NI teen drug use ‘highest in Europe’

Around one in 10 children in Northern Ireland under the age of 12 have used cannabis, according to research conducted by Queen’s University.

The Youth Development Survey questioned 4,000 teenagers in 43 schools in Northern Ireland about drug use.

The study found that by the age of 12 years, eight per cent of those questioned had used cannabis. This rose to 43 per cent by the age of 16, and 45 per cent by the age of 18.

The survey is one of the largest school-based surveys of its kind in the UK and Ireland.

It is conducted by the Institute of Child Care Research at Queen’s School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work and is funded by the Health and Social Care Research and Development, Public Health Agency, Northern Ireland.

Dr Patrick McCrystal, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Child Care Research, said: “A number of young people who took part in the Youth Development Survey appear to have developed a drug-using lifestyle by the age of 16 years.

“While the survey looks at the use of a number of drugs, the findings relating to cannabis are particularly interesting as cannabis is often considered the ‘gateway’ drug to more serious substance abuse.

“In nearly all cases, cannabis is the first illegal drug used by young people – and almost all of those who reported using cocaine or ecstacy also used cannabis. Levels of cannabis use by these young people is higher than among teenagers of the same age in the UK, Ireland and Europe.”

The cannabis users who took part in the study were more likely to be male, have weaker family bonds, and be less committed to school than those who did not use the drug.

They were also more likely to have smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol to intoxication before the age of 16.

Dr McCrystal continued: “Of the young people who had tried cannabis, around one in ten went on to use it on a weekly basis by the age of 16.

“The most common age for first trying cannabis is 15, and most of those who admitted using the drug obtained it from friends. These findings highlight the need to educate young people about the risks of experimenting with drugs.”

Later in the week (Thursday 24-Saturday 26 September) researchers from across Europe will meet at Queen’s to discuss the latest developments in drugs-related issues at the 20th Annual Conference of the European Society for Social Drug Research.