Drugs and Alcohol (young people)

Culture, drugs and alcohol

We spoke to young people aged 16-26 about their reasons for drinking alcohol and using cannabis and other drugs. People often said that they didn't really know, or had never really thought about it, but reasons generally fell into four categories:
  • Culture - the way of life in the UK or the culture of particular minority groups was said to affect whether young people used alcohol or drugs.
  • Social life - in social situations like parties, people said that alcohol or drugs can increase their confidence and enjoyment.
  • Pressure from friends - people said that they felt pressure to ‘fit in’ with friends by drinking or taking drugs.
  • Escaping from problems - drugs and alcohol could be used to get away from feeling depressed or from problems at home or in their personal lives.
In this section we talk about the way that culture impacts on drinking and drugs.

Alcohol and culture
Most young people in Britain grow up in households where parents regularly drink alcohol. People who’d spent time abroad sometimes wondered why the British drink so much compared to the French, for example.

Kayleigh compares the drinking culture in the UK with the rest of Europe. She says that the British are ‘extreme’ when it comes to alcohol and drugs.

View full profile
Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female

I think so, in England I think, well I suppose Great Britain almost is, it’s a very drinking culture isn’t it? Because of like when you’ve got, you know, on the continent like France and Spain. I mean you’re Spanish right? Yeah, so it’s different isn’t it? Like, more relaxed and, because when we were in France they, we went on holiday to Paris and they say there’s a lot more people just sit and they have a glass of wine but they’re not like, like downing the wine, you know? [Laughs] you, they just sit and talk and, with their family or their friends and it’s, you know, they enjoy dinner and things, and here, you know, because we were having dinner, and it’s off the topic but we were having dinner the other day and I said, “Oh if we were in France.” You know, and they don’t eat, eat like that, like really quickly, people here eat so fast and, and that’s it, and then they get up and they leave, they don’t enjoy the company of sitting together and stuff like that, it’s almost like they eat like they drink you know? Drink, drink, drink, drink, it’s just like, and it’s like that here, and I said because my friend comes from Hollandand I mean that obviously legalised prostitution, legalised Cannabis, a lot of Ecstasy she’s says over there too, and she’s completely different she says, you know, she knows a lot of people who take drugs, and not like doing drugs and know what it’s going on but she says they don’t do anything like they do here, she says when British people come over to her, Amsterdam, that’s near where she lives, she says they just fall about the streets, they’re drunk, you know, they’re high as a kite, they’re all everywhere, she says but you don’t find that with Dutch people she says, they do all the same things but they’re not to an extreme and I think that’s where we’ve got it wrong. 

Some said that alcohol is everywhere in the UK and everything seems to be telling them to drink. They gave the following examples:
  • Adverts always show glamorous young people drinking (but "not 45 year old alcoholics" as one person pointed out),
  • Many British soap operas have a pub as the main meeting place for the community.
  • Alcohol is used to celebrate achievements, special occasions and birthdays.
  • Social events with work colleagues are likely to involve drinking
  • University social life revolves around drinking.

Kayleigh says that alcohol advertising doesn’t show the ugly side of drinking.

View full profile
Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
I think like almost glorifying it really, it’s not, it, you know, it’s hard to [clears throat] when you see in the same magazine or it, you know, don’t drink, it, it’s bad, there’s an article on it and then the next page you’ve got like Bacardi, you know, bottles of Bacardi Breezer in these luxurious adverts of all these girls in party dresses having a great time, things like [em] Archers and things like that, things targeted towards women as well, the women are really dressed up and they’re going out and, if you see that on the next page and then after reading an article about not drinking you’re going to you know, you’re going to think ‘well that’s rubbish because the girl’ I mean if you’re that impressionable and I think young people can be thatall they want to do is have friends and enjoy their life and they think ‘oh well drinking’s the way to do that’.
I think it doesn’t show you the later effects, especially like if people become alcohol dependent and, you know, they might be drinking when they’re eighteen but now they’re like forty-five and they’ve got to drink, you know, whatever, cider every day [telephone ringing] just to function in their life and it’s not glamorous then [telephone ringing] you know?

When they’ve got nothing because they have wasted all, but [telephone ringing] I think, they don’t show people like that because [telephone ringing] no-one’s going to buy alcohol if they show, you know, forty-five [telephone ringing] year old alcoholics are they? You know, that they, [telephone ringing] the alcohol companies are businesses they, they don’t, they [telephone ringing] can put ‘drink responsibly’ on their adverts all they like but [telephone ringing] they’re there to make money they’re not, they’re not charities you know? And I think we have to realise that they’re there to sell their product and they’ll do whatever it takes and if that means glamorising it that’s what they’ll do you know? 

People felt that culture in the UK gives the message that drinking alcohol is a normal and a fun activity to be enjoyed with family and friends.  Alcohol is also cheap and easily available. Being caught drinking underage doesn’t tend to result in being punished either, so there is little to stop young people getting drunk.

Emma says that being caught drunk by the police or your parents doesn’t really get you in any serious trouble, unlike getting caught with illegal drugs.

