Home > Alcohol and drug use among young people and adolescents in Ireland – results from My World and Growing Up in Ireland surveys.

O'Dwyer, Claire and Mongan, Deirdre (2020) Alcohol and drug use among young people and adolescents in Ireland – results from My World and Growing Up in Ireland surveys. Drugnet Ireland , pp. 12-14.

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Two recent surveys provide an insight into alcohol and drug use among young people in Ireland. My World Survey 2 (MWS-2),1 developed by University College Dublin (UCD) and Jigsaw, the National Centre for Youth Mental Health, is a comprehensive study of young people’s mental health and wellbeing and a follow-up to the 2012 My World Survey 1 (MWS-1).2

 

The survey population for MWS-2 was 19,407 and consisted of 10,459 adolescents (aged 12–19 years) from 83 secondary schools and 8,290 young adults aged 18–25 years in third-level education or employment. Seldom-heard young adults included 314 young people in Youthreach, 292 young people in Colleges of Further Education (CFE)/community training, and 52 young people with physical disabilities. Of the adolescent participants, 56% were female, as were 69% of the young adult participants.

 

Since 2006, the Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) survey, a national longitudinal study of children and young people, has followed a cohort of children born in 1998. Four waves of interviews have been conducted with this cohort, when they were aged 9, 13, 17–18, and 20 years old. The most recent report presents the findings of 5,191 interviews of the 20-year-olds, which were conducted in 2018 and 2019.3

 

My World Survey results

The AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Tool),4 a 10-item tool used to screen for harmful and hazardous drinking, was used to classify young people into one of four categories of drinkers: low risk; problem drinking; harmful and hazardous drinking; and possible alcohol dependence. Drug use was assessed with the Drug Abuse Screen Test (DAST), a 10-item self-report instrument that assesses drug use in the past 12 months.

 

Key findings

Adolescents

 

  • 57% of adolescents had never drank alcohol, compared with 49% of adolescents in MWS-1.
  • The adolescents who did drink alcohol reported engaging in more problematic drinking than adolescents in MWS-1 (see Figure 1).
  • Similar to MWS-1, problematic alcohol use was significantly associated with more severe feelings of anxiety and depression among adolescents.
  • Of note, adolescents who reported having made a suicide attempt presented with significantly higher levels of problematic drinking and were also more likely to have smoked cannabis.
  • 15% (18% males vs 13% females) reported that they had smoked cannabis.
  • The reported use of cannabis in first year of secondary school was 3%; this increased to 27% in fifth year and 36% in sixth year.
  • Of those who reported having smoked cannabis, 43% reported that they were aged 15 years or younger when they first tried cannabis.

 

Young adults

 

  • Some 10% of young adults reported having never drank alcohol, compared with 7% in MWS-1.
  • Of the young adults who reported drinking, 47% were in the low-risk drinking range, 39% were classified as problem drinkers, 8% as harmful and hazardous drinkers, and 6% as having possible alcohol dependence.
  • Young males were less likely to be in the low-risk drinking range (45% vs 50% females) and more likely to be in the hazardous range (9% vs 6%) and the possible alcohol dependence range (8% vs 6%).
  • The proportion of problem drinkers in the problematic, hazardous, and possible alcohol dependence categories was significantly lower among young adults in MWS-2 compared with MWS-1.
  • Similarly to MWS-1, the findings from MWS-2 also demonstrated a significant association between problematic alcohol use and depression and anxiety.
  • Problematic drinking patterns were also significantly associated with lower levels of family support, but not friend support, among young adults.
  • Young adults who made a suicide attempt were more likely to be in the possible alcohol dependence category, while young males who reported a suicide attempt were more likely to be in the hazardous or harmful drinking category and were more likely to be in the moderate/substantial/severe categories for drug abuse.
  • 53% of young adults (59% males vs 50% females) reported that they had smoked cannabis in their lifetime. Of those who reported ever smoking cannabis, 83% reported first trying cannabis between 15 and 19 years.
  • 40% reported that they had used drugs other than those required for medical reasons.
  • According to the DAST cut-off points, 49% of young adults presented with no drug problems, 37% fell into the low level, 10% were in the moderate level, 2% were in the substantial level, and 1% were in the severe level for drug problems.
  • Problematic drug use was significantly associated with severe depression and very severe anxiety.

