Research from Queen’s University Belfast has found that one in ten school children who had reported using cannabis at least once had now become daily users.
Dr Patrick McCrystal, Senior Research Fellow, said: “Whilst the numbers in our study who told us they were using cannabis each day may seem small, these young people are telling us that by the age of 15 they have moved beyond experimental or recreational use of an illegal drug to more sustained usage.”
Those reporting high levels of cannabis use were also more likely to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol regularly as well as use other illegal drugs. Approximately one in six of these users also reported abusing solvents on a weekly basis and nearly one third used ecstasy each week. The frequent cannabis users were responsible for almost all use of ‘hard’ drugs like cocaine.
The Youth Development Study (YDS), being carried out by Queen’s Institute of Child Care Research, is a longitudinal study of adolescent drug use. Some 4,000 teenagers covering 43 schools in Belfast, Ballymena and Downpatrick have taken part each year since they entered secondary education making it one of the largest schools-based surveys of its kind.
The research found that 70 percent of the frequent users were male. Nearly two-thirds of all the users belonged to the lowest socio-economic groups, were more likely to live within a disrupted family with just one parent, have poor levels of communication with parents or guardians, and had low levels of motivation to do well at school.
Dr McCrystal continued: “The findings tell us that the school children who use cannabis each day are placing themselves at an increased risk to drug related social and health problems now and in the future. These young people appear to have moved beyond what we consider traditional teenage lifestyles to one that includes regular use of illegal drugs as well as frequent tobacco and alcohol consumption. They are more likely to spend their evenings away from the family home, have poor levels of communication with their families, and be disaffected with school.”
The study further indicates high levels of delinquency and antisocial behaviour by daily users which may have become part of their ‘lifestyle activities’. Of these teenagers, a quarter reported being in trouble with the police on more than 10 occasions and nearly one-fifth had been summoned to court during the twelve month period prior to the survey.
Dr McCrystal said: “The lifestyle activities of the high level users may provide valuable insights for education and prevention strategies for the future. The opportunity should be taken now to identify as many of these young people as possible and as early as we can. Our research provides examples of the type of information that is now needed to do this and to develop support strategies to meet their needs.
“Also, as we continue with our research into the lifestyles of these young people we may be able to determine more specifically the activities associated with their drug use, and in doing so also more fully understand how drug use is shaped by lifestyle, and conversely, how drug use reshapes lifestyle.”
The Great Unknown: Risk-Taking Behavior in Adolescents
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