The development of drug-taking among secondary school children in the Netherlands


Drug-taking among secondary school children in 1969
Drug-taking in relation to type of education, age, sex and social class
Characteristics of school children who take drugs
The development of drug-taking among secondary school children in the Netherlands
The development of drug-taking at secondary schools: a forecast


Pages: 7 to 16
Creation Date: 1972/01/01

The development of drug-taking among secondary school children in the Netherlands *

Prof. Dr. W. BUIKHUISEN, Director,
Criminological Institute, Groningen University


A Multidisciplinary Symposium on Drug Dependence was held at Strasbourg in the second half of March 1972.

At this Symposium May 1 presented a paper on patterns of drug dependence in Council of Europe Member States. He begins his paper as follows:

"Descriptions of the patterns of drug abuse (other than the abuse of alcohol) in different European countries are based for the most part on clinical impressions, on the indirect evidence from administrative, social and other non-medical sources, and on the testimony of addicts themselves. There are hardly any firm data on the incidence or prevalence of the various types of drug dependence, and where these do exist they commonly derive from surveys made on special population groups, or on small and possibly atypical communities, with no guarantee as to the validity of the data obtained."

What is said here of Europe is equally applicable to other parts of the world. Even in the United States of America, a country which has long been faced with problems relating to drug-taking, there are no reliable statistics on the extent and development of the phenomenon. 2

The question why systematic data of this type are almost completely lacking is worth a study in itself. It is clearly essential to have access to data of this kind in order to answer such questions as the following:

How does drug-taking develop?

Have any changes occurred in the pattern of drug-taking?

In view of the nature and extent of drug-taking, are there sufficient reception facilities (clinics, social centres) for drug-takers who have run into difficulties?

* The original of this article is in Dutch.

1. A.R. May: "Patterns of drug dependence in Council of Europe Member State", paper presented at the Multidisciplinary Symposium on Drug Dependence, Council of Europe, Strasbourg, March 1972.

2. For a good account of the surveys carried out in the United States of America, see: Dorothy F. Berg, Illicit use of dangerous drugs in the United States: a compilation of studies, surveys and polls.

Lastly, such data on the extent and development of drug-taking make it possible to form an idea of the effectiveness of the measures taken to combat the use of drugs. Indeed, this is perhaps the most important aspect of the subject. Data of this kind afford the only possible basis on which to evaluate the drug policy pursued.

The extent of drug-taking in the Netherlands

May's comment about the scarcity of firm data on the extent of drug-taking also applies to the Netherlands. According to the official judicial statistics, some 200 persons were convicted of offences under the Opium Act in the Netherlands in 1968. 3 In the same year H. Cohen, an Amsterdam psychologist, made the first comprehensive survey of drug-taking in Holland. In the light of his research, Cohen arrived at the following estimates of the extent of illegal use of drugs in the Netherlands 4 (table 1).

As will be seen, Cohen's data differ considerably from the official figures. This is not, of course, surprising in itself. It is well enough known that official crime statistics reflect only a proportion of the offences actually committed. Hence they certainly do not constitute a reliable source. Cohen's figures should undoubtedly come closer to reality. This applies specifically to his estimates of the number of drug-takers who belong to the " scene ". His other estimates, however, are more dubious. The exact basis he has taken for them is not made clear in his report.

Apart from these two sources, no other data were known in 1968 about the extent of drug-taking in the Netherlands. Furthermore little was known at that time about such matters as the following: who are these drug-takers? How do they differ from the non-drug-taking population? How does drug-taking develop? How effective are the various measures taken in the matter (the drug policy)?

3. Source: Maandstatistiek Politie en Justitie, July 1969, published by the Central Bureau of Statistics, The Hague, p. 194.

4. Data taken from H. Cohen, Psychologie, sociale psychologie en sociologie van het deviante druggebruik (een tussentijds rapport) [literally: Psychology, social psychology and sociology of the deviant use of drugs (an interim report)]. Instituut voor Sociale Geneeskunde [literally: Institute of Social Medicine], Amsterdam, 1969, p. 43.


