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Underage Drinking

Irish teens more likely to take illegal drugs but smoking and drinking levels falling, EU report shows

The report revealed 37% of Irish teenagers already used an e-cigarette at some stage.

SMOKING AND DRINKING levels among 15 to 16-year olds across Europe including Irish teenagers are declining, according to a major new EU report on alcohol and other drugs.

However, the study of teenagers’ habits in 35 European countries showed Irish teenagers were more likely to have taken illicit drugs than their continental counterparts.

The report by the EU Drugs Agency, known as the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), revealed 20% of Irish teenagers had consumed some illegal drug in their lifetime compared to the European average of 17%.

They study also expressed concern over potentially risky cannabis use – which has been taken by 19% of Irish teenagers – and dangers posed by new addictive behaviours such as e-cigarettes.

The report revealed 37% of Irish teenagers already used an e-cigarette at some stage with 15% having had one in the previous month with the highest level of use among non-smokers rather than occasional or regular smokers.

Boys in Ireland are almost twice as likely to use e-cigarettes as girls.

Almost 100,000 students, including 1,940 from the Republic, participated in the latest edition of the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs which also highlighted how gambling for money has become a popular activity with 30% of boys and 19% of girls in Ireland having gambled at least once in the previous year.

One in 10 Irish teenagers regarded their gambling as excessive with 5.7% claiming their gambling was problematic.

The report found alcohol use remains high among adolescents across Europe with 72% in Ireland admitting having used alcohol at some stage with 41% having consumed it in the previous month which were levels slightly below the European average.

However, 16% said they had become intoxicated in the previous month compared to the European average of 13% with the rate slightly higher among girls than boys.

Almost a quarter of Irish teenagers said they had consumed alcohol at the age of 13 or younger with 5.3% claiming they had become intoxicated at the time.

Spirits are the most popular type of alcoholic drink with Irish teenagers followed closely by both beer and cider.

Despite the high levels of alcohol use among young people, the EMCDDA figures show the trend has been downward since a peak in 2003 when 91% of European teenagers had consumed alcohol in their lifetime and 63% had taken in in the previous month.

The study also recorded the lowest level of binge drinking among European teenagers in over a decade – down from 43% in 2007 to 35% last year – although the figure has risen slightly in Ireland in recent years.

A third of Irish teenagers admitted taking at least five drinks on one occasion last year.

The report said changes in drinking regulations in EU member states may have contributed to the decline in alcohol use among young people.


On another positive note, smoking has become less popular with teenagers across Europe including Ireland where smoking rates are below the European average.

The report shows 31% of Irish teenagers have smoked a cigarette in their lifetime compared to the European average of 41%.

Only 14% of Irish students had smoked in the past month in contrast to the European average of 20%.

The study showed 11% of Irish teenagers claimed to have smoked a cigarette before they were 13 with 2.4% stating they had smoked on a daily basis at that age.

The EMCDDA said it was likely that a high proportion of e-cigarette devices contained nicotine and the overall use of nicotine by teenagers could be rising again.

The agency said the issue warranted further investigations because of its potential to have public health consequences.

The EMCDDA said the non-medical use of prescription drugs by teenagers, including tranquilisers, sedatives and painkillers also remained a concern.

Irish teenagers recorded the highest level of use of synthetic cathinones in Europe with 2.5% admitting taking the substance, while they also had one of the highest levels of use of anabolic steroids at 2%.

Ireland also recorded the highest rate of any European country for the perceived availability of cocaine with 22% claiming it was relatively easy to get.

Just over 3% of teenagers in the Republic said they had taken cocaine which made it the most common illicit drug in Ireland after cannabis.

Seán McCárthaigh
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