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Young people and drugs

group of four young people standing in the street

Young people are often at the leading edge of social change, and upward trends in alcohol and illicit drug use by them constitute an important social development in the EU. Young people now have access to an increasingly wide range of substances and are using them in combination with alcohol. New and changing patterns of psychoactive substance-use present a particular challenge for policymakers to develop an appropriately wide and timely range of responses for effective action.

The majority of young people in the EU have never used illicit drugs but, among those who have, cannabis is the most frequently used drug. In general, the likelihood of young people getting drunk or being offered cannabis, or other illicit drugs, as well as their willingness to try drugs, increases sharply with age.‘Curiosity’ is usually given as the main reason for trying drugs. On the whole, males generally use more drugs and alcohol than females but the gap is narrowing for binge alcohol consumption.

EMCDDA publications

Summary of the 2011 ESPAD report (Joint report, EMCDDA, 2012)

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This is a summary of the 2011 European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) which aims to collect comparable data on substance use among 15–16 year-old European students in order to monitor trends within as well as between countries. This summary presents key results from the 2011 survey as well as findings regarding the long-term trends. An initial section gives a short overview of the methodology.

Thematic paper on children's voices (Thematic papers, EMCDDA, 2010)

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The purpose of this paper is to give meaning and insight into some of the key drug and alcohol issues that affect children from the perspectives of the children themselves. It is not to estimate the relative magnitude of a specific drug or alcohol problem or the numbers of children affected by it. Each section of this paper is preceded by one or two key statistics and whilst the quotations that follow may highlight a need to develop more robust and detailed statistics on a key issue, the overriding objective is to give the children a voice.

Selected issue on polydrug use (Selected issues, EMCDDA, 2009)

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This ‘Selected issue’ looks at the concomitant or consecutive use of different licit and illicit drugs (polydrug use) among adolescents, young adults and problem drug users. Data from school and general population surveys, and on drug treatment entrants and drug-related deaths are analysed to describe the many forms and consequences of this widespread pattern of drug use. The responses to polydrug use in Europe are reviewed in the light of the scientific literature, with the aim of identifying the most effective interventions.

Summary of the 2007 ESPAD report (Joint report, EMCDDA, 2009)

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This is a summary of the 2007 European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) which aims to collect comparable data on substance use among 15–16 year-old European students in order to monitor trends within as well as between countries. This summary presents key results from the 2007 survey as well as findings regarding the long-term trends. An initial section gives a short overview of the methodology.

Thematic paper on indicated prevention (Thematic papers, EMCDDA, 2009)

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This review on indicated prevention adds to the current knowledge and understanding of risk factors in the development of later drug problems and dependence, focusing on the mental health and behavioural problems that develop during childhood. The aim of indicated prevention is not necessarily to prevent drug use or initiation to it, but rather to prevent the development of dependence, diminish frequency of use and avert ‘dangerous’ patterns of substance use (e.g. moderate instead of binge-drinking).

Vulnerable groups of young people (Selected issues, EMCDDA, 2008)

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Social policy in Europe has long identified disadvantaged populations who manifest potential for social exclusion. These ‘vulnerable groups’ are specific groups among the wider population that may be more prone to a range of problems, from ill health, substance use and poor diet, to lower educational achievement.

Drug use and related problems among very young people (under 15 years old) (Selected issues, EMCDDA, 2007)

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Evidence suggests that early experimentation with psychoactive substances, including alcohol and tobacco, is associated with an increased risk of developing drug problems later in life. In a Selected issue on ‘Drug use and related problems among very young people’, the EMCDDA focuses on the prevalence and patterns of substance use among the under-15s and on available responses in terms of legislation, prevention and treatment.

Patterns of cannabis use among students in Europe (A cannabis reader: global issues and local experiences, Monograph series 8, Vol. 2 Chapter 3, EMCDDA, 2008)

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The European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) is the key transnational instrument for comparing adolescent cannabis consumption in Europe. This chapter extract from the EMCDDA's monograph on cannabis provides a summary of recent ESPAD findings on the topic.

Developments in drug use within recreational settings (Selected issues, EMCDDA, 2006)

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This publication covers all aspects of drug use by young people in music and dance settings, providing data on prevalence and patterns of use, drug availability and the role of the Internet in drug supply and promotion. The risk factors for this type of drug use are outlined as are the health consequences of drug use in these settings. Responses to drug use in recreational settings are covered in depth, both in terms of legislation at national and European levels and in terms of drug prevention programmes.

Youth media (Thematic paper, EMCDDA, 2005)

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This paper shows how the ‘youth media’ — youth, music and lifestyle magazines — can help detect, monitor and respond to emerging drug trends among young people. The paper looks at the youth media as a possible information source on new drug ‘fashions’ and explores their potential as a channel to prevent drug-related harm among young people.

Drug and alcohol use among young people (Selected issues, EMCDDA, 2003)

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This publication focuses on drug overdose, mostly involving opiates, which is a major cause of deaths among young people in Europe, where over 8 000 such deaths are recorded each year, and is currently the leading cause of death among drug injectors.

Recreational drug use — a key EU challenge (Drugs in focus, EMCDDA, 2002)

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In nightlife settings, most people who consume psychoactive substances do so with the intention of 'having fun'. Reducing the risks run by the growing numbers of mainstream young people in the EU who consume such substances in such settings, is a key concern of policymakers at local, national and international levels.

Statistical resources

The Statistical bulletin is published yearly by the EMCDDA and provides access to the most recent statistical data relating to the drugs situation in Europe. Statistics are organised by categories and some of these categories contain information specific to young people. The relevant categories are listed below:

One section of the Statistical bulletin (Studies of youth and the schools population) presents schools survey tables, which are derived mainly from the ESPAD schools survey project and the HBSC (WHO) Schools Survey — Health behaviour in school-aged children.

Examples of evaluated practices (EDDRA)

The Exchange on drug demand reduction action (EDDRA), part of the EMCDDA's best practice portal, provides details on a wide range of evaluated prevention, treatment and harm reduction interventions, as well as interventions within the criminal justice system, across Europe.

About the EMCDDA

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) is the reference point on drugs and drug addiction information in Europe. Inaugurated in Lisbon in 1995, it is one of the EU's decentralised agencies. Read more >>

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Page last updated: Friday, 01 June 2012