Estimates of the extent of illegal use of drugs in the Netherlands in or about 1969




1. " Scene " (drug-takers' subculture)
4,500 6,000
2. Younger, somewhat isolated users (advanced elementary school children and students)
2,000 6,000
3. Other subcultures (prostitution, etc.)
3,000 5,000
4. Other ethnic and population groups (migrant workers from various regions, Surinamers, etc.)
4,000 7,000
13,500 24,000

A research programme in the drug field was launched at the Criminological Institute of Groningen University in order, if possible, to fill these gaps. The following studies were carried out under this programme: 5

  1. A survey of drug-taking by students;

  2. A study of the relationship between drug-taking and criminality;

  3. A survey of the extent of drug-taking among secondary school children;

  4. An investigation into the psychological characteristics of school children who take drugs;

  5. An investigation into the sociological characteristics of school children who take drugs;

  6. A field study in depth of drug-taking in a small provincial town;

  7. A study of the development of drug-taking among secondary school children;

  8. An investigation into drug-taking and drug policy at youth centres.

In this article we shall mention the results of a number of these studies. More specifically we shall discuss our research on the development of drug-taking among school children in the Netherlands.

Drug-taking among secondary school children in 1969

The sample

In order to obtain a better idea of the extent of drug-taking among secondary school children, a national inquiry was held late in 1969. The survey covered 21 towns scattered throughout the Netherlands. Of these 21 towns, seven may be regarded as large, six are of medium size and eight are small. Steps were taken to ascertain what forms of secondary education were carried on in each town. Besides secondary schools, the investigation covered two more categories of education: secondary technical schools and what might be called schools of the arts (drama schools, film academies, schools of music, etc.).

5. The results of all these studies have by now been published (in the Netherlands). Study No. 6 was the subject of an article in English in Sociologica Neerlandica, vol. VII, No. II, 1971. These reports are obtainable from the authors on request.

At the secondary schools, all final examination classes were investigated; at the schools of the arts and secondary technical schools, the top classes.

In all 156 schools co-operated in the survey. This represents roughly 80 per cent of the schools we approached. A total of 11,725 pupils were asked if they were willing to take part in the investigation. Only 66 refused. Thus our subject group consisted of 11,659 school children.

The questionnaire

The questionnaire covered two kinds of data: so called background data - such as sex, age, father's occupation, class attended and type of course being taken - and particulars of the use of drugs. The questions on drug use were designed to ascertain whether the subject had ever taken particular drugs (marijuana and hashish, LSD, heroin, etc.), how often he had done so, whether he had done so in the past half-year, and whether he normally took those substances alone or together with others. We also asked how many people he knew who took drugs.

The inquiries were made in the traditional manner. The questionnaires were completed anonymously.

Results 6

The extent of drug-taking

Of the 11,659 school children investigated, 1,300 stated that they had taken one or other drug at least once. This makes 11.15 per cent. That is more than we expected at the time. However, care must be taken in interpreting these figures. The only question at issue here is whether the subject had ever taken drugs. The number of times he had done so is not taken into consideration. If it was, and if the dividing-line was set at, say, 20 or more times, the percentage of drug-takers would be found to fall to 2 per cent. In other words, as matters stood in 1969, one in 40 of these school children had taken drugs more than 20 times.

Thus 11.15 per cent of these school children have taken drugs at one time or another.

6. For a full account of the results, see W. Buikhuisen and H. Timmerman, " Druggebruik onder middelbare scholieren " [Drug-taking among secondary school children], Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Criminologie, September 1970.


Percentage of students in each age group who had taken drugs at any time in the last two years

Full size image: 10 kB, FIGURE 1

This percentage is roughly similar to that arrived at by anonymous inquiry into drug-taking among 1,050 students of Groningen University. This inquiry was based on a stratified sample: i.e., the sample was so constructed as to include an equal number of subjects in each age group between 17 and 25 years. This method enabled us to calculate the percentage of drug-takers per age group and hence the relationship between drug-taking and age. 7 Figure 1 shows the results of this analysis.

Figure 1 leaves little to be desired so far as clarity is concerned. Up to and including the twenty-first year, the percentage of drug-takers per age group increases. Thereafter it falls again. This graph also carries a warning: it shows that no direct comparison can be made between percentages relating to subject groups which differ in age.

What is being taken

For 1,300 of our secondary school children, then, the position is that they have taken drugs at some time. What substances are involved here? Hashish and marijuana seem to be by far the most popular. These substances were taken by 88.3 per cent of the users. Amphetamine and LSD were taken by 13.7 percent and 12.3 per cent of the users respectively. Opium or heroin was taken by only 7.2 per cent of the drug-taking population.

The amphetamines, LSD and opiates are characterized not only by the small number of people who take them; frequency of use was also found to be very low.

