The latest figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) include both positive and worrying data. The level of drug abuse among young people in the UK in 2013 was similar to the previous few years but less than it was in 2001. Sixteen per cent of 11 to 15 year olds admit to having tried drugs at least once, while six per cent of them say this has happened within the last month.
A Close Look at the HSCIC Statistics
The HSCIC statistics actually come from a number of different sources including the National Foundation for Educational Research and NatCen Social Research. These reports are issued yearly, and the questions asked tend to alternate between a focus on drugs or cigarettes (although information on both is collected). In 2013, the HSCIS statistics focused mostly on drugs; here are some of the most important trends that came from the data:
- 16% of kids in school grades 7 to 11 have used illegal drugs
- there has been a significant reduction in the number of 11 to 15 year olds who have smoked a cigarette in the last week – it is down to 22% from 42% in 2013
- 39% of 11 to 15 year olds have drank alcohol
- 72% of 15 year olds have tried alcohol
- girls and boys are almost even when it comes to statistics for trying alcohol
- 53% of 11 to 15 year olds believe it is okay for people their age to drink alcohol
- 9% thought it was okay for them to smoke cannabis.
What to Make of the HSCIC Statistics
The fact that far few kids are experimenting with cigarettes than in the past is good news, but this seems to be just a reflection of what is happening in society as a whole. This habit is no longer viewed as ‘cool’ and ‘rebellious’. Overall, the attitude towards alcohol and drug abuse seems to be unchanged, which is a huge concern given the fact that it is young people who tend to be most at risk from these substance. It is also the case that young people who use alcohol are far more likely to become addicted later.
Alcohol is far more acceptable among teenagers than illegal drugs is, with over half of them believing it was okay to drink, even though alcohol is a drug and it is illegal for them to be drinking it. The reality is that alcohol causes more problems than all the illegal drugs combined, so it is definitely worrying that young people view it as relatively harmless. More needs to be done to get the message to young people that it is not okay to drink alcohol.
Most adults can try to downplay the seriousness of alcohol or drug use among young people by saying that it is just a rite of passage and something ‘we all do’. This attitude ignores the fact that kids who use these substances are in real danger because:
- it can interfere with mental and physical development during the crucial adolescence years
- substance abuse is closely related to teenage suicide
- it can cause people to perform badly in school, which will impact their future opportunities in life
- the younger people are when they begin using alcohol or drugs, the more likely they are to develop problems later on
- it can encourage undesirable behaviours such as underage sex leading to unplanned pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases
- it puts young people in high risk situations
- people who use alcohol or drugs are not able to make good decisions while under the influence
- it often leads to criminal behaviour
- substance abuse can lead to mental health problems.