The latest European data on substance use among 15–16-year-old school students -ESPAD was published on Tuesday, 20 September 2016.
This report presents the results of the sixth data-collection wave of the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) and marks the 20th anniversary of ESPAD data collection (1995-2015).
It is based on information provided by 96 043 students from 35 European countries, 24 of them being Member States of the European Union. About 600 000 students have participated in the successive ESPAD data-collection waves, making the project the most extensive, harmonised data collection on substance use in Europe. The ESPAD target population is defined as regular students who turn 16 in the calendar year of the survey and are present in the classroom on the day of the survey.
The ESPAD Report for 2015 includes most EU countries, but not Germany or the UK, and data for Spain is incomplete. The full set of data on which the current report is based, including all the usual tables in the familiar ESPAD format, is available online (http://www.espad.org).
Despite the continued high rates of alcohol use, in particular of heavy alcohol use, temporal trends over the past two decades indicate a positive development, with an overall decrease in lifetime and last-30-day use of alcohol between 1995 and 2015 from 89 % to 81 % and from 56 % to 47 %, respectively. Both lifetime and last-30- day prevalence decreased markedly after a peak in 2003. Unfortunately, changes in heavy episodic drinking were less pronounced and only observed among boys, with overall rates declining from 36 % to 35 % over the past 20 years.
Nordic countries (exept Denmark) were among those with the lowest alcohol consumption among teenagers. Among the countries with the highest rates are Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Hungary, Liechtenstein and Monaco.
ESPAD findings on trends in alcohol use suggest a closure of the gender gap in heavy alcohol use among adolescents in Europe.
Illicit drug use
The most prevalent illicit drug in all ESPAD countries wascannabis. About 30 % of students rated cannabis to be easily available. The perceived availability of other illicit drugs was relatively low.
Rates of use varied substantially between ESPAD countries. The results showed large differences in cannabis use among European countries, with an upward trend in Bulgaria, Greece, Poland and Romania, among others. Lifetime experience of cannabis in the Czech Republic (37 %) even exceeded the level observed in the United States. At the lowprevalence end, rates of under 10 % could be found in five of the Nordic countries and in several Balkan states and Moldova.
Trends in cannabis use indicate ageneral increasein both lifetime and last-30-day use between 1995 and 2015, from 11 % to 17 % and from 4 % to 7 %, respectively, with prevalence peaking in 2003 and slightly decreasing thereafter.
On average, 3 % of the students reported that they had first used cannabis at the age of 13 or younger.
Other substance use
The 2015 ESPAD study is one of the first international epidemiological studies to assess NPS use. On an international scale, there is not much information available against which to compare the results. Across the ESPAD countries, 4 % of the students reported lifetime experience with new psychoactive substances (NPS), with the highest rates in Estonia and Poland and the lowest rates in Nordic counries.
The average prevalence of lifetime use of NPS was slightly higher among boys (5 %) than girls (4 %). On average, 3 % of the students had used NPS in the last 12 months, with the highest prevalence in Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Ireland, Italy and Poland (5-8 %) and lowest in Belgium (Flanders), Denmark, the Faroes, Finland among others. Generally, differences in NPS use in the last 12 months between boys and girls were small.
The average prevalence of lifetime inhalant use was 7 %, with large differences between countries. The use of inhalants shows generally stable lifetime prevalence rates over the observed period. The gender-specific trends reveal a narrowing of the gender gap, with rates among boys slightly decreasing but rather unchanged rates among girls.
Over the past two decades, the lifetime prevalence rates for tranquillisers or sedatives show a slightly downward trend, with rather parallel trends for boys and girls. Lifetime use of tranquillisers or sedatives without prescription was most prevalent in Poland (17 %) and the Czech Republic (16 %) and lowest was reported by students from Denmark, the Faroes, Moldova, Romania and Ukraine.
Use of painkillers to get high was reported by 4 % of the girls and 3 % of the boys on average.
Conditional probabilities of substance use
Among the users across all countries who have used cigarettes at least once, 93 % have also used alcohol, 32 % cannabis, 12 % inhalants, 10 % tranquillisers or sedatives and 8 % NPS.
Almost every student (87 % or more) that has used a licit or illicit substance also reported having used alcohol.
Among the students who have used NPS, about a quarter have also used inhalants (26 %) or tranquillisers or sedatives (25 %) and around 74 % have used cannabis.
In many countries, prevalence rates for NPS suggest that these substances are more attractive than the ‘old drugs’ amphetamine, ecstasy, cocaine or LSD. Availability of NPS and adolescents’ use of these substances need to be closely monitored.
It is necessary to make particular efforts to prevent early substance use and gambling as well as excessive use of the internet and gaming in childhood and adolescence.