Teenagers fail to kick their habits

Drugs, smoking, the beer and the bottle are a way of life for youngsters
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The Independent Online
Smoking, drinking, and illicit drugs are a feature of life for Britain's teenagers, according to the most detailed survey to date, which suggest that the best efforts of health education experts are failing in critical areas.

More than 7,700 boys and girls aged 15 and 16, in 70 private and state schools throughout the UK, took part in the study which highlighted regular alcohol consumption to the point of intoxication, cigarette smoking, and a large rise since 1989 in drug experimentation, particularly with cannabis.

The findings, published in tomorrow's issue of the British Medical Journal, follow a report by the National Audit Office earlier this week, which found that key Health of the Nation targets on drinking and teenage smoking, are not being met.

Dr Patrick Miller, of the Alcohol and Research Group at Edinburgh University, and colleagues found that 42 per cent of teenagers had experimented with illicit drugs, mainly cannabis. More than 10 per cent had taken the drug on 40 or more occasions, and cannabis use was high among smokers.

Glues and solvents had been used by about 20 per cent; LSD by about 14 per cent and amphetamines by about 13 per cent. Few had tried hard drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, but 7 per cent of girls and 9 per cent of boys had experimented with ecstasy. Drug use was higher in Scotland, where almost 60 per cent of boys and 50 per cent of girls had taken drugs, than elsewhere in the UK.

Almost all the youngsters had consumed alcohol, and nearly half had been intoxicated in the previous 30 days.

Compared with previous studies, the researchers said, there had been no dramatic change in alcohol use by 15- and 16-year-olds in the last five years, but overall frequency of drinking has increased. English and Welsh pupils were more likely than Scottish to have had a drink in the previous week.

More than two-thirds of schoolchildren in the survey said they had smoked cigarettes at some time, and just over a third had smoked in the 30 days prior to the completion of the questionnaires in March and April last year.

More girls than boys smoked, renewing concerns over the belief prevalent among teenage girls that nicotine is an appetite suppressant and will help them control their weight.

Poor school performance was associated with drinking, smoking and dabbling in drugs. Among pupils claiming above-average performance, only 20 per cent said they had smoked on 40 or more occasions, compared with 44 per cent who reported below average perfor- mance. Similar differences were found for most forms of drug use for both sexes in all regions.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Miller said: "A lot of what we are seeing is youthful experimentation, but it is high. I don't think it would be right to describe it as delinquency. Certainly, there has been an increase in teenagers having tried these things. Possibly the explanation is that availability has increased, particularly of cannabis, and if something is there a teenager will try it."