The drug-taking pattern

In the previous section we indicated the degree of popularity of certain drugs among the users. Even from these figures it can be inferred that a number of drug-takers were not content to stick to one drug takers were not content to stick to one drug. In table 2 we give some particulars of the pattern and intensity of drug use. For the pattern of use we have adopted a threefold scheme: marijuana and hashish alone, opiates, but mainly LSD and amphetamine alone, and a combination of the two. For the purpose of frequency of use, we have again drawn the dividing-line between more than 20 times (>20) and less than twenty times (<20).

7. For a full description of the results of this investigation, see R.W. Jongman and W. Buikhuisen, " De relatie leeftijd - criminaliteit bij studenten " [literally: The relationship between age and criminality among students], Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Criminologie, March 1970.


Pattern of use and frequency of use among secondary school children who take drugs (N = 1,300)




Less than 20 times

More than 20 times

Hashish and marijuana alone
56.92 7.92
Amphetamines, LSD and opiates alone
11.31 0.38
Combination of both
10.62 12.85

Table 2 shows that the majority of drug-takers stick to marijuana and hashish. The proportion taking only opiates, LSD and amphetamine or a combination of both kinds can be described as reassuringly small, at any rate when frequency of use is taken into consideration. Lastly, table 2 shows that close to 80 per cent of the drug-takers have taken one or other drug less than 20 times.

Drug-taking in relation to type of education, age, sex and social class

Type of education

In broad terms, we included three types of education in our survey: ordinary secondary education, secondary technical education, and the so-called schools of the arts. It was anticipated that the extent of drug-taking would vary according to the type of education. This was found to be the case. Drug-taking was on the largest scale at the schools of the arts. Here 29.5 per cent of the students had taken drugs at some time or other. The secondary schools and technical schools followed with 10.25 per cent and 8.79 per cent respectively.


Taking all the schools together, those students who take drugs are on the average older than those who do not. The average ages are 18.4 and 17.6 years respectively. At the schools of the arts, however, there is no difference in age. The difference occurs at the secondary and technical schools. In both cases the drug-takers are older than the abstainers. At the secondary schools in particular, the age difference is marked. The drug-takers there are almost a year older than the abstainers, the average ages of the two groups being 18.0 and 17.2 years respectively. When it is borne in mind that all the secondary school children were in final examination classes, the implication is that the (older) group of drug-takers are more often obliged to repeat a year. This in its turn may mean that secondary education presents more difficulty to the drug-takers than to their abstinent classmates. That this is not necessarily always a matter of intelligence emerges from a survey made by Blum and associates. 8 They found that drug-takers did in fact complete their education less often, but that their school performance, as reflected in the figures obtainable, did not differ from that of abstainers. Another study made by the Criminological Institute 9 shows that drug-takers adopt a significantly more negative attitude towards school, and as a result probably do less well.


Both at secondary schools and at schools of the arts, the proportion of drug-takers is greater among the boys than among the girls. Of the former, 13.53 per cent have taken drugs at some time or other. The corresponding proportion of girls is 7.2 per cent. Similar trends can be observed in other countries. It is always found that there is more drug-taking among boys than among girls. 10

Social class

Is there yet another connexion, between the social class to which the subject belongs and the use of drugs?

8. See Richard H. Blum and associates: Students and drugs, Jossey-Bass Inc., San Francisco, 1969, pp. 75-79.

9. See W. Buikhuisen, F. P. H. Dijksterhuis et al.: " Hash-users: characteristics and policy ", Sociologica Neerlandica, 1972, No. II, p. 82.

10. See e.g. for Belgium, J. Junger-Tas, " Schooljeugd en drugs " [literally: School children and drugs], Studiecentrum voor Jeugdmisdadigheid [literally: Juvenile Delinquency Study Centre], publication No. 29, p. 64; and for Canada R. G. Smart, D. Fejer and J. White, " The extent of drug-use in Metropolitan Toronto Schools ", Addictions, vol. 18, No. 1 (Spring 1971), p. 7.

In order to answer this question we divided the occupations of our subjects' fathers into three classes: high, middle and low. The percentage of drug-takers was determined for each class. The results are shown in table 3.


Relationship between social class and drug-taking among secondary school children




Proportion of the entire sample of school children who belong to this social class (N = 11,659)

Proportion of the group of drug-takers who belong to this social class (N = 1,300)

High class
26.6 35.4
Middle class
56.9 41.0
Low class
4.6 4.6
Not known
11.8 19.0
  99.9 100.0

Table 3 shows that relatively more of the drug-takers belong to the higher social class, and that the middle class is relatively under-represented.

