Trends in the psychosocial characteristics of 11–15-year-olds who still drink, smoke, take drugs and engage in poly-substance use in England Academic Article uri icon


  • Introduction and aims

    Youth substance use is declining in many high-income countries. As adolescent substance use becomes less common, it may concentrate in higher-risk groups. This paper aims to examine how the psychosocial characteristics of young substance users in England have changed over time.

    Design and methods

    Annual cross-sectional data from the 2001-2014 Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use Among Young People in England survey are analysed (n = 112 792, age: 11-15). Logistic and Poisson regression analyses are used to test whether the sex, socioeconomic status (SES) and prevalence of truancy and exclusion from school of those who drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, take cannabis, take other drugs and engage in poly-substance use changed across the study period.


    Use of all substances decreased and there were shifts in the psychosocial characteristics of young smokers, illicit drug users and poly-substance users. The proportion of current smokers and ever-users of cannabis of low SES and who had been excluded increased significantly between 2001/2003-2014. The proportion of last month drug users who had been excluded from school also increased significantly and there were increases in the proportion of polysubstance-users who had truanted and been excluded. The proportion of low SES alcohol users who had been excluded also increased significantly, but this change was very small. There was no evidence of substance use becoming more or less concentrated in one gender.

    Discussion and conclusions

    There is some evidence that smoking, illicit drug use and poly-substance use are becoming more concentrated in potentially at risk populations. There is limited evidence of concentration amongst young drinkers.


  • Oldham, M
  • Livingston, Michael
  • Whitaker, V
  • Callinan, Sarah
  • Fairbrother, H
  • Curtis, P
  • Meier, P
  • Holmes, J

publication date

  • October 22, 2020