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Thursday, September 10, 1998 Published at 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK


Two-thirds of teens try drugs

Drugs use is widespread among teenagers

Two-thirds of teenagers have tried illegal drugs and around a third are recreational drug users.

The finding comes as the result of a five-year study of teenagers' drug habits and offers the first solid evidence of a culture shift towards recreational drug use in the UK.

The study also found that teenagers were using drugs intelligently and made rational decisions to guide their drug-taking.

[ image: Cannabis is popular]
Cannabis is popular
Research fellows from the department of Social Policy and Social Work at Manchester University followed the progress of 500 youths from the age of 14 until they were 18.

Ordinary youths

The report authors say these were ordinary adolescents who led conventional lives and are now in work or at university.

By the time the subjects were 18, 64% had tried illicit drugs while around three in 10 were recreational drug users.

The researchers defined recreational use as "non-dependent, not using hard drugs".

Most of those who used drugs wanted to limit their use to avoid becoming addicted.

They also weighed up the risks of their drug-taking by considering the possibility of being caught by adults, feeling ill, losing self-control and dying.

However, they identified being relaxed and having energy, a special awareness of their surroundings and increased sociability as benefits of drug use.

Judith Aldridge, one of the study's authors, said: "Most are careful and rational consumers, who plan their drug use to occur with friends in places they feel safe and secure.

"They often report feeling relaxed, friendly, happy, carefree and confident. These good experiences many times outweigh the bad, especially for drugs like cannabis, amphetamines and ecstasy."

Regular use

Co-author Fiona Measham added: "We live in a society where recreational drug use is becoming normalised.

"This does not mean everyone is using drugs, but there is a shift underway with most young people regularly in situations where drugs are on offer."

Those who chose not to take drugs were forced to remake the decision frequently due to the widespread availability of drugs.

An early decision not to take drugs was by no means permanent, the researchers found.

Some teenagers who consistently said no to drugs during their school career took ecstasy once they got to university.

Widely accommodated

The study, called Illegal Leisure: The Normalization of Adolescent Recreational Drug Use, concludes that recreational drug use "has been widely accommodated amongst British youth".

[ image: Drugs education is widespread]
Drugs education is widespread
This is despite the fact that the subjects are part of a generation which has frequently received preventive "say no" education on drug use, the researchers point out.

Ms Measham said there was a blurring between illegal drugs such as cannabis and legal ones such as alcohol or tobacco in youth culture.

She added that there was "an increasing cultural belief that we can take drugs like Prozac or Viagra to improve our performance, appearance, mood or leisure time".

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