The fact that school children of the middle class are less affected by drug-taking is possibly connected with the pattern of upbringing found in that class. This, of course, is largely directed towards such goals as the preservation of existing values; observance of the rules of the community; getting somewhere in our society, and so on. These goals are vastly different from the values and outlook which prevail in the drug-takers' subculture. Consequently the middle class children may well be less receptive to novelties such as drug-taking and the like.

The social factor in drug-taking

The social component of drug-taking is of great importance; this is evident from the fact that between 80 and 90 per cent of those who take drugs do so together with others. This proportion is roughly similar to the findings of other researchers such as H. Cohen 11 and J. Junger-Tas. 12

Characteristics of school children who take drugs

We have seen from the foregoing that in 1969 the position was that some 11 per cent of secondary school children in the Netherlands had taken drugs at some time or other. The question arises whether these drug-takers differ in any other particular way from school children who do not take drugs: or to put it in different terms, whether our drug-taking school children form a special selection of the total school population. This seems not unlikely. We have already seen that the drug-takers were older than the abstainers and that proportionately fewer of them belonged to the middle class. In order to obtain more definite information on this point, we made a comparative study between two groups of school children. The first group (N = 44) was composed of boys who had taken drugs regularly. Their drug-taking was mainly confined to hashish and marijuana. About a third of these boys took substances such as LSD and amphetamines in addition to the other drugs, but at a low frequency of use. In addition 19 per cent of these drug-takers had taken opium at one time or another. Our group can thus best be described as school children who regularly took hashish or marijuana.

11. H. Cohen, ibid., pp. 22, 27 and 59.

12. J. Junger-Tas, ibid., p. 53.

We also took a control group of school children who did not take drugs. The two groups were matched in such respects as age, sex and type of education. The procedure employed for that purpose was to find, for every school child regularly taking drugs, a classmate of the same age and sex. Thus the control group was also 44 strong.

Both groups of subjects were tested and interviewed. The following tests were applied:

  1. The Eysenck Personality Inventory (EPI). This comprises three scales: a neuroticism scale, an extroversion scale and a so-called lie test;

  2. The socialization scale from the California Personality Inventory;

  3. Zuckerman's sensation-seeking scale; 13

  4. Srole's anomia scale; 14

  5. A verbal conditioning test devised by Hemmel. 15

The interview covered such points as: the use of drugs (what drugs are taken; at what frequency; why the subject started taking drugs; how he obtained them, and so on ); the parental home (composition of the family; whether the subject still lives with both parents; how he gets on with his parents, and so on); the school situation (attitude to school; atmosphere at school and in class; time spent on homework, and so on); use of leisure (how the subject spends his free time; whether he has any specific hobbies); and latent criminality.

The results of this comparative study are briefly set out below. 16

13. M. Zuckerman, "Development of a Sensation-Seeking Scale ". Journal of Consulting Psychology, vol. 28, No. 6, December 1964.

14. L. Srole, "Social Integration and Certain Corollaries ". American Sociological Review, 1956, vol. 21.

15. J. J. Hemmel, Beinvloedbaarheid van delinkwenten [literally: susceptibility of delinquents to influence], Boom, Meppel, 1970, pp. 41-42.

16. For a full report on the results, see the special drug number of the Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Criminologie ("Drugs en Schooljeugd" [literally: drugs and schoolchildren]), September 1970.


Psychological characteristics

Of the seven psychological tests which we applied, four proved capable of detecting significant differences between drug-takers and abstainers. * The drug-takers proved to be more neurotic (p < .0008), to be less socially integrated (p < .01), to have a higher anomia score (p < .02) and to score higher on the sensation seeking scale (p < .07).

Parental home

Great differences between drug-takers and abstainers were also found in relation to the parental home. First of all it emerges that the drug-takers take a different view of their parents (see table 4).


