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Drugs and Alcohol (young people)

Friends, alcohol and drugs

Several people said that friends or older siblings influenced whether they got into drugs or alcohol. Though most young people we talked to had tried both alcohol and drugs (mainly cannabis) several younger people said they had no plans to use drugs or drink or to hang around with people who did.
 

Emily sees drinking as more mainstream and thinks people start using drugs because of peer pressure.

Emily sees drinking as more mainstream and thinks people start using drugs because of peer pressure.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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I know of friends, my friends of friends that are doing drugs and stuff like that but I think alcohol is a lot different because at the age when a lot of people do go out drinking and when you get to the age of 18 and that it is, you are legal to drink so a lot of us more going out drinking but then I think it depends on how much drink and when you go out drinking. So if you are going out once a week having getting drunk then it depends than if you are going out like four or five nights getting drunk.
 
And you say that most of your group they don’t do drugs?
 
No they don’t do drugs.
 
Ok and alcohol, they drink alcohol to?
 
Yeah we’ll drink alcohol and that like if we go out or anything we’ll drink alcohol but it’s not really a big thing. You know it’s like if we do it it’s a limit and it’s once every couple of weeks or. You know it’s not a big amount.
 
So one sort of important message would be when you come to college there are these different groups of...
 
It’s different to school. As at school you didn’t think about going out drinking or anything. It’s when you come to college like even around college there’s posters up about clubs in town and that and so you learn about different things and because you’re in town there’s a lot of night life in town as going to a school in different area then there’s not a lot of night life around it so you don’t really see it as much so you don’t think to really go out drinking. So I think that’s a lot why they drink on the streets but then I don’t know really why.
 
But at the same time in college there are all these different groups you can choose which group sort of suits you best.
 
I think at school it’s a lot easier to choose groups because when you are all in one year you’ve got different groups. As at college because there are different courses you do or if you do ‘A’ levels or whatever I think like a course it’s quite a small course size so like everybody is friends with everybody so really you haven’t really got. You’ve got your groups of friends but only a couple. As at school there will be a lot more groups which you could choose from to join because it’s all that year rather than at college there isn’t really because you’re just friends with who’s in your course unless you know people on different courses from school or. So...
 
I think peer pressure has got a lot to do with drugs as like really you don’t. When you get asked what you feel as if you’ve either got to take it or you don’t. So like if you’re asked by the person that you don’t feel you can say no to that’s a different thing because it’s like that is a lot to do with peer… peer pressure has got a lot to do with drugs I think. But it depends on who it is that’s asking you and different. Like and it depends what your friends like. If you’re friends look at drugs in a good side or look at them in a bad side. So really it depends on who you hang about with and who your peers are really, as different.
 

I think a lot of people get into the wrong groups and start taking drugs to look good or to just to fit in with a group or get peer pressured into it by joining that group so I think that’s got a lot to do with it as well. 

 

Ben was influenced by his older brother and his friends who didn’t do drugs.

Ben was influenced by his older brother and his friends who didn’t do drugs.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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And what do you think has influenced your kind of attitude to it?
 
A number of things. One certainly I think for a lot of people like their older siblings I think is quite important, like the fact that my brother never did like. I mean I’m not saying if he had of done drugs I would have done too but the fact that he didn’t I reckon does have quite an impact because like if you’re older sibling does and they can like. They’ll probably say to you like, ‘Yeah it’s alright’ and kind of ‘It’s fun’ and whatever and yeah. And if I look at my friends the ones’ whose older like brothers or whatever did means much more likely. I mean it’s not always the way but that’s certainly one thing. Also yeah and then like my [noise] close friendship group I never really, don’t really, didn’t really get. I mean I have like lots of friends that like did get into drugs but kind of not my sort of closest friends and that is quite a big influence. 
 
 

Bekky was offered cannabis by some friends but they didn’t mind when she refused.

Bekky was offered cannabis by some friends but they didn’t mind when she refused.

Age at interview: 16
Sex: Female
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I’ve been offered cannabis before is like a spliff but I said no. I went to my friend’s house and I was sleeping at her house and she had some. I don’t know where she got it from. And a couple of my other friends tried it but I said, ‘No’ because well I don’t smoke so I thought well if that don’t interest me then something worse than that isn’t going to interest me.
 
Ok and what was their attitude when you said no?
 
They were fine about it but they were. But I said to them, I said, ‘Why are you doing that?’ ‘Oh it’s only once it don’t matter. It’s someone’s birthday. It don’t matter.’ But I think whatever occasion it is you shouldn’t do it no matter what it is.
 
