Level of drinking among teens is just a third of a decade ago
* Number of schoolchildren who have done drugs has halved over a decade
* Figures suggest the young are abandoning ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll’
* Opponents of drug liberalisation hail the findings as a vindication of bans
A generation of youngsters have turned their back on drink, drugs and smoking, according to a state-backed survey.
The research, published yesterday, showed that the proportion of schoolchildren who have tried cannabis or other illegal drugs has almost halved over the past ten years, and is continuing to drop year by year.
Alongside the unprecedented decline in drug taking, the results showed the level of drinking among schoolboys and schoolgirls is just a third of the rate a decade ago, and cigarette smoking has hit a 30-year low.
The spectacular drop in numbers of pupils both trying and regularly using drugs, alcohol and tobacco could herald a historic turnaround.
The figures follow evidence of a drop in numbers of teenage pregnancies, thanks in part to the availability of long-term contraceptive implants and injections.
Some analysts believe teen pregnancies are becoming less common because more girls want to complete their education and work on their careers.
Others have speculated that thanks to the rise of social media, millions of teenagers are spending their time at home in their rooms rather than out on the streets.
The study’s findings are based on questionnaires filled in during school lessons by more than 5,000 pupils aged between 11 and 15.
The survey was designed to minimise the impact of any boasting or misleading replies. For example, a dummy question was inserted asking pupils if they had taken a made-up drug, called Semeron, to try and decide which pupils were answering the questions honestly.
The results, published by the Government’s Health and Social Care Information Centre, showed that the proportion who have tried illegal drugs dropped from 30 per cent in 2003 to 16 per cent last year, with a fall of 1 percentage point between 2012 and 2013.
Regular drug takers – those aged between 11 and 15 who used drugs in the past month – went down from 12 per cent to 6 per cent over the decade. Cannabis use was recorded by 13.3 per cent of pupils in 2003 but only 7 per cent last year.
A decade ago, 9 per cent of pupils smoked once a week. However in 2013, 3 per cent of pupils reported smoking a weekly cigarette, the lowest level recorded in 30 years.
And a similar pattern applied to drinking habits. A quarter of pupils had drunk alcohol in the past week when the questionnaire was answered in 2003 – last year it was fewer than one in ten, 9 per cent.
Turning their backs on sex, drugs and rock and roll: A quarter of pupils had drunk alcohol in the past week when asked in 2003 – but last year it was fewer than one in ten, 9 per cent. (Stock image)
The figures suggest that today’s young people are abandoning the ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll’ ethos of the baby boom generation.
The rapid and sustained drop in drug abuse is a major blow to liberal reform lobbyists – who have claimed that cannabis and other substances must be decriminalised because the war on drugs is lost.
In fact, the study could be seen to suggest that the illegal status of cannabis, ecstasy, amphetamine and cocaine is helping persuade young people to reject drugs.
Among those pressing the Government for decriminalisation have been Sir Richard Branson, Sting and comedian Russell Brand, who have argued that laws against drugs create ‘many unintended and negative consequences’.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has even put his name to a call for a programme of ‘rigorously monitored’ cannabis legalisation.
However yesterday opponents of drug law liberalisation said the legalisers are out of date. Kathy Gyngell, from think-tank Centre for Policy Studies, said: ‘It is Sting and Richard Branson who are out of line and old fashioned.
‘The war on drugs is being won, thanks to ministers who have stuck to their guns. We are seeing the eclipse of the post-Woodstock, selfish, baby boom generation.
‘Young people are becoming more sober in every respect. They have seen what has happened and they know they can’t behave like that.’
While noting the decline of drug taking among children, the report warned that drugs still pose a risk to vulnerable young people. It said: ‘Young people who use drugs run the risk of damage to mental health including suicide, depression, psychotic symptoms and disruptive behaviour disorders.’
PUBLISHED: 00:47, 25 July 2014 | UPDATED: 07:13, 25 July 2014