Chapter 2
Schools, youth and drugs

Box 3: The European school survey project on alcohol and other drugs (ESPAD): a growing resource for understanding trends in drug and alcohol use in young people

ESPAD is an important source of information on drug and alcohol use among European school students and is invaluable for recording trends over time. ESPAD surveys were conducted in 1995, 1999 and 2003. The use of standardised methods and instruments among nationally representative samples of school students aged 15 to 16 years provides a high-quality and comparable data set. Participation in ESPAD has grown with each survey, and both EU Member States and non-EU countries participate. In 1995, a total of 26 European countries participated (including 10 countries that joined the EU in May 2004). This figure increased to 30 in 1999, while the 2003 survey involved an impressive 35 countries including 23 EU Member States (including the 10 countries that joined the EU in 2004) and three candidate countries (Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey) and Norway. Spain did not participate in the study, but the 2003 ESPAD report presents national data from the Spanish schools survey (PNSD).

The comparability of the ESPAD school survey is based on standardisation of target age group and method and timing of data collection, use of random sampling, the robustness of questionnaire design and assurance of anonymity.

The survey questions focus on alcohol consumption (lifetime, 12-month and 30-day prevalence, average consumption, binge drinking) and use of illicit drugs (lifetime, 12-month and 30-day prevalence including measures of how frequently drug use occurred during these time windows).

Some of the main findings of the 2003 survey in the EU Member States, candidate countries and Norway were:

  • Cannabis is by far the most commonly used illicit drug.

  • Ecstasy is the second most used illegal drug, but experience is relatively low.

  • Experience of amphetamines and LSD and other hallucinogens is low.

  • Although prevalence of use is relatively low, magic mushrooms are the most commonly used hallucinogens in 12 EU Member States.

  • Other substances used by school students include tranquillisers and sedatives without a doctor’s prescription (with a highest reported national level of 17 %), and inhalants (national maximum 18 %).

  • The 30-day prevalence of binge drinking (defined as consuming at least five drinks in a row) varies considerably between countries.

Information on ESPAD and the availability of the new report can be found on the ESPAD website.

Comparable data on young people’s use of alcohol and drug come largely from surveys of 15- to 16-year-old school students. The European school survey project on alcohol and other drugs (ESPAD) conducted surveys in 1995, 1999 and, most recently, 2003. The 2003 survey (Hibell et al., 2004) provides comparable data from 22 EU Member States as well as Norway and three candidate countries (Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey). Other school surveys (e.g. in the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway) and Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) surveys also provide data on drug use among school students, and generally the findings are very similar.