Home > Alcohol and drug use among young people in Ireland.

Long, Jean and Mongan, Deirdre (2010) Alcohol and drug use among young people in Ireland. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 33, Spring 2010 , pp. 3-7.

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According to the 2007 ESPAD survey, over half of 15–16-year-olds reported having ever been drunk (Figure 9). The percentages reporting drunkenness did not vary to any great extent across the three HBSC surveys. However, there were variations between the ESPAD and the HBSC surveys: in the 1999 and 2003 ESPAD surveys, the proportion of 15–16-year-olds who reported having ever been drunk was considerably higher than in the HBSC surveys. The 2007 ESPAD results were similar to those of the 2006 HBSC surveyThere are three sources of data that estimate the prevalence of alcohol and other drug use among young people in Ireland: the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) surveys on drug use among the general population,1,2 the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (known as the ESPAD surveys)3,4,5 and the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) surveys.6,7,8 The NACD surveys classify young adults as those aged between 15 and 34, while the ESPAD surveys ascertain alcohol- and drug-using practices among 15–16-year-old school children. The HBSC surveys record health behaviours (including cannabis use) among school children aged 13–17 years. Drug use was measured for three time parameters, lifetime use, use in the 12 months prior to the survey and use in the month prior to the survey.   

Drug use
According to the NACD general population surveys, the proportion of young adults who reported using an illegal drug in the year prior to the survey increased from 10% in 2002/3 to 12% in 2006/7 (Figure 1). The proportions using cannabis showed a similar increase, rising by almost two percentage points, to over 10%. The proportions using cocaine increased for all three time parameters and the proportions using ecstasy during their lifetime or in the 12 months prior to the survey increased marginally.

In the ESPAD surveys, the proportion of 15–16-year-old school children who reported use of any illicit drug at some point in their life decreased markedly between 2003 (40%) and 2007 (22%), a fall of 18 percentage points (Figure 2). As the majority of those who have tried any illicit drug have used cannabis (marijuana or hashish), the decrease in illicit drug use was influenced by the considerable decrease in the percentage of students who had tried cannabis at some point in their lives, from 39% in 2003 to 20% in 2007 (European average 19%). Lifetime use of solvents/inhalants decreased from 18% in 2003 to 15% in 2007, but remained higher than the European average (9%). In the case of amphetamines and cocaine powder, the proportions reporting lifetime use increased marginally to equal or exceed the European average of 3%. In 2007, one in ten of the survey participants reported that they had taken prescribed tranquillisers or sedatives at some point in their lives; the use of such drugs had decreased marginally since 1999.

As shown in Figure 3, trends in the use of cannabis and volatile inhalants in the 12 months prior to the ESPAD survey mirror the trends in lifetime use reported above.

 

The proportion of school children who reported cannabis use at some point in their life increased with each year of age between 13 and 17 in all three HBSC surveys, except for 17-year-olds in 1998 (Figure 4). In 2006, 6% of 13-year-olds reported lifetime use of cannabis, and the proportion increased steadily with each year of age, to 38% for those aged 17 years. The proportions of those who had used cannabis in each age group from 14 to 17 years increased between 1998 and 2006. 
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 The proportion of children who reported commencing cannabis use at 13 years or under was considerable, and similar in both the HBSC and ESPAD surveys (Figure 5).

In 2006/7, the proportion who had used cannabis three or more times was higher in the HBSC (10.4% and 12.3%) and than in the ESPAD survey (8%) (Figure 6).  

Alcohol use

The HBSC and ESPAD surveys also examined alcohol use among schoolchildren. According to the last three HBSC surveys, the majority of schoolchildren had consumed alcohol, although the rate of lifetime use among the age groups from 13 to 16 years was lower in 2006 than in 1998. The largest decrease was observed among 13-year-olds; in 1998 66% reported having ever consumed alcohol, compared to 43% in 2006. The likelihood of having ever consumed alcohol increased with each year of age, with almost nine in ten 17-year-olds having ever consumed alcohol (Figure 7).  

Last-month use of alcohol decreased among the age groups from 13 to 16 years between 1998 and 2006. In all three surveys, rates of alcohol use were higher at each year of age; for example, in 2006, 13% of 13-year-olds, and 25% of 14-year-olds had consumed alcohol in the previous month, (Figure 8).
 