How drug-takers, as compared with non-drug-takers, judge their parents with regard to certain characteristics

Drug-taker's father is:
Drug taker's mother is:
Significant differences
More the master in the
More lenient
Lets children have more
Less fair
of their own way
Less friendly
Less flexible
No significant differences
Lets children have their own way
In poor health
Hits out straight away
Cares a lot for me
Cares a lot for me
Keeps you under control
Keeps you under control

The following picture of the drug-takers' parents emerges from table 4. Mother makes a passive impression and is more lenient. Father is on the high-handed side. He is more the master in the home, is less flexible, is felt to be less fair and keeps his distance more. It is not difficult to predict from this that relations with their parents will also prove a source of differences between drug-takers and abstainers. This proves to be the case. The drug-takers have more differences of opinion with their parents (p < .05); they have less communication with their parents (p < .01); their parents are less well informed about what they are doing (p < .05); they are more critical of their parents, especially the father, and find the atmosphere worse at home (p < .05). In addition they are found to fall further short of their parents' expectations (p < .001).

* It is important to note that no difference was found between drug-takers and abstainers as regards their scores in the lie-test. This means that the differences established by the other tests cannot be explained by a difference between drug-takers and abstainers as regards attitude to the tests.

School situation

In this respect too great differences are found to exist between school children who take drugs and those who do not. The drug-takers find the atmosphere at school and in class significantly worse (p < .03 and <.001). They spend less time on their homework (p < .05); they have had to repeat a year more often in the past (p < .05); they play truant more often (p < .001); and they show a greater desire to quit school as soon as possible (p < .02).

Use of leisure

The following differences were found with regard to the use made of free time. Non-users of drugs engage in more activities at the weekend (p < .02). They take a greater part, both passive and active, in sport (p < .01 and p < .05). In addition, as already mentioned, they spend more time on their homework. The drug-takers spend more time visiting friends (p < .001), spend more of their weekends away from home (p < .01), and engage in creative activity more often (p < .05).

Drug-taking and criminality

There are in theory three forms in which a relationship can exist between drug-taking and criminality. First of all it is possible that a person may commit offences under the influence of drugs. A well-known example of this is alcohol. A great many offences occur because the offenders are under the influence of alcohol. Next, a connexion between drug-taking and criminality may be formed because drug-taking is, beyond question, a source of expense. It is quite conceivable that a person who lacks the means to purchase drugs will take to crime just in order to lay his hands on them.

Lastly, a large proportion of drug-taking takes place on the "scene". Other values and rules prevail in this subculture of drug-takers. It is possible that this makes it easier to turn to crime. These points are merely suppositions.

The question whether a connexion exists between drug-taking and criminality is very difficult to answer. The fact is that there are so many drugs, and that they often vary widely in their effects.

Our study was mainly concerned with hashish and marijuana takers. We shall therefore confine our attention to these substances. The cannabis report of the United Kingdom Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence 17 goes into the question whether the use of hashish and marijuana may foster criminality.

17. Published by the Home Office, London, 1968.

A great many studies are cited, including the (literally and figuratively) classical investigation carried out by the Indian Hemp Commission of 1894 (!) and the report of the investigation made by a New York commission which studied the question of marijuana at the request of Mayor La Guardia. Both studies reach more or less the same conclusion: there is scarcely any connexion between marijuana-taking and criminality. Wolff, in his study on the effect of marijuana in Cuba and Brazil, comes to the opposite conclusion. 18 What is the value of these investigations to our inquiry? A characteristic of many of these studies is that they are mainly concerned with the question whether people are apt to commit serious offences under the influence of marijuana. This is found to occur only sporadically. As we have already seen, this is only one aspect of the matter. Furthermore the authors base their conclusions mainly on registered criminality. This last, in particular, is in our judgement a weakness. Detected criminality, as is common knowledge, accounts for only a proportion of the offences actually committed.

In a survey of latent criminality among students, Buikhuisen, Jongman and Oving found that students who take drugs commit, on the average, more offences than students who do not. 19 A year later this investigation was repeated, this time with another group of students. The result was the same. Here again the drugtakers proved to have more of a criminal past. It was also established that all the offences covered by the questionnaire had been committed more often by the drug-takers than by the students who did not report ever having taken drugs. 20

All students go through secondary school. It was therefore of interest to ascertain whether there was any connexion between drug-taking and criminality in the secondary-school population too. With a view to detecting the existence of any such connexion, we asked our subjects to complete a questionnaire in which they were asked whether they had committed certain specified offences at any time within the past two years and, if so, how often. The offences in question were theft in general, shoplifting, malicious destruction, assault and battery, joyriding, and driving under the influence of drugs.

The results again show broad agreement with those of our previous studies. The drug-takers' group includes significantly more (p < .02) subjects who also commit other offences than does the abstainers' group. (The percentages are 86.4 and 63.6 respectively.)

