different types of drugs.  Therefore, an estimate from the next survey in 2018 is needed before there can be confidence that these survey results reflect a genuine trend in the wider population. 

8.                For media enquires please contact media@nhsdigital.nhs.net or telephone 0300 30 33 888.