Being influenced by friends
Using drugs regularly and experimenting with different drugs was a big part of making new friends at university where drugs and alcohol are easy to get hold of.
 

Charlie started using drugs at university when she started hanging round with certain groups of...

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Charlie started using drugs at university when she started hanging round with certain groups of...

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I didn’t use drugs in high school. I had some friends who did cannabis, mostly. There was friend of mine who went to lots of raves and did an astonishing variety of drugs when she was 16. I’d say university is the place where lots of people do get introduced to drugs.  I know more people who use drugs now than I did in high school.

Of course there’s probably a few reasons for that – my social group is very different now.  At uni, you get to choose who to hang out with in a much bigger way and so I’ve gravitated towards other people who have an interest in drugs.
 

Overtime some young people noticed that smoking cannabis left their minds ‘clouded’ and ‘in a haze’. Several said they thought taking drugs could damage their potential for getting good careers. Some young people had friends who’d become too involved with drugs and were in denial about the risks. Sam was the first one of his group to start using drugs and felt guilty for introducing his friends to it.
 

Sam feels responsible for introducing his friends to illegal drugs. (Played by actor)

Sam feels responsible for introducing his friends to illegal drugs. (Played by actor)

Age at interview: 28
Sex: Male
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It’s horrible to think but I think I’m responsible in a lot of ways for a fair number of my friends taking drugs because I was in there and I was getting involved in it and they were coming like they were coming from where they lived to where I live and coming out for a drink or whatever. And then I’d be like, ‘Do you want some drugs?’ like you know, and I weren’t forcing it on them but it was there and if I hadn’t have been in that situation I wouldn’t have put that on them. And you know, some of the states some of them have got in like. And I got in some states, you know, but I just, I feel responsible, I do. You know, I’d never do that anymore though like but...

 

Some of Harry's friends are in denial about their drug dependence and the risk of mental health...

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Some of Harry's friends are in denial about their drug dependence and the risk of mental health...

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It’s the same with my best friends now sort of there’s a massive group who are like so into drugs it’s unreal like more than most people I’ve ever met. And they’re such party animals and but they have their own problems individually well they’re still, some of them are in denial about it and stuff, don’t like to admit that there’s drugs that’s actually having this affect on them. They just think if they have like a little break from it then they’ll be fine and find I have conversations with some of them and like some of them, one of them in particular, he’s having massive problems at the moment, he’s having similar problems that I had. And I try and warn him but the thing is I don’t know him as well as my other friends we’re very familiar with each other and we know who each other are, we have like fun when we go out. But I don’t really know him on a personal level so I can’t be too I feel like I’m almost being a bit intrusive even though I really want to say to him “Look” and I do like I do open up and I say “Look mate if you, you don’t want to end up like how I felt like when I was like younger and then like a few years ago because that’s this is the start of it this is the start of paranoia and this is the start of something serious” and then one of my other friends I remember the other day like who was with us at that point when I said that who is so pro drugs it’s unreal, he would he’d just butt in and go “No, no don’t be so don’t be so like up in the air about it like it’s not that bad” and you need to what’s the name, “You need to have a break, just have a break and then you’ll be fine and you can get back into it” or whatever but, he’s a he’s not seeing he’s in denial himself with his own, but he doesn’t want to admit that there is a massive like connection with their problems there and that he needs to knock it on the head and this is something more serious than it actually is.

Working and getting into serious relationships
Mixing with older people in the workplace or simply ‘growing up’ and realising they needed to earn money and pay bills made some people realise they had to drink and smoke less. Several people still enjoyed social drinking with their friends/partners but generally took recreational drugs less often.
 

Jen explains that she’s grown up and as a result changed her lifestyle.

Jen explains that she’s grown up and as a result changed her lifestyle.

Age at interview: 25
Sex: Female
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…that has totally curbed as, even that’s like from people probably smoking two or three times a week that’s gone from like maybe once a week, maybe every couple of weeks. Like it, you can see it kind of petering off as people kind of get like proper jobs and have to start kind of earning money and stuff. So that’s, it’s very. We’re all kind of goodie-two shoes actually [laugh].
 
Yeah I think everyone as. Well there is, [sigh] there’s two kind of different. I would say among my group of, [husband] is a lot older, well he’s like 4, 4½ years older than me so his friends are all kind of like up in their early 30s. They’re all starting to get married and have babies and all that sort of thing. 
 
My friends on the other hand we just, we graduated two years ago. A lot of them are still doing kind of post grads and stuff. And so I’ve noticed the difference in their attitudes of drinking is quite different. And around my age people are still more likely to go to the pub several nights a week and just, you know, have it but more here then it’s all kind of more family orientated stuff now. So I’m somewhere kind of languishing in the middle, somewhere.
 