18. P.O. Wolff, Marihuana in Latin America: the threat it constitutes. Washington, 1949.

19. See W. Buikhuisen, R. W. Jongman and W. Oving, "Onregistreerde kriminaliteit onder studenten" [literally: Unregistered criminality among students], Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Criminologie, June 1969, p. 77.

20. See R. W. Jongman and W. Buikhuisen, "Druggebruik en de relatie leeftijdkriminaliteit bij studenten" [literally: Drug-taking and the relationship between age and criminality among students], Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Criminologie, March 1970, pp. 8 and 9.


Number of offences committed by drug-takers and non-drug-takers in a period of two years


Non drug takers (N = 44)

Drug takers (N = 44)

Type of offence

Number of offences

Number of persons

Average per offender

Number of offences

Number of persons

Average per offender

52 12 4.33 130 19 6.84
Malicious destruction
22 9 2.44 50 7 7.14
Assault and battery
20 7 2.86 19 6 3.33
1 1 1.00 8 6 1.33
Driving under the influence of drugs
126 17 7.41 199 30 6.63
221 28 7.89 406 38 10.68

On the average, in addition, the drug-takers commit more other offences. This applies not only to the six specified offences taken together, but also to those offences when considered singly. Theft and malicious destruction then take a relatively prominent place. In the case of assault and battery and joyriding, the difference is not great. Driving under the influence of drugs is an exception to the above rule. On the average, this offence has been committed fewer times by those drug-takers who admit having committed it at all. However, as we shall see, the drug-takers include appreciably more school children who admit having committed this offence at one time or another.

In order to view all these conclusions in the proper perspective, we show in table 5 the actual numbers involved in each case.

Summing up, then, we may say that, in our group of subjects too, drug-taking goes with more of a "criminal past". Little can be said, on the basis of our investigation, with regard to the nature of this relationship. It is possible that our drug-takers were "criminals" before they took to drugs. It is also possible that the drug-takers have become more criminal since joining the "scene" (the drug-takers' subculture). It is also conceivable that both drug-taking and criminality should be regarded as symptoms of an underlying syndrome. In order to gain an accurate insight into this phenomenon, a new investigation is needed.

The development of drug-taking among secondary school children in the Netherlands

We have presented above the results of an inquiry which we made among secondary school children in 1969. How has this drug-taking developed since then? In order to be able to answer this question, we held a further inquiry in the autumn of 1971. This time the investigation covered 32 towns in the Netherlands. The types of schools covered were the same as before: (secondary schools, secondary technical schools, and schools of the arts). A total of 17,808 school children were studied in the 32 towns concerned. The inquiries were made in the traditional manner. The same questionnaire was used, and the answers were recorded anonymously.

Comparison between drug-taking in 1969 and in 1971

In making a comparison between drug-taking in 1969 and in 1971 it is possible to consider various points, such as: how many school children have taken drugs at some time or other; what drugs were taken; how often these substances are being taken, and so on. Let us first take a look at the percentage of school children, in each of these two years, who say that they have taken drugs at one time or another and, in round terms, at the frequency of drug-taking. The results are shown in table 6.

Table 6 shows that the number of secondary school children who have taken drugs at one time or another has almost doubled in the past two years. There has also been a change with regard to the frequency of use: whereas by 1969 only one school child in 40 had taken one or other drug more than 20 times, in 1971 the proportion was one in 16.


Comparison of the extent and nature of drug-taking among secondary school children in 1969 and 1971

(N = 11,659 and 17,808 respectively)

Percentage of school children who have taken drugs at some time or other
11.15 20.3
Percentage of school children who have taken drugs more than 20 times
2.5 6.5

What kind of drugs are being taken?

In 1969 drug-taking was mainly confined to hashish and marijuana. These substances may be classified among the less harmful drugs. However, it is rightly said that the use of even these drugs must be firmly opposed, because otherwise the subject moves up from these to more harmful drugs. Has there been a shift in the drug-taking pattern in the Netherlands in this respect? The answer to this question can be seen from table 7.


Percentage of drug-taking school children, in 1969 and 1971, who had taken a particular drug at some time or other

(N = 1,300 and 3,615 respectively)

Drug taken



88.3 95.9
13.7 14.7
12.3 11.7
7.2 6.5

Table 7 shows that the drug-taking pattern has remained reassuringly constant. There have been only minor changes in the relative proportions of the different drugs in the users' market.

