The Mix has worked with YouGov on a brand-new survey of 2,000 16–25-year-olds across the UK, which shows that over 1 in 5 (22.1%) 16 to 25-year-olds have taken an illegal drug in the last year; this equates to around 1.8 million people. 1 in 5 young substance users are taking drugs or other substances to cope with their mental health.
When it comes to Class A drugs, over 1 in 10 (10.8%) young people The Mix surveyed had used them in the past year, which equates to over 855,000 young people; this is far higher than the official Government statistics suggest (7.4%).
Yet almost half (46%) disagree that there is enough support available to help young people with concerns about drug or alcohol use. The Mix is releasing this data in order to raise awareness of this issue and to call for improvements in support as socialising and partying becomes part of young people’s lives again.
Why aren’t young people accessing support for drug issues?
Only 14% of young people who had experienced challenges with taking substances accessed support to help them deal with the challenges experienced. Based on this, we estimate that there are over 2 million young people who had experienced challenges as a result of taking drugs, alcohol, or smoking who did not access support to help them cope with their challenges.
Stigma appears to be a big factor, with over 2 in 5 (42%) young people agreeing that stigma around drug use would discourage them from accessing support services if they needed them. As a result, many may be suffering in silence rather than looking for support, risking harsh consequences to their mental and physical health.
With students returning to school and university this month, it’s crucial that those who work with and care for young people start to break down this stigma and look at the support that can be offered to those who may be thinking about or already experimenting with drugs.
The Mix is also seeing potentially risky behaviour as the survey shows that Almost 1 in 5 young people are sourcing drugs via a drug dealer and 1 in 20 are accessing drugs via the dark web.
Which drugs are young people taking?
- 1 in 10 (9.5%) young people have abused (used outside of prescription/for non-medical purposes) antidepressants in the past year; this equates to over three quarters of a million young people.
- Over a quarter (28.0%) of young people who have abused antidepressants in the past year take drugs at least daily; this may indicate a high level of addiction to anti-depressants.
- Over 1 in 5 (20.7%) of those who have taken tranquillisers take drugs at least daily, 19.6% among those taking magic mushrooms, and 19.2% among those taking amphetamines.
- Cannabis is the most commonly used drug among young people aged 16 to 25, with 7.4% having used it in the past month, 18.2% in the past year, and 33.2% at some point in their life.
- Inhalants (16.8%) fall among the most used drugs when looking at their usage among young adults at any point in their life, with ecstasy (12.6%) and ketamine (11.5%) having been used by over 1 in 10 young people at some point in their life.
Why are young people taking drugs or other substances?
- Approximately 1 in 5 (17.1%) take drugs or other substances to make them feel better because of their poor mental health or emotional distress.
- More than 1 in 10 (12.3%) substance users wanted to escape from problems in their life.
- Having fun is by far the main reason for taking drugs, alcohol or other substances (52.7%).
- Relaxation (33.5%) and desire to experiment or try new experiences (29.8%) are the next most common reasons.
- Around 1 in 5 wanted to get ‘high’ (18.7%).
What needs to change?
The Mix would like to encourage media and other institutions including schools or universities to help promote non-judgemental discussion about drug use and help young people with substance use issues to recognise the problem and access support.
The Mix also wants to help point young people and those who care for them in the direction of existing services they can turn to for support, such as the counselling, helplines and peer-to-peer support that The Mix offers. The Mix wants young people to know they can find support and talk about their substance use issues.
Zoe Bailie, Deputy CEO at The Mix: ‘This important new research shows that young people simply aren’t getting the support they need for drug and alcohol use and addiction. It’s crucial that we break down the stigma around this issue and empower under 25s to overcome the challenges they face. We know young people will experiment with drugs, but they should have all the information they need to keep themselves safe. The Mix is here to provide that information. We are calling for media, schools and universities to face this issue head on and signpost young people to support services such as ours, to reduce harm and ultimately save lives.’
Young people who took our survey told us: ’Drug problems can be really difficult to face, but it does not make you a bad person. If you are struggling, then you should never have to feel alone. If someone you know is struggling, don’t judge.
‘It is easy to give in to peer pressure, and you need to take yourself out of situations where you can be pressured. It’s OK to explore and try things; your safety is paramount at all times though.’
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