View full profile
Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
Yeah as a young person you would be like if I was involved with drugs the potential punishment and consequences of being involved with drugs are so much worse than those of alcohol, so it’s a, you know, I would go and drink instead because if you get caught drunk or drinking underage what do you get? You know, a slap on the wrists, the Police call your parents, not good, admittedly no-one wants to be in the situation but it would seem like the consequences would be less severe so it, yeah that’s probably why people drink more I think, and the availability potentially of alcohol is easier than drugs but then I wouldn’t really know because I’m not looking for drugs [laughs]. 
Drugs and culture 
There are places in the UK where smoking cannabis is as common as drinking alcohol is in the rest of the country. We talked to young people who had grown up in households where parents or siblings smoked cannabis on a regular basis. 

Chloe’s older sister smoked hash at home and it seemed to have a calming effect on her.

View full profile
Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
She smoked hash which is the brown rock form of cannabis. Which actually, it doesn’t make you as high as the skunk form of cannabis but yeah even to this day I associate that smell with home because from when I was young, that was what I could smell at home, it's a comforting smell to me. 
So you took it because you were curious about what your older sister was doing or?
I just thought it was normal. I just thought because she was doing it it was like cigarettes. It was just something else that people did and it was just normal. There wasn’t any. There wasn’t ever a problem with my sister doing it. It wasn’t ever looked upon in front of me as something you shouldn’t be doing. It was like a positive maybe because she, she sort of. I can see that when she. Because she was quite a fiery person. She’s quite a fiery character and her and my mum always used to argue.
And I observed that when she did smoke it she was a much calmer, nicer person. So I saw it as a good thing that it did make a positive impact on her. I also did notice that when she didn’t have it she was fiery again because she didn’t have it.
And your mum, what was your mum’s attitude at that time when she was smoking cannabis or skunk at home?
Quite liberal. She didn’t really see it as much as a problem either. Yeah I think that’s a general thing as well maybe in more so in like a council estate area, low income, yeah education levels and stuff. It’s just seen as a, it’s not a hard drug. It’s not a problem. It’s just a bit of skunk. It’s just a spliff. It’s not really a big problem. That’s the general idea around it. 

Some young people said that illegal substances are cheap and very easy to get hold of in their neighbourhoods. Chloe pointed out that cannabis is not seen as a ‘hard drug’ in some areas so is not seen as a problem. Kasim said that everybody he knew smoked weed. Karis and Kasim use cannabis themselves but are unhappy about how their neighbourhood has been affected by drugs and gang problems. 

Kasim and Karis describe what it’s like to live in a council estate where drugs are a problem.

View full profile
Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
And you live in the same area?
Kasim' Yeah I live in the same area and I’d agree with what she is saying. There’s been like plenty of times I’ve been like say to the shops and seen like maybe like a big group of like lads aged between, even some as young as like 15, 16.
Karis' Yeah and maybe even 14.
Kasim' just hanging around street corners and stuff. And like a load of like heroin addicts and like crack addicts like approaching them like wanting their fix sort of thing.
It is quite disturbing to see obviously because no one wants that in their area. Do you know what I mean? You don’t want to walk down a road and see something like that especially if you’re with say your little brothers.
Karis' You’ve got your little cousin or yeah.
Kasim' or your little sisters or even family who don’t live in this area.
Karis' Yeah.
Kasim' Like my family will come and visit me from Scotland and I will feel ashamed to go certain places in my area because of the high drug and crime rate.
I mean you mentioned the crime rate in the area at the moment?
Kasim' Basically I feel that it’s jealousy between the other gang members of like who’s making more money and stuff.
Can you do a little bit more again about the kind of problems in the area with the gangs and?
Karis' Where do I start? I mean well with me like on my estate there’s like a Metropolitan Police. There’s like a little headquarters sort of thing for the estate like the community thing. And to be honest I see at least a car a day to be honest like stopping and searching, you know, kids and whatnot. Like even people looking suspicious in cars, like do you know what I mean, because it is so like. Basically on my estate I think it’s, the highest crime at the moment is car theft.
Kasim' Yeah I agree.
Karis' And basically yeah it’s just like. I don’t know probably kids from about 16 up until maybe our age, maybe even 25 maybe like, you know, stealing cars probably to sell for drugs or you know whatever. It’s like things like that so yeah I mean it’s not nice, you know what I mean, every day I’m hearing sirens and, you know, shouting going on or whatever outside and stuff. So yeah. 

Some members of Karis’ family smoked cannabis when she was growing up.

