Pupils who drink, smoke and take drugs more likely to be unhappy, data shows

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The number of pupils that reported having ever smoked fell to its lowest rate on record at 16%.

School pupils who have recently smoked, drunk alcohol and taken drugs are more likely to be unhappy, new figures have revealed.

The latest data from NHS Digital found that 51% of young people aged 11 to 15 who had recently drunk alcohol, smoked cigarettes and taken drugs experienced low levels of happiness.

This compared to 36% who had done only one of these things and 22% who had not done any of them recently.

The report also found that the likelihood of pupils reporting a high level of anxiety increased with the combination of behaviours, with 38% of those who had smoked, drunk and taken drugs reporting they were very anxious compared to a quarter who had done none of them.

It is the first year that the biennial Smoking, Drinking And Drug Use Among Young People in England 2018 report has measured well-being, asking the pupils to rate their levels of happiness, life satisfaction, anxiety and how worthwhile the things they do in life were.

The report, published on Tuesday, found that 2% of the 13,664 year 7 to 11 pupils questioned had recently smoked, drunk alcohol and taken drugs, 11% had done only one of these things and 84% had done none of them.

(PA Graphics)


The drop in smoking rates was welcomed by the British Lung Foundation, but it said that much more needed to be done to help young people kick the habit.

Its chief executive Dr Penny Woods said it was “disappointing” that only 2% of young people who wanted to quit got help from their GP and only 1% from a stop smoking service.

She added: “It’s encouraging that the number of young people smoking is continuing to decline, however it’s clear that much more needs to be done to help young people quit smoking.

“Smoking is an incredibly hard addiction to quit and often starts in childhood. Many young people smoke to cope with stress and as reported, 40% of young people who have smoked recently reported being unhappy.


“This shows it’s more important than ever that young people can access the best support available to quit.

“We must ensure all young people have access to vital stop smoking support, to protect both their physical and mental health.”

The report also found that 17% of pupils said that they usually drank alcohol at least once a month in 2018 and 6% said they drank at least once a week.

NHS Digital said that drinking varied with age with 38% of 15-year-olds saying they usually drank once a month compared to 2% of 11-year-olds.

Pupils from more affluent families were more likely to have drunk alcohol in the last week, with 13% of those from the most affluent families having done so compared to 7% in the least affluent families.

(PA Graphics)

The likelihood of having ever taken drugs increased with age, from 9% of 11-year-olds to 38% of 15-year-olds, it added.

Younger pupils were more likely to have obtained drugs at school than older pupils – 22% of 11 to 13-year-olds, compared with 7% of 15-year-olds.

The report said that the proportion of current smokers who said they managed to buy cigarettes from shops had halved from 46% in 2014 to 23% in 2018.

(PA Graphics)

Rosanna O’Connor, director drugs, alcohol, tobacco and justice at Public Health England said: “These results show again that e-cigarettes are not leading more young people to smoke.

“As you would expect, some young people experiment but regular vaping among those who have never smoked is very rare and the results published today show that youth smoking rates are continuing to decline at an encouraging rate”.

The 2018 survey was conducted by Ipsos Mori, and questioned 13,664 year 7 to 11 pupils, mostly aged 11 to 15, from 193 schools across England, between September 2018 and February 2019.

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