Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England

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NHS Digital
Publication Date

Key findings

In 2016:

  • 19% of 11-15 year old pupils had ever smoked, which is similar to 2014.
  • 44% of pupils had ever drunk alcohol which is not comparable with earlier surveys.
  • 24% of pupils reported they had ever taken drugs. This compares to 15% in 2014. Part of the increase since 2014 may be explained by the addition of questions on nitrous oxide and new psychoactive substances. After allowing for this however (solid line on chart), it still represents a large increase which has not been observed in other data sources. Therefore an estimate from the next survey in 2018 is required before we can be confident that these survey results reflect a genuine trend in the wider population. In the meantime the results for drug taking from this survey should be treated with caution.
  • 3% of pupils were weekly (regular) smokers, 10% had drunk alcohol in the last week and 10% had taken drugs in the last month.


This report contains results from an annual survey of secondary school pupils in England in years 7 to 11 (mostly aged 11 to 15). 12,051 pupils in 177 schools completed questionnaires in the autumn term of 2016.

This is the most recent survey in a series that began in 1982. Each survey since 1998 has included a core set of questions on smoking, drinking and drug use. In 2000, the survey questions changed to focus on smoking and drinking or on drug use in alternate years and in 2016, the survey reverted back to including both drinking/smoking and drugs focused questions in one survey.

The survey report presents information on the percentage of pupils who have ever smoked, tried alcohol or taken drugs. The report also explores the attitudes of school children towards smoking and drinking. Relationships between smoking, drinking and drug use are explored along with the links between smoking, drinking and drug use and other factors such as age, gender, ethnicity and previous truancy or exclusion.

New areas included in the survey for the first time were nitrous oxide, new psychoactive substances (also known as legal highs), beliefs about drinking, whether pupils had ever got drunk and consequences of drinking.


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