Home > Third ESPAD survey examines trends in alcohol and drug use among school-going children.

Sinclair, Hamish (2005) Third ESPAD survey examines trends in alcohol and drug use among school-going children. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 13, Spring 2005 , pp. 1-2.

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On 14 December 2004 the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Mr Sean Power, announced the publication of the third European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD).1 The third ESPAD survey was conducted in 35 European countries during 2003 and collected information on young people’s alcohol and illicit drug use. 1 The target population was school-going children born in 1987. Thus, those surveyed were aged either 15 or 16 years at the time of the survey. As in the earlier ESPAD surveys, the 2003 survey was conducted with a standardised methodology and a common questionnaire to provide comparable European data.

The publication of the results for the 2003 Irish ESPAD survey allows comparisons with the previous Irish ESPAD surveys conducted in 1999 and 1995. Trends in some of the main indicators of alcohol and drug use over the last eight years are reported below.

In terms of alcohol consumption in Ireland, there was a drop in reported regular use of alcohol (consumed alcohol 20 times or more during last 12 months) by students between 1999 (39%) and 2003 (35%) but proportions were still higher than in 1995 (32%), (Table 1). Confidence intervals are not provided for these estimates and therefore it is not possible to tell if changes are statistically significant or not. The ESPAD report acknowledges this limitation, stating that in many countries the necessary software and resources to calculate confidence intervals were not available. 

Table 1   Changes in the proportion of school-going children (15–16 years) in Ireland consuming alcohol in the ESPAD surveys of 1995, 1999 and 2003

 

1995

%

1999

%

2003

%

Consumed alcohol 20 times or more during last 12 months

 

32

 

39

 

35

Drunk 10 times or more during last 12 months

 

20

 

27

 

29

‘Binge drinking’ 3 times or more during last 30 days

 

23

 

31

 

32

 

In the 2003 Irish survey more girls (39%) than boys (31%) reported regular use of alcohol. In fact, Ireland and Greenland are the only two of the 35 ESPAD participating countries in 2003 where girls ranked higher than boys in terms of regular alcohol use. Girls in Ireland ranked first in the prevalence of regular alcohol use, followed by girls in Denmark (36%).

The ESPAD report provides two measures of heavy alcohol use: drunk ten times or more during the last 12 months and ‘binge drinking’ three times or more during the last 30 days, (Table 1). Binge drinking is defined in the report as ‘having five or more drinks in a row’. There was little change in both measures in Ireland between 1999 and 2003 but the overall trend from 1995 continues to be upwards. In terms of regular drunkenness (drunk ten times or more during the last 12 months), Ireland ranked second after Denmark (34%) in 2003. In the same year, Ireland ranked highest of the 35 ESPAD countries in terms of the number of school-going children who engaged in binge drinking three times or more in the last 30 days.

In terms of drug use in Ireland, there was a notable increase in lifetime use of any illicit drug between 1999 (32%) and 2003 (40%), up eight per cent, (Table 2). This increase followed a drop between 1995 and 1999. Ireland ranked joint third after the Czech Republic (44%) and Switzerland (41%) for lifetime experience of any illicit drug in 2003. The average for the 35 ESPAD countries in 2003 was 22 per cent.

 

Table 2   Changes in the proportion of school-going children (15–16 years) in Ireland using drugs in the ESPAD surveys of 1995, 1999 and 2003

 

1995

%

1999

%

2003

%

Lifetime use of any illicit drug*

37

32

40

Lifetime use of cannabis

37

32

39

Lifetime use of inhalants

NA

22

18

*includes cannabis, amphetamines, LSD or other hallucinogens, crack, cocaine, heroin and ecstasy

NA = Not Available

The majority of those who have tried any illicit drug have used cannabis (marijuana or hashish). The lifetime prevalence rates for cannabis use are thus similar to those for use of any illicit drug and reflect the same trend. Lifetime use of inhalants dropped slightly between 1999 (22%) and 2003 (18%) but remains high. The average for the 35 ESPAD countries in 2003 was 10 per cent.

The Irish 2003 ESPAD survey was managed by Dr Mark Morgan, St Patrick’s College, Dublin, and funded by the Department of Health and Children. The sampling strategy involved a two-step process. All secondary schools were divided into three strata (single-sex secondary, mixed secondary, and vocational and community schools). In the first sampling step, schools were selected within each strata proportionate to the number of schools in the sampling frame. A total of 120 schools were selected in this manner. In the second sampling step, two grade five classes were randomly selected from these schools. Out of the 120 selected schools, 108 agreed to participate and, out of the 216 classes chosen from these schools, 196 participated. Students in these classes who were born in 1987 were asked to complete a questionnaire administered by a teacher in the school. A special room in each school was provided for this purpose. Data collection was carried out during April. A total of 2,407 students participated in the survey. The response rate (participating students in participating classes) was 96 per cent. No information was available on the students in non-participating schools or classes. As indicated above, the desired target population in the ESPAD survey was students born in 1987. However, the ESPAD report notes that in Ireland grade five accommodates only about 67 per cent of all students born in 1987. Consequently, the Irish results cannot be generalised to 1987-born students in other grades. 

 

A key performance indicator under the prevention pillar of the National Drugs Strategy 2001–2008 is to bring drug misuse by school-going children to below the EU average and, as a first step, to reduce the level of substance misuse by school-going children reported to ESPAD by 15 per cent by 2003 and by 25 per cent by 2007 (based on 1999 ESPAD levels).

 

1. Hibell et al. (2004) The ESPAD Report 2003. Alcohol and other drug use among students in 35 European countries. Stockholm: The Swedish Council for Information on Alcohol and Other Drugs (CAN), Council of Europe, Co-operation Group to Combat Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in Drugs (Pompidou Group).

Item Type:Article
Issue Title:Issue 13, Spring 2005
Date:January 2005
Page Range:pp. 1-2
Publisher:Health Research Board
Volume:Issue 13, Spring 2005
EndNote:View
Accession Number:HRB (Available)
Subjects:R Research > Type of research study > Empirical study > Survey
T Demographic characteristics > Student (secondary level)
VA Geographic area > Europe
T Demographic characteristics > Student (primary level)
A Substance use, abuse, and dependence > Prevalence > Substance use behaviour

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