Frequency of use

In the previous section we considered only whether the subject had taken a particular drug at some time or other. The number of times he had done so was left out of consideration. We shall now look more closely at the question of frequency of use, again drawing the dividing-line between more than 20 and less than 20 occasions. Table 8 shows the position in this respect with regard to the use of the various drugs.

Table 8 shows that, in this respect too, only minor changes have occurred. It is still the case that nearly 60 per cent of the drug-takers rest content with the occasional "joint" (i.e., have taken only hashish, less than 20 times). The percentage of drug-takers who have taken a particular drug more than 20 times has grown somewhat larger, but here again the increases have remained on the low side. This last comment does not apply to the group who take more harmful drugs only: this percentage has not risen. It is still very low (0.1 per cent).

The proportion who have stopped taking drugs

The large percentage of school children who have taken hashish exclusively and less than 20 times suggests that a large number of school children try drugs out of a sort of curiosity and then give them up again. What percentage do these "stoppers" represent? In table 9 we show, for 1969 and 1971, the percentage of those who have taken the various drugs and have since given them up.

Table 9 shows that, in the case of hashish, LSD and opiates alike, the proportion of school children who had stopped taking these substances was greater in 1971 than in 1969. In particular, the proportion of school children who reported in 1971 that they had stopped taking opiates must be considered gratifyingly high by comparison with the 1969 figure.

The relationship between drug-taking, age, sex and social class in secondary school children

On the basis of our 1969 inquiry we found a clear relationship between drug-taking on the one hand and age, sex and social class on the other. The drug-takers proved to be older, to belong less preponderantly to the middle class and, in a high proportion of cases, to be male. In 1971 it was found that all these connexions had almost disappeared. So far as age and social class were concerned, there was no longer any difference whatsoever between school children who took drugs and those who did not. Only the sex variable is still a factor. The proportion of male drug-takers is even higher than before. The differences, however, are less marked than they were in 1969. Either fact might mean that drug-taking among school children has been "normalized" to some extent. Whereas in 1969, in the initial phase, there were still special categories of school children who felt more attracted to drug-taking, this group was less distinctive in character in 1971. It is in this sense that we use the term "normalization ".


Frequency with which school children had taken particular drugs, in 1969 and 1971 (N = 1,300 and 3,615 respectively)

Percentage of drug-takers who had:



Taken hashish alone less than 20 times
56.9 59.0
Taken hashish alone more than 20 times
7.9 14.3
Taken hashish and opiates but mainly LSD and amphetamine less than 20 times
10.6 6.2
Taken hashish and opiates but mainly LSD and amphetamine more than 20 times
12.9 17.2
Taken opiates but mainly LSD and amphetamine less than 20 times
11.3 3.2
Taken opiates but mainly LSD and amphetamine more than 20 times
0.4 0.1


Percentage of drug-takers who have stopped a taking a particular drug

Drug previously taken



22.3 33.3
33.0 41.7
28.8 56.7

aIn this context, a subject who has stopped taking a drug is one who has not taken it for the past half-year.

The development of drug-taking at secondary schools: a forecast

We have seen above how drug-taking at secondary schools developed between 1969 and 1971. The proportion of drug-takers shot up from 11.15 per cent in 1969 to 20.3 per cent in 1971: that is to say, it nearly doubled. What, then, is to be inferred from figures like these, and what is to be expected as regards future developments in this respect? Drugs are not an easy subject to talk about. Many factors are apt to confuse the discussion. At international meetings, in particular, verbal misunderstandings readily occur. Every country has its own experience of drug-taking and feels able to generalize from it in speaking of the problems of other countries. However, despite the conceptual differences which may arise out of such national orientations, it is also possible to observe a common frame of reference among the participants in drug discussions. The common feature, as we see it, is that in many discussions about the drug problem the drugs-as mere pharmacological quantities-are still put first. We are confronted here with a kind of hierarchical thinking, according to which the pharmacological properties of the various drugs come right at the top, the individuality of the drug-taker comes a long way down the scale, and the circumstances in which he is living come right at the bottom. According to this view of things, the pharmacological properties of the various drugs are so predominant that every use, irrespective of the drug-taker's individuality and personal circumstances, will produce an inescapable series of consequences. The effect of this exaggerated belief in the diabolical powers of drugs has been that the solution to the drug problem has long been sought primarily through prevention of the distribution of these substances among the population, criminal prosecution of drug-takers and so on. It might also be said that, according to this way of thinking, a drug is regarded as a sort of magnet which attracts everybody in its vicinity, regardless of individuality and circumstances. We consider that this is a mistaken idea and that it has contributed little to the solution of the drug problem. As we see it, the discussion on drugs and drug problems should be based on the following two principles:

  1. It is no use just saying that there are harmful or harmless drugs. The potential danger presented by a drug to a person's health depends on such factors as the nature of the substance, the dose taken, how often it is taken, the method of taking it, the user's physical constitution, his mental make-up, and the circumstances in which he is living. The logical inference from this thesis is that in principle it can be said of all drugs that they may be either harmless or harmful.

