A third of 17-year-olds have tried cannabis

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More than 30 per cent of young people have tried cannabis at least once by the age of 17, according to research by UCL’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies, while 10 per cent have tried drugs such as MDMA, cocaine, LSD and amphetamines. More than half of 17-year-olds said they had engaged in binge drinking – defined as five or more drinks in one session – while 13 per cent reported regular drinking, defined as six or more times per month.

The study looks at ‘engagement in substance use and antisocial behaviour’ among Generation Z – those born between the mid 1990s and early 2010s, with researchers analysing data from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) of around 10,000 young people. ‘Adolescent binge drinking has been found to predict adult alcohol dependence in addition to a range of other negative health and social outcomes,’ the report states, while recent research by the University of Bristol estimated that official estimates of rates of drug use among young people could be as much as 20 per cent lower than the reality. https://www.drinkanddrugsnews.com/young-peoples-drug-use-could-higher-than-estimated/

UCL researchers also analysed the MCS findings according to sex, ethnicity and parents’ educational levels, with males reporting higher rates of both drug use and binge drinking. While young people whose parents were educated to degree level or above were more likely to have tried alcohol and experienced binge drinking, they were no more likely to have tried drugs, while those whose parents had a lower level of education were more likely to be regular cigarette smokers. White teenagers were three times more likely to report binge drinking than those from BAME groups and twice as likely to have taken harder drugs. Almost half of all 17-year-olds had tried a cigarette, with 12 per cent becoming regular smokers by that age. 

‘To some extent, experimental and risk-taking behaviours are an expected part of growing up and, for many, will subside in early adulthood,’ said the report’s co-author, Professor Emla Fitzsimons. ‘Nevertheless, behaviours in adolescence can be a cause for concern as they can have adverse long-term consequences for individuals’ health and wellbeing, and their social and economic outcomes. The prevalence of alcohol consumption in this study is very similar to that found in an English cohort born 12 years before, and which measured alcohol use around the same age. However, reports of cannabis use in our study suggest a decline compared to rates among this earlier born generation. It remains to be seen how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected engagement in these behaviours.’

Substance use and antisocial behaviour in adolescence: Evidence from the Millennium Cohort Study at age 17 at cls.ucl.ac.uk/