Multiple Substance Use Among Adolescents in Scotland: Profile and Trends

This report examines the prevalence of regular use of 2 or more substances among adolescents in Scotland, and key factors associated with multiple substance use.

Executive Summary

Introduction and background

The Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey (SALSUS) is a continuation of a long established series of national surveys on smoking, drinking and drug use. It is the Scottish Government's main source of prevalence data on adolescent substance use. The data on substance use is collected alongside other contextual lifestyle, health and social factors.

This report explores trends in multiple substance use, the profile of those using multiple substances in 2013, and the factors which best predict the use of multiple substances.

Changes in multiple substance use over time

Consistent with other surveys of substance use in Scotland and England, regular use of individual substances (tobacco, alcohol and drugs) has fallen over time and is now at an all-time low. A similar pattern emerged for multiple substance use: among 13 year olds the use of two or more substances has decreased from 5% in 1998 to 1% in 2013 and among 15 year olds from 23% to 8%.

Profile of multiple substance users in 2013

Nineteen per cent of 15 year olds had used any substance regularly[1]. Less than half of those (8%) were using more than one.

Of the 8% of pupils who had used more than one substance:

  • 3% used all three substances regularly
  • 2% had smoked and used drugs regularly
  • 2% drank and used drugs regularly
  • 1% smoked and drank regularly.

Substance use patterns were broadly similar across boys and girls. That said, 15 year old boys were more likely to have used any substance than 15 year old girls (20% of boys compared with 18% of girls).

Overall, many different aspects of pupils' lifestyles were associated with higher levels of multiple substance use. However, two key risk factors emerged:

  • Disengagement with school (increased levels of exclusion and truanting were strongly associated with the use of two or more substances)
  • Lower supervision and structure in leisure time activities (a greater number of evenings spent out with friends, more time spent 'hanging out in the street', lower levels of club/group membership and lower parental knowledge of activities were associated with the use of two or more substances).

Other factors that were associated with higher levels of multiple substance use included:

  • friendships with older pupils
  • having no close friends
  • poor mental health - particularly in relation to conduct problems
  • Free School Meal entitlement
  • a mixed or multiple ethnic identity.

The profile of multiple substance use was in line with previous research and has not appeared to have changed a great deal over time.

Predictors of multiple substance use

In line with the profile outlined above, the factors that were the strongest drivers of any and multiple substance use were:

  • number of times excluded from school
  • number of times truanted
  • number of evenings spent with friends
  • age of friends.

As each of these variables increased, the more likely a pupil was to use two or more substances regularly.


Email: Emma McCallum

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