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Home > Adolescent substance use in south-east Ireland.

Long, Jean (2010) Adolescent substance use in south-east Ireland. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 32, Winter 2009, pp. 20-21.

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Van Hout completed a comprehensive study of drug and alcohol use among adolescents in the south east of Ireland from the standpoint of young people, parents and service providers. This article presents a summary of the findings in relation to each of the three groups, as published in separate journal articles. 

Substance use reported by adolescents
The author completed semi-structured interviews with a random sample of 220 children aged 15–17 years from schools and youth training centres in the area.1 Just under one-quarter of the respondents reported ever using an illicit drug, and the majority who had tried drugs were boys. Almost all said that they had been offered drugs and that drugs were easily available in urban areas. The majority believed that drug use would increase in the future in the area. They said that neither the police nor the schools took action to stop dealing or drug use in public. Drugs were purchased over the phone and could even be delivered to the schoolyard.
Cannabis was the most common drug used and, excluding alcohol and volatile inhalants, was the first drug used by the majority. A small number reported that ecstasy or amphetamine was their first drug. Alcohol was usually consumed alongside illicit drugs. Cannabis was perceived as a safe drug, and cocaine, heroin and speed as dangerous drugs. Most took drugs because they were curious or bored, or their friends were taking them. Some said that drugs helped them to relax or gave them a buzz. The majority were aged between 10 and 15 years when they took their first drug, which was usually given by a friend or older sibling; the initial occasion was unplanned; and almost half felt ill after taking the drug. A small number reported that they clubbed together with friends to buy drugs.
Some respondents reported that they controlled their drug use to prevent addiction, overdose, or other physical symptoms. Very few were worried about the legal consequences of illicit drug use. Some of the older respondents reported that they had ceased illicit drug use because drugs had lost their appeal, or they had experienced negative effects, or they preferred alcohol. The respondents who had never taken drugs gave the following reasons for their decision: drugs are dangerous, they have side effects, and/or drug use could be difficult to control. Some respondents were afraid of their parents’ reaction if they were discovered using drugs.
Parents' views
To ascertain parents’ views on youth substance use, the author conducted semi-structured interviews with a convenience sample of parents (34 mothers and 21 fathers) of adolescent children attending three rural schools.2 The interviews included questions relating to the parents’ perceptions of youth drug and alcohol use (in terms of both recreational and problematic use in their communities), drug availability, perceptions of risk, types of settings for adolescent substance use, service provision and drug information. The parents were not questioned about their own children but about youth in general.
The results suggest that the parents were concerned about the increased exposure to drugs among youth in local rural communities. The majority of parents were aware of youth alcohol use, they were concerned about all drugs, they were not aware of specific differences in drug-related risk, and they had difficulty comprehending harm-reduction principles. Most parents recognised the need for greater parental monitoring of their children’s free time and improved parent–child discourse, as well as the need for more widespread drug education, and the provision of visible and accessible services and support for the families of problem substance users.
The author concluded that life in contemporary rural Ireland is influenced by dominant social changes in terms of the normalisation of alcohol and drug use in youth subcultures. This is facilitated by increasing fragmentation of traditional rural family norms and values, emerging acceptability of alcohol and drug use in recreation time and the increasing availability of alcohol and drugs.
Service providers’ views
The authoralso explored the perspectives of 78 service providers in the area on youth substance use and current service provision.3 The service providers worked in youth, community, addiction, education or health services.
As did the parents and the adolescents, the service providers believed that illicit drugs and drug use had become a normal aspect of society in the area. They said that use had increased because the availability of drugs had increased, young people had more disposable income and greater freedom, and their free time was not monitored by parents. They believed that young people had a positive attitude to alcohol use and a facilitating attitude to drug use, and that this encouraged experimentation. In addition, children had more knowledge about the effects of individual drugs and the effects of mixing them. Drug use included use of solvents and inappropriate use of prescription medication. The service providers said that teachers were trying to control drug dealing and use in the schoolyard, whereas the young people felt that there was not enough control in the yard.
The service providers reported that children are introduced to alcohol at a young age and observe their parents and siblings drinking to excess. They cited poor parental monitoring and unstructured leisure time as contributing factors. Young people were observed purchasing and sharing drugs among close peers or best friends. Drug and alcohol use occurred in fields, on the streets or at friends’ houses. Children as young as 10 years were known to use drugs, and boys were more likely than girls to experiment. Young people had developed an informal hierarchy of drugs, according to their perceived level of harm, with heroin at the top of the scale and cannabis at the bottom. Young people thought that heroin was safe if smoked and that cannabis was as safe as cigarettes. 
According to the service providers, most children experiment with drug use and mature out of it, but children experiencing family problems and disruption are more likely to develop problem drug or alcohol use. The providers also pointed out that adolescent diagnostics and services in the south east of Ireland are based on adult models
1. Van Hout MC (2009) Drug and alcohol use among rural Irish adolescents: a brief exploratory study. Drugs and Alcohol Today, 9(1): 20–26.
2. Van Hout MC (2009) Youth alcohol and drug use in rural Ireland: parents' views. Rural and Remote Health, 9: 1171.
3. Van Hout MC (2009) An illustrative picture of Irish youth substance use. Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education, 53(1): 7–14.
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco), Cannabis
Issue Title
Issue 32, Winter 2009
18 January 2010
Page Range
pp. 20-21
Health Research Board
Issue 32, Winter 2009
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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