The patterns of drug abuse among school children




Pages: 23 to 26
Creation Date: 1972/01/01

The patterns of drug abuse among school children

Lecturer in Psychology, University of Leeds, United Kingdom

Despite the amount of research devoted to drug abuse and the increasing number of papers devoted to addiction and dependence, little is known regarding the drug using practices of school age adolescents.

The author's survey on an undergraduate population (Hindmarch (1970)) indicated that some 65 % of the male users and 13 % of the female drug users had sampled drugs before entering university.

Wiener (1970) in his carefully controlled surveys on the incidence of drug use in school children found that some 6 % of senior pupils (15-17 years) had experience of a wide range of illicit drugs. More recently Whitehead (1970) drew a similar conclusion for school children in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The studies of delinquent adolescents (Backhouse and James (1969)), emotionally disturbed students (Linken (1965)), and children on remand (Crockett and Marks (1969) and Noble (1970)) also bring out the extent of drug use in the various atypical adolescent populations. The purpose of this present paper is not to establish further incidence statistics but rather to investigate the drug using habits of a drug taking population of school age adolescents.


A group of 1,126 school children were given a confidential screening questionnaire concerning their attitudes to religion, politics, hobbies, pastimes and drug use. One of the questions was if they had ever taken "drugs" without being told to do so by a doctor, and if a child had, he was instructed to tick the appropriate items from the following list: tobacco (cigarettes etc.), alcohol (beer, cider, spirits etc.), tea, coffee, amphetamines (Bennies, Dexies), marihuana (grass, pot, hash etc.),- LSD (" acid "), pills (Moggies, blues etc.), heroin or cocaine ("H ", Coke etc.), and other chemicals and medicines.

Although all the foregoing are drugs, the present investigation was restricted to the last six items of the list. Respondents checking any of these final six sections were administered an individual interview questionnaire, aimed at investigating their patterns of drug use. The interviews were carried out in schools, youth clubs and coffee bars in Leeds and the West Riding of Yorkshire. Interviewers asked eight standard questions concerning drug taking experiences together with other questions necessary to establish rapport. Naturally the phraseology of the questions differed between interviewers but not so much as to distort the information offered. The interviewers were post-graduate students all of whom had experience of young people and survey techniques.


From the original sample, 111 respondents (f = 55, m = 56) admitted non-medical drug use. Of these, eight sets of results were rejected because of inconsistencies in the reports given to the interviewer, leaving a final N = 103 (f = 55, m = 48).


The variety of drugs abused

The number of categorised responses to the question "Which drugs have you taken at least once when they were not prescribed for you by a doctor?"

Opiates and/ or cocaine a
Others b
87 31 10 0 79

The number of respondents admitting to use of a single named drug only:

Opiates and/ or cocaine a
Others b
60 20 0 0

aNo drug user admitted taking any of the "opiates" (opium, morphine, and heroin) or cocaine, and this category is not included in the following tables.

bIn the "others" category the specifications included: Mescaline; DMT (dimethyl-tryptamine); organic solvents, e.g. Thawpit (carbon tetrachloride), Acetone; glues, e.g. balsa cement; tablets, e.g. "Moggies" (Mogadon), Mandrax, Librium; sleeping pills, e.g. Soneryl; cough linctus, e.g. Dimyril, Phensidil; polish and paint, e.g. Padawax, Varnish; air fresheners and fly papers.


Location of drug use

The number of categorised responses to the question "Where do you usually take this drug?"

At a party
7 27 2
In a pub
7 1 0
At a club or dance
63 2 0
At school
0 0 0
Other (specified) places a
10 1 8

aThe commonest "other place" was "in a flat or someone else's house" and reference was also made to railway stations, the country (especially thc LSD users), "at home" and in coffee bars.


Frequency of drug use

Number of categorised responses to the question "How many times have you taken...?"

16 72 93 24
1-9 times
19 29 9 62
10-19 times
37 0 0 7
20 or more times
31 2 1 10


Number of people in drug-taking situation

Number of categorised responses to the statement "I usually take this drug..."

On my own
4 1 0 71
Which one or two friends
16 27 9 8
In a group (three or more people)
67 3 1 0


Age at first taking drugs

Number of categorised responses to the question "How old were you when you first took this/these, drug/drugs?"

Before 14 years
3 0 0 0
14 years 27 0 0 10
15 years 39 3 1 61
16 years 17 27 1 7
17 years 1 1 8 1


Dependence upon drugs

Number of true/false responses to the question "Do you find it difficult to go for a week or two without taking this/these, drug/ drugs ?"

58 4 0 2
29 27 10 77


Confiding drug use

Number of categorised responses to the question "Who have you told about taking drugs?"

A doctor
9 0 1 3
A friend
60 29 6 31
1 0 0 0
School teacher
0 1 0 0
Family (not parents)
1 0 0 0
3 0 0 0
No one
3 1 3 45


The criterion for inclusion in the drug using sample is having illicitly taken drugs at least once; and this could, therefore, include respondents who have experimented once or twice with drugs at a party or in a group situation. Considering tables 1 and 3, a general pattern of experimentation emerges with cannabis, LSD, and some "others ", without the abuse producing dependent behaviour. The pharmacological characteristics of the amphetamines in producing dependence seem to be indicated in the number of respondents reporting high frequencies of amphetamine use. Wilson and Beacon (1964) estimated that of individuals prescribed amphetamines, up to 58 % became psychologically, if not physiologically, dependent upon them. Kiloh and Brandon (1962) also show the psychological dependence upon amphetamines in an amphetamine taking population. The present table 6 shows that two-thirds of the amphetamine users find it difficult to "go for a week or two without taking the drug ". This pattern does not emerge with any of the other categories of drugs, and it could be that the regular amphetamine users are in some way perhaps physiologically, or psychologically, dependent upon the drug. The variety of drugs abused under the "others" category (table l) and the low frequency of their use (table 3) reflects the experimental nature of such drug taking. The exceptions, i.e. those respondents with a high incidence of "others" use, could possibly be accounted for by the use of barbiturates and related compounds with a tendency to produce dependent behaviour.

