Children's hearings training resource manual: volume 2

Volume 2 is a children's hearings handbook, focusing on the problems that some children face, the environment in which they live, their needs and their rights.

11 Drug and Alcohol Misuse



Teenagers in the UK are more likely than most of their European counterparts to have taken drugs, drunk alcohol or smoked.

Smoking Prevalence and Trends

From a survey conducted in 2010 of 13 and 15 year old school children:

  • 13 year olds, 3% of both boys and girls were regular smokers
  • 15 year olds, 13% were regular smokers (11% of boys and 14% of girls).

Since peaks in 1996 and 1998, the prevalence of regular smoking has substantially reduced over recent years. Among both 13 year olds and 15 year olds, levels are no the lowest they have been since the survey began in 1982.

There was an increase between 2008 and 2010 in the proportion of pupils who reported that they had never smoked, from 75% to 79% of 13 year olds, and from 51% to 55% of 15 year olds.

Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey ( SALSUS) 2011 National Report

Drinking Prevalence and Trends

From the same survey conducted among 13 year old and 15 year old schoolchildren:

  • 44% per cent of 13 year olds and 77% of 15 year olds have ever had an alcoholic drink.
  • This was a decrease in both age groups.

Asked if they had had a drink in the past week (an indication of how much and how regularly children drink):

  • 14% of 13 year olds and 34% of 15 year olds reported consuming alcohol in the last week.
  • This was a small increase from the 2008 survey.

Longer term trends in drinking

Overall, although there was some volatility in the figures, the proportion of pupils who reported drinking in the week before the survey increased between 1990 and 2002.

  • From 2002 to 2008, there was a steady decline, with consumption almost back to the 1990 levels.
  • However, in 2010 this trend has ended and consumption has slightly increased.
  • This is the case across both age groups and genders.
  • In both age groups, the trend over time for both genders has generally followed the same course.

Types of Alcohol Consumed

For boys in both age groups, the most commonly consumed drink was:

  • normal strength beer/lager/cider.

The most commonly consumed drink for girls was:

  • 13 year olds - normal strength beer/lager/cider (66%) and, among
  • 15 year olds - spirits/liqueurs (73%).

Source: Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey ( SALSUS) 2011 National Report

Effects of Alcohol on Young People

Alcohol has a stronger effect on young people because of their age, smaller bodies and lack of experience with alcohol. In younger people, smaller amounts of alcohol will therefore lead to higher risks. These can include:

  • Aggression, arguments and fights - this could lead to a criminal record.
  • Unplanned and / or unprotected sex - possibility of sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.
  • Other drugs - increased risk of trying other substances when drunk.
  • Accidents - many young people drink outside therefore can easily be knocked down or fall and suffer hypothermia.
  • Overdose - it is possible, particularly for young people to overdose on alcohol. Large amounts of alcohol can lead to drowsiness and / or coma with a high risk of choking on their own vomit.
  • Alcohol poisoning - large quantities of alcohol taken in a short time can lead to alcohol poisoning. More than 1000 young people are admitted to hospitals every year with alcohol poisoning.

Drug Use Prevalence and Trends

The same adolescent lifestyle survey looked at drug use and trends:

  • 21% per cent of 15 year olds and 5% of 13 year olds reported that they had ever used drugs.
  • Boys were slightly more likely than girls to report that they had ever taken drugs
  • While between 2004 and 2006 there was a substantial decrease in the prevalence of drug use in the last month, between 2006 and 2008 prevalence decreased only among 13 year old boys.
  • Since 2008, prevalence has decreased further only among girls


Cannabis was by far the most common drug - particularly among 15 year olds. Ten percent of 15 year olds and 2% of 13 year olds reported that they had used cannabis in the last month. Very few pupils reported using any other drug.

Questions about 'new' drugs, such as mephedrone, ketamine, GBh etc indicted that they are having little impact on the overall levels of drug use.

Source: Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey ( SALSUS) 2011 National Report

Researchers have also found that:

  • children who were living in families with a low level of parental supervision were eight times more likely to have started to use illegal drugs than children whose parents exercised a high level of supervision
  • children living in families where other people were using illegal drugs were seven times more likely to have started to use illegal drugs than their peers.
  • drug use was also associated with frequent smoking and alcohol consumption on the part of pre-teens and with involvement in a wide range of other problem behaviours at a young age (committing acts of vandalism, skipping school, being in trouble with police and carrying a weapon).

There is also a need for parents to exercise much higher levels of supervision today than at any time in the past given the greater availability of drugs.

Children and Cannabis

Some of the links between young people's tobacco and cannabis use are now well established. We know that most cannabis users smoke cigarettes and that for some people, tobacco may act as a 'gateway' to cannabis.


Volatile Substance Abuse ( VSA) can satisfy a youthful need to experiment. The buzz created by volatile substances, and the hallucinations which may accompany this, can provide new sensations in a culture which strives for even greater thrills.

It is almost impossible to draw up a definitive list of the full range of products that can be abused. It is estimated that in the average home, there are around thirty products with the potential for abuse.

Considerations for Panel Members at Hearings

When considering the issue of young people and drug misuse it is helpful to remember that:

  • many young people try drugs but not all of them become problem users.
  • for children and their families there is a fear that, in seeking help, child protection measures might be taken.
  • there is a fear of being stigmatised.
  • any intervention must address the underlying reasons for the misuse.


All drug use carries risk but problem drug use in a house where children or young people live poses particular risks and hazards including:

  • Chaotic lifestyles which disrupt children's routines and relationships, leading to early behavioural and emotional problems
  • Family income may be diverted to buy drugs, leading to poverty, debt and material deprivation. Children having inappropriately high levels of responsibility for care of parents with problems of substance misuse, or care of younger siblings
  • Children's early exposure to, and socialization into, illegal drug misuse or other criminal activity

With so many risk factors it is tempting to think that all children must be immediately removed from the risk and that there is little or no hope. However, the impact will vary according to the age and developmental stage of the child. Risks may well be mitigated by other protective factors:

  • A consistent and caring adult, who will provide for the child's needs and give emotional support
  • Regular monitoring and help from health and social work professionals
  • An alternative safe residence for mothers and children subject to domestic violence and the threat of violence
  • Regular attendance at nursery or school
  • Sympathetic and vigilant teachers
  • Belonging to organized out-of-school activities, including homework clubs

The Impact on Children and Young People

Notwithstanding these mitigating factors, there is no doubt that for a significant number of children the substance misuse of their parent will have a real impact on their health and lifestyle.

Considerations for Panel Members at Hearings

In any hearing, a major consideration must be "what is in this child's best interests?" In cases such as these, there needs to be a balance between removal and support. This requires a risk assessment, both by the social work department, and by panel members in coming to their decisions. Crucial questions are:

  • Is the parenting good enough?
  • Are enough of the mitigating factors present, or could they be put in place, to reduce the potential impact on the child?
  • Are the parents capable of making changes to their lifestyle and child rearing skills in a timescale that makes sense in terms of the child's life?

When putting a section 67 ground to adults who appear to be under the influence of drugs, consideration should always be given to their ability to comprehend what is being asked of them, with the option of referring from proof to protect their rights, and those of the child.


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