 

Seldom-heard group

  • There was no significant difference between Youthreach and the young adult or adolescent sample in terms of alcohol behaviour, with 46% in the low-risk drinking range, 39% in the problem drinking range, 11% in the harmful and hazardous drinking range, and 5% in the possible alcohol dependence range.
  • Similarly, there was no significant difference between the CFE/community training group and the young adult or adolescent sample in terms of alcohol behaviour, with 47% in the low-risk drinking range, 32% in the problem drinking range, 11% in the harmful and hazardous drinking range, and 10% in the possible alcohol dependence range.
  • There was no significant difference in alcohol behaviour between young people with a physical disability and the young adult or adolescent samples, with 57% in the low-risk drinking range, 21% in the problematic drinking range, 14% in the harmful and hazardous drinking range, and 7% in the possible alcohol dependence range.
  • Associations between alcohol behaviour and mental health or substance use were not reported for the seldom-heard group.
  • 45% of young people in Youthreach reported having used drugs, other than those required for medical reasons, and 66% reported having smoked cannabis, which was significantly higher than the young adult or adolescent sample.
  • Those in the CFE/community training group and those with a physical disability were less likely to report having used drugs, other than those required for medical reasons, than the young adult or adolescent sample.

 

 

Figure 1: Alcohol behaviour by wave, in those who reported to have drank alcohol

Source: My World Survey 2, p. 119

Growing Up in Ireland results

The GUI reports on the frequency of alcohol use and the age of first use. It also contains a number of questions on cannabis and other drugs.

Key findings

 

  • 96% of 20-year-olds reported that they had ever consumed alcohol, while 93% reported that they currently drank alcohol.
  • On average, respondents were 15.9 years old when they had their first alcoholic drink.
  • One-quarter (24%) consumed alcohol at least twice weekly.
  • At the age of 13 years, just 15% of the sample had ever consumed alcohol, but that figure increased to 89% by the age of 17/18 years.
  • 59% of all 20-year-olds reported that they had tried cannabis: 26% said they had tried cannabis once or twice, 18% took it occasionally, 6% took it more than once a week, and 9% did not take cannabis anymore.
  • The percentage who ever tried cannabis increased markedly as the young people moved through their teens: 1% had tried cannabis by age 13; 30% had tried it by age 17/18; and 59% had tried it by age 20.
  • In relation to other illicit drug use (e.g. ecstasy and cocaine), 13% reported that they had tried them less than five times, while 15% said they had done so five or more times.
  • 9% had used prescription drugs for recreational use.

 

Conclusions

In terms of alcohol use, the findings indicate that more young people are abstaining from alcohol. However, for adolescents who do drink, they engaged in riskier alcohol behaviour than previously reported. Most young people had engaged in at least one occasion of illicit drug use in their lifetime. Six in 10 young people had tried cannabis at least once, with a considerable minority engaging in occasional or weekly use. Almost three in 10 young adults reported having tried other illicit drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy. Significant associations were found between alcohol and illicit drug use and anxiety and depression, indicating a relationship between substance use and poorer mental wellbeing among young people in Ireland. Alcohol use was also strongly associated with illicit drug use, indicating evidence for polydrug use among young people.

 

1             Dooley B, O’Connor C, Fitzgerald A and O’Reilly A (2019) My World Survey 2: the national study of youth mental health in Ireland. Dublin: UCD and Jigsaw. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/31343/

2             Dooley B and Fitzgerald A (2012) My World Survey: national study of youth mental health in Ireland. Dublin: Headstrong, National Centre for Youth Mental Health / UCD School of Psychology. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/17589/

3             Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and Trinity College Dublin (TCD) (2019) Growing Up in Ireland. Wave 4 at 20-years. Dublin: ESRI, TCD and Department of Children and Youth Affairs. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/31381/

4             Saunders JB, Aasland OG, Babor TF, de La Fuente JR and Grant M (1993) Development of the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT): WHO Collaborative Project on Early Detection of Persons with Harmful Alcohol Consumption-II. Addiction, 88(6): 791–804.

Item Type:Article
Issue Title:Issue 72, Winter 2020
Date:March 2020
Page Range:pp. 12-14
Publisher:Health Research Board
EndNote:View
Subjects:G Health and disease > Substance use disorder > Alcohol use
G Health and disease > Substance use disorder > Drug use
N Communication, information and education > Educational environment (school / college)
T Demographic characteristics > Adolescent / youth (teenager / young person)
VA Geographic area > Europe > Ireland

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