  2. In our opinion, a second important point of departure in discussions on drugs is that all drug-taking, whether medical or non-medical, is functional. It meets a need. The needs may vary from country to country; they may take a different form within one and the same country according to the category of drug-takers considered, and so on. Something that holds good for all drug-taking, however, is that any attempt to prevent it which relies exclusively on prohibiting use of the drug and prosecuting those who use it, leaving the underlying needs or frustrations wholly out of account, is doomed to failure.

We have included this rather long preface in an endeavour to forestall certain breakdowns in communication. We want to give our forecast of the development of drug-taking among secondary school children in the Netherlands. We are not, therefore, making any pronouncement about the anticipated development of drug-taking at schools in other countries, or about other categories of drug-takers in the Netherlands. In evaluating our expectations it is also important to bear in mind that we are dealing here with a population whose drug-taking is still confined mainly to marijuana and hashish.

What, then, are we to expect with regard to the development of drug-taking at secondary schools in the Netherlands? Our forecast is that, so far as extent is concerned, this drug-taking is already approaching saturation point. We base this expectation on the following observations:

Although there has been talk all over the country of a near-doubling in the number of drug-taking school children, this doubling has not taken place in all the towns. In those towns where the rate of drug-taking at the schools was relatively high by 1969, the increase up to 1971 was comparatively slight.

The same applies to schools which were attended by a relatively large number of drug-takers in 1969. Here again, the increase in the number of drug-takers stayed far below the national trend. Yet it cannot have been difficult for non-drug-takers at these schools to obtain drugs. A considerable part of the increase in drug-taking is ascribable to the fact that the number of female school-children involved, which was still very small in 1969, has increased comparatively sharply. * The increase among the boys was appreciably smaller.

All our drug-takers were in the final examination class at secondary school or the top class at a secondary technical school or a school of the arts. This means that, so far as training is concerned, they could already be classified as privileged young people. Therefore we are not concerned here with a socially vulnerable group which needs drugs in order to relieve its frustrations or to escape from an unbearable reality.

An inquiry which we held among secondary school children who use drugs 21 shows that the majority of them take up drugs out of curiosity. Only 18 per-cent give difficult circumstances as the cause. Even in 1971 drug-taking was still at a low rate of frequency.

Lastly, in view of the special character of this population of young people (secondary school children), it may be assumed that there is a satisfactory range of choices open to them as regards pleasurable ways of spending their free time. They do not need drugs for that purpose.

*The reader is reminded that, even so, the proportion of female drug-takers continued to be lower than that of male drug-takers in 1971.

21. W. Buikhuisen, H. Timmerman, S. Jongema and P. Wagenaar, "Druggebruik, de eerste kennismaking" [literally: Drug-taking: the first acquaintance], Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Criminologie, September 1970, p. 192.

In view of these considerations we do not, as we have already stated, anticipate any great increase in the number of drug-taking secondary school children. Hence repressive action appears to be utterly unnecessary. On the other hand good instruction will have to be given at these schools concerning the dangers associated with the use of drugs. Furthermore it is essential to prevent a situation from arising in which, through a negative attitude to these drug-takers, their primary deviance becomes a secondary one. 22 We shall put our expectations regarding the development of drug-taking to the test by making a further investigation of an augmented sample of school children in 1973.


This article has presented the results of a number of studies made of drug-taking among school children in the Netherlands: (1) an inquiry held in 1969 into the nature and extent of drug-taking among 11,659 school children; (2) an inquiry held in 1971 into the nature and extent of drug-taking among 17,808 school children; and (3) a comparative study between school children who do and school children who do not take drugs. Special attention was paid to the question how drug-taking among secondary school children in the Netherlands will develop further in the years to come.

22. See E. M. Lemert, Human Deviance: Social Problems and Social Control, Prentice Hall Inc., Englewood Cliffs, 1967.