According to the 2007 ESPAD survey, over half of 15–16-year-olds reported having ever been drunk (Figure 9). The percentages reporting drunkenness did not vary to any great extent across the three HBSC surveys. However, there were variations between the ESPAD and the HBSC surveys: in the 1999 and 2003 ESPAD surveys, the proportion of 15–16-year-olds who reported having ever been drunk was considerably higher than in the HBSC surveys. The 2007 ESPAD results were similar to those of the 2006 HBSC survey.  

The proportion of 15-year-olds who reported having been drunk at least 10 times remained relatively stable over the three HBSC surveys, while the proportion of 16-year-olds decreased marginally (Figure 10). The ESPAD surveys of 1999 and 2003 reported 37% and 41%, respectively, of 15- and 16-year-olds who had been drunk at least 10 times. In comparison, just 17% reported the same in 2007. The results of the ESPAD and HBSC surveys were closer in 2007 than in previous years.

 Conclusion

Overall, the HBSC surveys show a steady increase in cannabis use between 1998 and 2006, whereas the ESPAD surveys show a large increase between 1999 and 2003 and a larger, unexpected, decrease between 2003 and 2007. The HBSC survey results are in line with those of the NACD survey and other epidemiological indicators. They show a steady decrease in lifetime and last-month use of alcohol among 13–16-year-olds, but do not report major changes in drunkenness. In comparison, the 2007 ESPAD survey shows a large decrease in drunkenness compared to the 1999 and 2003 figures. 
 
It is important to investigate the reasons for the marked decrease in alcohol use and in cannabis use reported in the ESPAD survey of 2007; these figures could represent a genuine fall in the use of alcohol and cannabis, or a change in the profile (age, gender or socio-economic group) of the sample chosen, or in the way the questionnaire was administered. 
 
1. National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Drug and Alcohol Information and Research Unit (2005) Drug use in Ireland and Northern Ireland: first results (revised) from the 2002/2003 drug prevalence study. Bulletin 1. Dublin: National Advisory Committee on Drugs.
2. National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Drug and Alcohol Information and Research Unit (2008) Drug use in Ireland and Northern Ireland: first results from the 2006/2007 drug prevalence survey. Bulletin 1. Dublin: National Advisory Committee on Drugs.
3. Hibell B, Andersson B, Ahlström S, Balakireva O, Bjarnason T, Kokkevi A et al. (2000) The 1999 ESPAD report: alcohol and other drug use among students in 30 European countries. Stockholm: The Swedish Council for Information on Alcohol and Other Drugs (CAN) and the Council of Europe Co-operation Group to Combat Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in Drugs (Pompidou Group).
4. Hibell B, Andersson B, Bjarnason T, Ahlström S, Balakireva O, Kokkevi A 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) and the Council of Europe, Co-operation Group to Combat Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in Drugs (Pompidou Group).
5. Hibell B, Guttormsson U, Ahlström S, Balakireva O, Bjarnason T, Kokkevi A et al. (2009) The 2007 ESPAD report: substance use among students in 35 European countries. Stockholm: The Swedish Council for Information on Alcohol and Other Drugs (CAN) and the Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe.
6. Friel S, Nic Gabhainn S and Kelleher C (1999) The national health & lifestyle surveys: survey of lifestyle, attitudes and nutrition (SLÁN) & the Irish health behaviour in school-aged children survey (HBSC). Galway: National University of Ireland.
7. Kelleher C, Nic Gabhainn S, Friel S, Corrigan H, Nolan G, Sixsmith J et al. (2003) The national health & lifestyle surveys: survey of lifestyle, attitudes and nutrition (SLÁN) & the Irish health behaviour in school-aged children survey (HBSC). Galway: National University of Ireland.
8. Nic Gabhainn S, Kelly C and Molcho M (2007) The Irish health behaviour in school-aged children (HBSC) study 2006. Dublin: Department of Health and Children.

 

Item Type:Article
Issue Title:Issue 33, Spring 2010
Date:18 April 2010
Page Range:pp. 3-7
Publisher:Health Research Board
Volume:Issue 33, Spring 2010
EndNote:View
Subjects:T Demographic characteristics > Adolescent / youth (teenager / young person)
A Substance use, abuse, and dependence > Prevalence > Problem substance use
VA Geographic area > Europe > Ireland
A Substance use, abuse, and dependence > Prevalence > Substance use behaviour > Alcohol consumption
A Substance use, abuse, and dependence > Prevalence > Substance use behaviour

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