Table 2 shows that the commonest location for amphetamine use is at a club or dance, supporting the hypothesis that the adolescent first turns to stimulant drugs in order to stay awake and active at all night discothéques and dances. Most police drug squads contend that in controlling the all night dances they are effectively controlling the majority of amphetamine abusers. The antithesis of the all night dance is the "smoke-in" or "shabeen" of the cannabis user. Here the social emphasis is not on staying awake and dancing, but of sitting placidly, listening to music and "getting stoned" in allowing the properties of cannabis to take effect. Schofield (1971) states that "stimulants are quite alien to this new teenage cult, i.e. that of cannabis use, and cannabis is particularly attractive to those members of psychedelic sub-cultures".

Brickman (1968) and Leech (1969) have commented upon the use of cannabis as an aid to introspection, tranquillity and non-violence-all traits characteristic of that element in modern teenage society which is searching for a new set of values. The pharmacological effects of the amphetamines and of cannabis are different, and so is the outlook of the groups taking these drugs.

The polarisation of cannabis and amphetamine users is not restricted to location of drug use but is found in the relative frequency of use (table 3), the size of the drug taking group (table 4) and the age at which the drugs were first taken (table 5).

Table 5 shows a shift from amphetamines and "other drugs" to the hallucinogens and cannabis in the higher age groups. There are probably two reasons for this move towards the mind altering drugs in the senior school age group. The first reasons are economic ones in that cannabis costs more per unit on the black market than do the amphetamines, or the pills and medicines available from the family medicine chest or the local pharmacist (Hindmarch (1971)). The older pupil will probably have the financial means to purchase small amounts of cannabis denied him earlier. Secondly, the pupil who remains in full time education during his 16th and 17th year is likely to be considering college or university education. More specifically, the ethos of these institutions regarding illicit drug use tends to be pro-cannabis (Hindmarch (1970)); and prospective students would no doubt tend to identify as well as mix with their future peers.

The results in table 7 tend to indicate a general reluctance or resistance to impart information about illicit drug use to anyone other than a friend. Only in a few instances was information about drug use confided to a doctor, school teacher or parent.


Although not an incidence survey, the results from the present sample tended to concur with Wiener (1969), and Whitehead (1970) in that some 10 % of the total sample questioned had experience of non-medical drug use.

The persistent use of amphetamines and the experimenting with the miscellany of other drugs during early adolescence (14-16 yrs) seems to represent the most alarming feature of drug use in adolescents. Amphetamines are drugs of dependence which because of their tolerance, cause an escalation in dosage in a relatively short period of time. Connell (1958) (1964) has reported incidences of an amphetamine psychosis resulting from overdosage of the drug, and more recently (1965) he reported acute withdrawal symptoms in adolescent drug users unable to obtain regular supplies of amphetamine.

Just as the drug using university and college populations are characterized by their indulgence in cannabis, so the adolescent school child is characterized by his abuse of stimulant drugs. Hindmarch (1971) found that the attitudes of both drug and non-drug using school children were exceptionally positive towards the amphetamines while both drug using and non drug using groups had a virtually neutral attitude towards cannabis.

The positive attitude towards the amphetamines is no doubt partly augmented by the general availability and low black market cost, approximately 10np per capsule, as well as being one of the few drugs that maintains the alert behaviour and prolonged physical effort desired by the habitués of the all night dance.

The other predominant feature of drug abuse in school children is the miscellany of drugs taken for experiment. Certain proprietary pharmaceuticals seem to become in vogue as various hallucinatory or stimulant properties emerge from taking them. Gogan and Ritson (1970) report the abuse of Dimyril (a cough linctus) in the East Midlands. Drug Liaison Committees in Bradford and Leeds are also aware of the increasing abuse of Phensidil (a cough linctus containing ephedrine) and of the taking of tablets and pills together with alcohol, e.g. Mandrax and cider. The abuse of pharmaceuticals and pills obtained from unused prescriptions in family medicine chests is particularly dangerous, and excessive Dimyril has been known to lead to kidney damage. Barbiturates and other hypnotics, anti-histamines, monoamine oxidase inhibitors and cycloserine have all been proved fatal if taken in conjunction with alcohol.

The pattern of drug use which emerges from the present study is basically the abuse of amphetamines, pills and medicines aimed at giving a" thrill" or" kick ". As the school child moves on to higher education, then cannabis, and to a much lesser extent LSD, become a more characteristic feature of the drug using pattern.

However, some 85 % of the school aged drug users have taken or are taking amphetamines. It is this pattern of drug abuse which places the adolescent at risk since amphetamines are regarded by the World Health Organization, the British Medical Association and the National Health Service as a risk to public health because of the dangers associated with their abuse. Many general practitioners have voluntarily banned the prescription of amphetamines. This is a major step in reducing the number of pills in circulation in pharmacies and also in cutting down on the number of unused amphetamine prescriptions in medicine chests.

Most health education lectures delivered to school children upon the dangers associated with drug use tend to emphasise the hallucinogens and cannabis. It would seem from the present survey that the emphasis should be changed to the abuse of pills in general, and the amphetamines in particular. Naturally, longitudinal studies are necessary in order to investigate fully the patterns of drug use in the school aged population. However, a carefully planned health education programme could possibly help stem the dangerous abuse of these readily available drugs.


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