View full profile
Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
And the reason why you were doing it. Was it curiosity or was it part of being …?
Kasim' Do you want to go first?
Karis' Alright. [sigh] Basically me, I mean I’ve been brought up to know about weed sort of thing. I, I’ve noticed it’s in my, do you know what I mean, in my family. Members of my family smoked it and it was always there. Like, do you know what I mean, I was. Not that I knew what it was obviously side effects and things like that but I knew, you know, if I saw it I would be like, ‘Yeah that’s, you know what I mean, that’s weed’.
Kasim' You knew it wasn’t a cigarette, sort of thing.
Karis' So I think when I first started smoking it was when basically I moved home. I moved, I moved with my grandmother from my mum’s house and I used to live with my mum and my brother basically. And yeah I moved to my grandmother’s house and I think it was. What it was is my mum was really strict and basically I was tied down so I was a good girl like. I was a good girl but when I moved to my grandmother’s she gave me a bit more leeway, do you know what I mean. And then I started to, you know, experiment.
Kasim' You were about
Karis' sort of thing. Yeah and you know, I thought, ‘Yeah I know what weed is. I haven’t tried it before. Let me just try it.’ And then yeah I started smoking and I’d stay out, you know, until late, you know and things like that. So yeah but and it was curiosity definitely as well obviously, you know I was curious.
But I mean it didn’t interest. To be honest it didn’t interest me, do you know what I mean. It was until I got to high school when, you know, everyone’s like, ‘Yeah, you know’. 

All sorts of illegal drugs were easily available in the area where Bekky used to live. She thinks fewer people would do drugs if they were harder to get.

View full profile
Age at interview: 16
Sex: Female
And regarding drugs what is your experience of illegal drugs?
I haven’t really had any experience with them but I think that some drugs they’re like really, really easy for people to get like. Where I live there’s quite a lot of people I’d say that smoke and drink and take drugs. And they’ll just be like, no just say, ‘Oh I’ll get a tenner off me mum and then I’ll go and buy some weed and stuff like that. And like they’ll just go and see somebody who they know and just get it easily. And I just think, ‘God that’s way too easy’. If it were harder to get then not many people could do it could they’. 
Music festivals and clubs are often associated with drug taking, although this is generally discouraged by the organisers. Some of the young people we talked to said that they only really took drugs when they went to festivals. The link between different types of music and different drugs was explained by Harry.  

Ben’s used illegal substances only a handful of times, mostly at music festivals after a few drinks.

View full profile
Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
Have you used any illegal substances or?
Yeah only, I mean, only kind of never regularly only like very occasionally and pretty much always, nearly always when I’ve been like drinking and then someone’s just like, ‘Do you want this?’ And I mean it’s very, it’s a handful of times I’m talking about.
A handful?
Yeah and
In which context at parties or?
Yeah, yeah pretty much at like if we’re out somewhere or
Or concerts or?
Not, not at no festivals I went to I sucked alcohol. Yeah not just like on a night out or something and it was normally when if I’m just like not really thinking. Like if I was sober I definitely would like no but I’m just like yeah you’re just kind of less, you don’t really thinking straight. But yeah I mean it is only like a handful of times and I’d say the, the times I have, I mean I’ve looked back and just thought, ‘Right that was silly. I didn’t need to do that.  
Text onlyRead below

Harry thinks that different music scenes go with different types of illegal drugs.

View full profile
Sex: Male
What motivated you to keep, to keep at it and to experiment and to take other drugs?
Just curiosity.
Just curiosity?
And music.
Music, okay.
I was at an age where I suppose when I was 15 I started taking pills then because I’d started going raving then. I started going to clubs and I didn’t go to clubs before I couldn’t have got into before 15 I could only just about get into them at that age. But I was going to like listen to drum base or whatever kind of music it was that we were going to listen to
I think especially with my generation drugs are like so, so frequently used like with all different types of classes with different kind of races, backgrounds and I think I think it, a lot of it depends as I‘ve got older I’ve noticed it depends on the music you listen to. Music has a massive effect on the type of drug you take like with say for example like dubstep like is a relatively new type of music and I always associate with dubstep like ketamine and but then also like other drugs as well but mainly ketamine because of the, the, because ketamine the way it makes you feel is very like, it slows down life and it’s a tranquiliser so it makes you like almost certainly it’s like escapism and dub step the music you sort of bounce along to it and it’s sort of, it’s the way you dance to it and things it effects what you use, that’s just my opinion but.
And then with with as I say like different types of dance music obviously like pills, coke, different like sort of party drugs because it’s a lot more upbeat and people that use it are staying up all night like they do with dubstep but like in a different way, they’re more like sort of going out dancing, chatting and being…
Do you mean like ecstasy?
Yes sorry I wasn’t being clear yes ecstasy, different types of like amphetamines or whatever.
Like going out raving and it’s, it depends on what music you listen to like I say like if you go to like an R&B club like a Rhythm & Blues and Hip Hop and stuff like that it’s a different kind of drug or none at all. Sort of smoking weed or not at all really and maybe like some I guess like some clubs like which are a bit more upmarket maybe you’ll find like cocaine in them and stuff like that. But it’s more the dance music it’s just purely drugs; everyone in there is just on drugs.
Dancing, okay.

Like thousands there’d be a like a thousand people or whatever and everyone’s just, everyone’s doing drugs.  

See also social life, drugs and alcohol and alcohol and social life.

Last updated: July 2018.
Last reviewed: July 2018.
Previous Page
Next Page