How many young people use drugs?
Most young people don’t use drugs or drink problematically. When they do it can be for a range of reasons; to fit in, to help them feel more confident, to numb emotions, because they are curious or simply because they enjoy the feeling of being high or drunk. 75% of young people never use illegal drugs, but those who do generally experiment with cannabis, with a small percentage getting access to and trying class A drugs such as cocaine. Some young people acquire ‘legal highs’ many of which are dangerous drugs, yet unregulated, and use them in the belief they are less risky. Over half of all young people will use alcohol regularly by the time they are 18, some regularly and some to excess. Hopefully young people will be able to get through these risks unharmed; hopefully many will not feel that drug use is the kind of risk that will benefit them.
In a whole school, about 11% of at 14/15 yrs have tried cannabis but only 2% will use cannabis regularly. 55% have used alcohol and about 10% will get drunk regularly. It is important that all young people understand the risks and consequences of using drugs and alcohol but some young people need extra help and support to address a range of issues that may be impacting on their substance use, and in turn, how that use impacts on their life. With luck and good judgement many young people move on from this experimentation towards adulthood. Some may experience harms or unplanned consequences. A minority will develop problematic drug or alcohol use. Experimental drug use (including alcohol misuse) is known to peak at 14/15 years and then again at 18/21. Throughout these times more problematic drug users may be concealed within group behaviours but some young people will show signs of substance use that falls outside 'normal social behaviour' and their problematic use begins to emerge more clearly. All young people should receive drug and alcohol education that addresses the realities of their life, equipping them with the knowledge, skills and self-belief to refuse drugs and excessive drinking. Those who are more at risk (see "Who is at risk") will benefit from early identification and intervention, through referral to a specialist service and/or additional targeted support and education sessions in school.
DrugAware places emphasis on how a school responds to these vulnerabilities, encouraging an early intervention approach and providing the means to identify and intervene early. Where the recommended approach is embedded we see lower rates of permanent exclusion, lower rates of re-offending and higher rates of engagement with ongoing support from specialist agencies, coupled with better staff understanding of how to deliver targeted programmes that are effective in addressing the underlying issues that may drive drug use. Ultimately the aim is to; ensure that young people understand drug use in the context of their lives, explore their resilience and broaden their aspirations and understand how substances may be detrimental to achieving their goals.
Schools are able to get an idea of which drug, if any, young people come across or have tried, by doing the d-vibe survey to anonymously collect information. This helps them to get the approach and relevance of their approaches right, as well as helping them to plan and evaluate their drug education
Vulnerable Young People
For a significant and often vulnerable minority (around 4%) drug and alcohol use will be more problematic, affecting their emotions, attainment, self image, health and inclusion. Use may stem from a variety of factors; normalisation, peer preference, emotional illiteracy, low self esteem, a sense of invulnerability or low aspiration. For these young people, if left unchecked, drug and alcohol misuse can escalate, seriously impacting on their lives, setting a path towards unrealised potential, criminalisation and ill health. The underlying causes, personal expectations and beliefs attached to drug use, coupled sometimes with a lack of understanding or care of the consequences or alternatives, make them vulnerable to escalation and problematic drug / alcohol use as a normalised part of their lives, sometimes with devastating outcomes.
Getting Support for Young People in Nottingham
In Nottingham City we have specific early intervention drug workers, called Education Link Workers, assigned to all schools and an enhanced level of support is provided for all DrugAware schools. This helps to ensure that staff feel supported to identify and make appropriate referrals and to identify the content of, and plan to, deliver target lessons and sessions in school. This approach has worked as an integral part of learning centres and support units in schools for the past 5 years with impressive results, lowering exclusions, intervening earlier and reducing treatment times.
In Nottingham, Lifeline Journey Young People's Drug and Alcohol Service are our partners in delivering DrugAware. Other areas will vary.
There are a number of ways to help you ascertain if a young person is at risk around drug/alcohol use:
Early intervention can improve young people's outcomes in a number of ways;
Services to Support Young People Affected By Substances
You should refer to these services if you have concerns about a young person in relation to their own, or someone else's substance use.
Early Intervention means:
Who is at risk?
Any young person can experience risk from drug use or drunkenness but some young people may be more vulnerable to substance use.