Skip to main content

Pupils who have recently smoked, drunk alcohol and taken drugs are more likely to be ‘unhappy’ according to new report

New figures revealed by NHS Digital showed 51% of young people aged 11 to 15 who had recently drunk alcohol, smoked cigarettes and taken drugs experienced low levels of happiness.
News type:
Press releases

New figures revealed by NHS Digital showed 51% of young people aged 11 to 15 who had recently2 drunk alcohol, smoked cigarettes and taken drugs experienced low levels of happiness3. This is compared to 36% who had recently done just one of these things, and 22% who hadn’t recently smoked, drank or taken drugs.

According to the Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People 2018 report, 2% of pupils had recently smoked, drunk alcohol and taken drugs, 11% had done only one of these recent behaviours, with 84% having done none of these things.

The number of pupils that reported having ever smoked dropped from 19% in 2016, to 16% in this survey. This is the lowest rate recorded in the survey and marks a continuing decline from 49% in 1996.

In 2018,17% of pupils said that they usually drank alcohol at least once a month with 6% saying they drank at least once a week.

Drinking alcohol varies with age, with 38% of 15-year-olds saying they usually drank once a month, compared to 2% of 11-year-olds. While 14% of 15-year-olds said they usually drink every week, just 1% of 11-year-olds said the same.

Other statistics included in the report revealed:

  • Pupils from more affluent families were more likely to have drunk alcohol in the last week:13% of pupils from the most affluent families compared to 7% from the least affluent families4.
  • Just under half (47%) of 15-year-olds thought it was okay to drink alcohol once a week, while 19% thought it was okay to get drunk once a week.
  • The proportion of current smokers (5% of all pupils were current smokers), who said they managed to buy cigarettes from shops fell from 46% in 2014 to 23% in 20185.
  • A quarter of pupils (25%) reported they had ever used e-cigarettes, the same as in 2016. Regular e-cigarette use was 6% in 2018.
  • 24% admitted to having ever taken drugs, the same as the previous survey in 2016. This ranged from 38% of all 15-year-olds to 9% of 11-year-olds. Data prior to 2016 is not comparable due to a change in methodology.
  • In the past year 8% of pupils had taken cannabis, while 3% admitted to taking a Class A drug and 1% said they had taken a new psychoactive substance (previously known as legal highs).
  • 13% of children thought it was okay to try cannabis to see what it was like. This increased to 30% among 15-year olds.


Read the full report

Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People, 2018

Notes to editors

  1. ‘Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England’ is a biennial survey of secondary school pupils. The survey is conducted by Ipsos Mori, under exam conditions. In 2018, 13,664 year 7 to 11 pupils were surveyed from 193 schools across England, primarily about their experience of smoking, drinking and drug use.
  2. Recently means smoked in the last week, drank alcohol in the last week, or took drugs in the last month.
  3. Pupils were asked how happy they felt on the day prior to taking the survey.
  4. See Appendix C of the report for the family affluence scoring methodology.
  5. The display of tobacco products in all shops has been prohibited since 2015.​

NHS Digital is the national information and technology partner of 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 2018/19 financial year, NHS Digital published 265 statistical reports. Our vision is to harness the power of information and technology to make health and care better.

For media enquiries please contact or telephone 0300 30 33 888. Follow us on Twitter: @NHSDigital

Share this page

Contact us

Media enquiries
Last edited: 19 August 2019 1:08 pm