A central objective of the government’s Updated Drug Strategy 2002 is ‘preventing today's young people from becoming tomorrow's problem drug users’ (Home Office, 2002, p. 7). The strategy emphasises the harm drugs can cause to society and stresses young people ‘need good quality drug education, information and advice’ (p. 3). In January 2007 Barnfield Borough Council in North London commissioned the present study as part of its ongoing initiative to improve the standard of drugs education provided to local secondary schoolchildren.
The prevalence of drug use among young people
The Information Centre for Health & Social Care and the Home Office annually commissions a large-scale survey that includes an assessment of drug use among young people. In the most recent report (2006) 34% of 15 year olds had used a drug within the last year. This was compared to 6% of 11 year olds, indicating an increase with age in the prevalence of drug taking. The most commonly available and taken drug was cannabis followed by volatile substances. In terms of drugs education, information provided by parents and teachers was rated as more helpful than that provided by friends.
The origins of post-modern adolescent drug use
Sociologists have attributed adolescent drug use to the emergence of subcultural groups in which drug permissive norms are reinforced as a reaction to society’s negative labelling (e.g. Cohen, 1972). Psychologists, alternatively, have adopted a quantifiable approach to defining those susceptible to using drugs (Parker, Aldridge & Measham, 1998), such as the development of ‘risk’ and ‘protective’ factors (e.g. Lloyd, 1998). Parker et al (1998), however, suggest these perspectives apply to a period when youth drug use was atypical and subcultural. They argue ‘the conditions in which (young people) are growing up, is changing’ (p. 21) and propose this is reflected in the normalisation of recreational drug use amongst post-modern youth. Normalisation refers to...
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