Alcohol use common among 15 and 16-year-olds

Many use it to 'make social gatherings fun'
  • Deborah Condon

Almost three-quarters of 15 and 16-year-olds in Ireland have tried alcohol, with around half of these using alcohol 'to make social gatherings more fun', a new European study has revealed.

The European Schools Project for Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) collects ongoing data on substance use among European teenagers aged 15 and 16. These latest results relate to 2019 and the Irish arm of the survey was carried out by the TobaccoFree Research institute Ireland.

It involved 1,967 students from 50 secondary schools.

When it came to alcohol, the survey found that 73% of respondents had tried alcohol, while 41% were current users (had used alcohol in the previous 30 days). Some 16% said they had been drunk in the previous 30 days.

The most popular drinks among boys were beer (36%) and cider (32%), while the most popular among girls were spirits (32%) and cider (25%).

The most common age that teenagers began drinking alcohol was 15 (52%), followed by 14 (28%).

When asked why they used alcohol, 49% said to make social gatherings more fun, while 48% said to enjoy a party. Some 19% said it helps when they are feeling depressed or nervous, while 22% said they drink ‘to cheer up'.

Increased alcohol use among the teens was associated with lower parental education levels and lower parental monitoring. It was also linked with truancy and lower school grades.

When it came to smoking, 32% of the respondents said they had tried smoking, while 14% were current smokers, with 5% smoking every day.

Some 61% said it was easy to access cigarettes and smoking was associated with truancy and lower grades. It was also linked with lower parental education, lower parental monitoring and lower parental rule setting.

The ESPAD 2019 results showed that slightly more students were smoking in 2019 than in 2015, when the survey was last carried out.

The survey also found that 39% of respondents had tried e-cigarettes, more than had tried smoking, while 18% were current users.

When asked why they had tried e-cigarettes, 66% said ‘out of curiosity', while 29% said it was because their friends had offered them. Just 3% said it was to try to stop smoking cigarettes.

In fact, 68% of people who had tried e-cigarettes had never smoked cigarettes prior to that.

The teenagers were also asked about illegal drug use and other substances. The most commonly used drug was cannabis, with 19% stating they had tried it, while 9% had used it in the previous 30 days. Some 42% of teenagers said that access to the drug was fairly or very easy.

The next most commonly used substances were inhalants (10% had ever used these), followed by painkillers (5%), alcohol with pills (4%), cocaine (4%) and ecstasy (3%).

The survey found that between 2015 and 2019, there were no changes in the use of cannabis, inhalants and tranquilisers, and there was a decrease in the use of illicit drugs others than cannabis.

Meanwhile, the survey also found that:
-84% of respondents had not gambled in the previous 12 months. Among those who had, boys were much more likely than girls to have gambled (23% versus 7%)
-37% spent two-to-three hours per school day on social media, while 39% spent more than six hours on social media on non-school days
-64% of respondents agreed that they spent too much time on social media.

The full report can be viewed here.


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