Number of young people in treatment up by 10 per cent

There were just under 12,500 young people in contact with drug and alcohol services in the year ending March 2023, according to the latest figures from OHID, a ten per cent increase on the previous year. 

young person joint
Cannabis is still the most common substance that young people access treatment for.

However the number is still 13 per cent lower than the pre-COVID figure of 14,291 in 2019-20. While around half of under-18s in treatment reported problems with alcohol, cannabis is still the most common substance that young people access treatment for – at 87 per cent. 

Fewer young people reported problems with benzodiazepines – down to 2 per cent from 3.7 per cent the previous year – but 9 per cent said they had problems with powder cocaine and 7 per cent with ecstasy. The number reporting problems with ketamine was up from 4.5 per cent to 5.8 per cent, and the number saying they had issues with solvent misuse increased from just under 3 per cent to more than 5 per cent. More than half reported polydrug use. 

The median age of young people in treatment was just under 16, with a ratio of roughly two thirds boys to one third girls. Almost a third were referred by education services, and just over a fifth by social care, with more than 80 per cent successfully completing treatment. Twelve per cent dropped out, and 3 per cent transferred to a different provider – similar proportions to the previous year. 

The number of young people with a mental health treatment need stands at 48 per cent – up from 32 per cent three years previously – with 65 per cent of girls reporting a mental health need compared to 39 per cent of boys. More than half of girls also reported self-harming behaviour, and five per cent of young people entering treatment reported some form of child sexual exploitation. 

Meanwhile the Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) is calling on the government to increase alcohol duty by 2 per cent above inflation in the spring budget to ‘curb the mounting death toll’. Deaths from alcohol-related liver disease fell when an alcohol duty escalator – an annual 2 per cent increase above inflation – was in place between 2008 to 2012-13, the alliance states.  

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore
Alcohol Health Alliance chair Professor Sir Ian Gilmore

‘Alcohol harm levels are directly linked to its affordability – the cheaper alcohol is, the more alcohol is consumed, and therefore the more harm caused,’ said AHA chair Sir Ian Gilmore. ‘That’s why the Alcohol Health Alliance is urging the chancellor to take action on cheap, harmful alcohol. Recent inflation coupled with years of cuts or freezes to alcohol duty has left alcohol relatively cheap compared to other drinks. Currently, a 2-litre bottle of cider is sometimes cheaper than orange juice supermarkets. How, in good conscious, can government allow this to continue? With deaths from alcohol at an all-time high, and sadly no sign of it slowing down, the government cannot afford to miss the opportunity presented at the spring budget to save lives, reduce pressure on the NHS and boost the economy.’

AHA letter at

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