Intended for healthcare professionals


Substance use seems to be increasing among 11 year olds

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 04 November 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:1161
  1. Ian Sutherland, research fellow (ian.sutherland{at},
  2. Jonathan Shepherd, professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery
  1. Violence Research Group, University of Wales College of Medicine, Cardiff CF4 4XN

    EDITOR—Plant and Miller report that illicit drug use has declined since they carried out a survey in 1995.1 Their overall findings are broadly in agreement with similar work undertaken by Goddard and Higgins2 and by us. Goddard and Higgins reported that 7% of 11-15 year olds said that they had used illicit drugs within the past month and that prevalence increased sharply with age, from no recent use at age 11 to 18% at age 15.

    Our data were collected among 11-16 year olds by self report questionnaire during the latter part of 1999 and the first three months of 2000 from a stratified sample of 28 schools in England (n=9742). We found that regular, monthly, illicit drug use rose from 1.0% at age 11 to 14.5% at age 16, with an overall mean of 5.5%. Highest illicit drug use was by 15 year old boys (16.8%) (figure).


    Percentage of adolescents using cigarettes (daily), alcohol (weekly), and illicit drugs (monthly)

    We also found that daily cigarette smoking rose from 4.8% at age 11 to 24.1% at age 16; mean use was 11.7%. More girls than boys smoked (13.7% v 9.5%), with peak use being by 16 year old girls (31.2%). In contrast, Goddard and Higgins found that only 1% of 11 year olds claimed to be regular smokers.

    Our data showed that regular, weekly, alcohol drinking rose from 5.1% at age 11 to 36.0% at 16; mean use was 14.5%. Alcohol was drunk more by boys than by girls (16.4% v 12.8%). Highest use was by 16 year old boys, 42.6% of whom said they drank at least weekly. Goddard and Higgins reported that only 3% of 11 year olds in their sample drank on a weekly basis.

    Overall substance use by adolescents, both licit and illicit, seems to be declining. These data may, however, indicate a general increase in substance use by 11 and 12 year old children against a background of an overall decrease by 13-16 year olds.


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