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Drugs, drink, and sex - Irish teenagers on their experiences

35 per cent of Irish teens have taken drugs; 1 in 5 sixteen year olds have had sex; and 89 per cent of teens say their parents know they drink, according to two new Unicef reports that are published this week.

THE EXTENT OF Irish teenagers’ experiences with drugs, alcohol and sex are unveiled in two new reports from UNICEF.

UNICEF Ireland has launched the final two reports in its Changing the Future series, which address the themes of drugs and alcohol and sexual health and behaviour respectively.

They are based on a survey carried out by UNICEF Ireland in late 2010 and the organisation says they present “a holistic snapshot of the lives of young people living in Ireland from their own perspective, and in their own words”.

UNICEF said the findings show that the use of drugs and alcohol during adolescence can be understood better as the norm – rather than the exception.

They also show that the majority of respondents report the use of substances like alcohol as something first done while in their teens, rather than in adulthood.

The report on drugs and alcohol use found:

  • While 77 per cent of the total respondents report that they drink alcohol, 15 per cent reported that they got drunk for the first time before they were 14 years old
  • Just under half of the respondents (48 per cent) first got drunk before the age of 16 – 15 per cent before they had reached 14
  • The great majority (89 per cent) of respondents report that their parents are aware of their drinking
  • 89 per cent were with friends when the first got drunk
  • In total, 1 in 4 females smoke, while 1 in 5 males smoke
  • While 35 per cent have taken drugs, 28 per cent still use them
  • More teens had taken drugs than smoked cigarettes
  • Grass/weed was the most reported drug – 80 per cent reported its use
  • 64 per cent had taken drugs by age 16
  • 1 in 5 sixteen year old respondents report that they purchase the alcohol they consume themselves
  • More than one third reported that they had taken drugs
  • The reported prevalence of mental health difficulties such as depression, self-harm, eating disorders or feeling suicidal was noticeably higher amongst those who also reported the use of drugs
  • Problems experienced by taking drugs include depression and self harm

UNICEF Ireland concludes that what is clear from the responses “is that drugs and alcohol are both widely available and widely used amongst many young people living in Ireland”.

It says “it is imperative that we address this prevalence openly and bring it into the crucial discussions that will shape the future experiences of young people in Ireland”.

The report on sexual health and behaviour found:

  • 1 in 5 sixteen-year-old respondents reported that they have had sex
  • 82 per cent had had full penetrative sex while 10 per cent said they didn’t know what type of sex they had had
  • The majority of respondents said they lost their virginity at 16 or older
  • 1 in 5 sexually active respondents reported that they did not use a condom the first time that they had sex
  • 2 in 5 girls who were sexually active reported that they had drunk alcohol before their first sexual experience, compared to 3 in 10 boys
  • 25 per cent of sexually active girls said they had experienced peer pressure, compared to 15 per cent of boys
  • Regarding condom use, 87 per cent who used one the first time they had sex did so because they were concerned about getting pregnant, whereas 71 per cent did because they were afraid of contracting a sexually transmitted disease
  • The majority of respondents (54 per cent) said that they had watched pornography on the internet, and more than one third of the those who had believed that it was accurate or educational
  • Only 1 in 5 respondents reported that they ever speak to their parents about sex
  • More than 4 in 5 boys and girls reported that they liked the opposite sex, while 2 per cent of females and 6 per cent of males reported same-sex attraction
  • 8 per cent of boys and 10 per cent of girls reported that they liked both boys and girls

UNICEF says these findings show that “we must be sure that when a young person is making decisions about their sexual health and behaviour, every opportunity is afforded them in terms of open discussion, understanding, support, information and advice”.

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