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Teenage drug use falls steeply in a decade

Smoking, drinking and alcohol use by 11-15s all decreased since 2001

Louise Prime

Friday, 27 July 2012

The proportion of schoolchildren who use illegal drugs has fallen sharply over the past decade, the number of 11-15 year olds who have ever smoked is at its lowest since 1982, and the number of regular smokers has halved in a decade, show official figures. The survey, conducted in 219 secondary schools in England in the autumn term of 2011, also found that the number of children drinking regularly has plummeted.

About 6500 schoolchildren were surveyed at the end of 2011 about their smoking, drinking and drug use, and the Health and Social Care Information Centre has now published its report of the results.

In 2001, 29% of 11-15-year-old children said they had ever taken drugs, compared with 17% in the latest survey.

The proportion who said they had taken drugs in the past 12 months has fallen every year since the survey began a decade ago. In 2001, 39% of 15 year olds had used drugs in the previous year, compared with 23% of 15 year olds – and 3% of 11 year olds – in 2011.

Cannabis was the most common drug to have been used, and friends were the most commonly reported source of the most recent lot of drugs taken. Drug use was more widespread in the south than in the north of England and Midlands.

A quarter of pupils said they had ever smoked, which is the lowest proportion since these surveys began in 1982. Only 5% were ‘regular’ smokers, having at least one cigarette a week, compared with 10% in 2001. But again this varied by region, from 7% in the north-east to 3% in London. Girls were twice as likely as boys to be regular smokers.

Almost half (45%) of the pupils surveyed said they had ever drunk alcohol, down from 61% a decade ago – and the proportion who were drinking at least once a week had plummeted from 20% in 2001 to 7% in 2011.

Children were also questioned about their attitudes to smoking, drinking and drug use. The report’s authors said: “Pupils were most likely to think that it was okay for someone their age to drink alcohol, with 58% of pupils saying it was okay to drink alcohol to see what it was like. Smoking was less acceptable and drug taking was least acceptable, with relatively small proportions thinking it was okay for someone of their age to try cannabis (9%), glue (7%) or cocaine (2%).”

Parents, teachers and TV were the children’s most commonly mentioned sources of useful information about smoking, drinking alcohol and drug use.

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