Somewhere in between.
 
Yeah so I probably feel more guilty, [ha] than my friends do. That’s what probably the lasting effect is I feel more guilty about it. 
 
Avoiding drug-using friends
For those who used drugs with friends, finding a new social group could be important if they were going to stop taking drugs. It could be difficult leaving old friends behind, but everyone we talked to said it had been the right thing to do. Several people realised old friends were seriously at risk of getting addicted and not being able to stop 
 

Lauren stopped seeing her old friends when she decided to quit cannabis.

Lauren stopped seeing her old friends when she decided to quit cannabis.

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Female
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I’ve had weed before, cannabis and I think I was 15 when I first had that.
 
Ok so it happened within your group of friends?
 
Yeah.
 
So somebody offered...?
 
Sometimes if you’re in a group of friends you feel pressurised to do things that they are doing and then you’ll try it.
 
Going back to drugs did you sort of try anything else apart from cannabis?
 
No.
 
How often were you smoking cannabis?
 
Every week.
 
Every week so when you met with your friends for sort of a drinking session you were also smoking a bit of weed?
 
Yeah
 
And that changed recently or...?
 
Yeah at the end of last year and the beginning of this year.
 
Ok has your group of friends changed also?
 
Yeah they got out. It’s normally the crowd that you’re in, the sort of friends you have and they influence that upon you and that’s why you start doing it. But now my group of friends have changed.
 
Well I got out of that group of friends. I used to go to my friend’s house every weekend and I stopped going and then I started being friends with one of my best friends now and now we’ve got our own group of friends.
 
Your friends now are they mostly from college now?
 
Yeah they’re not, some of them are yeah but not in the same group as me but they are around college and some of them are in their last year of school and some of them are older than me. So it’s kind of a mixed group.
 
But they are friends who are either studying or working or...?
 
Yeah. 
 

When Jim decided to stop using heroin he had to completely cut ties with his old friends.

When Jim decided to stop using heroin he had to completely cut ties with his old friends.

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Male
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Was that easy to?
 
To score?
 
Was that easy to leave these friends or this group behind?
 
No it wasn’t especially at first because these are people I’d grown up with all my life. I’d known them since I was about five years old some of them. So even though you’ve been through all the drug use and all the rest of it and it’s destroyed your life they are still a big part of your life, what’s left of it. You know what I mean. So you naturally try and hold on to that. So yeah that’s quite emotional but saying that, the drugs block out your emotions anyway. So I didn’t feel it too much at the time.
 
Ok. Have you made new friends? Have you got another group?

Yeah, yeah totally different life now. [um] I’ve been to college and I’ve got a girlfriend and a son, totally different life now. 
 
Tell me a little bit about your new friends now? I mean where you have met them and?
 
Well to be honest I’m still building relationships as we speak. I haven’t actually got that many friends at the moment. It was only 18 months ago that I got clean so it’s not that long. But I’ve met a few people at college, at work and also it’s been my girlfriend and her family and just build up contacts like that.
 
And you met your girlfriend when you?          
 
At college. 
But Peter said his enjoyment of drugs hadn’t affected their friendships or relationships.
 

Peter uses cannabis regularly and doesn't have any problem fitting in with different groups of...

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Peter uses cannabis regularly and doesn't have any problem fitting in with different groups of...

Age at interview: 27
Sex: Male
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So the friends, your group that you smoke with are people you have known for a long time?
 
Yeah, I mean there’s probably, there’s probably. I have two groups probably that I’m in, smoke with. Like I know various other people who I’ve, might share the occasional joint with but that’s not regular. My two regular groups would be the guy who I actually purchase from. He’s a childhood friend and his sort of group of friends who’ve [phew] perhaps they don’t live their life the same way that I do. They’re from a similar background to me but I choose to live a legal lifestyle. I choose to go to work every day. They’re in like generally various jobs within drugs industry, shall we call it. I don’t know. I don’t judge them for that. That’s, everyone’s got a choice and you know the circumstances aren’t the best. Being a drug dealer is actually quite a lucrative career if, especially if you come from a poor background. You know it’s, it’s an easy option. And then I have another group which is, consists of a cousin, his housemate, a friend who I’ve know for about 10 years, and another friend that I’ve known for about 5 years. But I think what it is the other group they sort of, these guys are all working guys. They’ve either been to, a lot of them have been to university, things like that. The other group, the kind of drug dealer group I’ll call them I probably share more of a similar background to, but these other guys I share more in common with so the conversations that we have might be a lot more intellectual so to speak or we might discuss books, things like that. We’ll play video games, you know, we still do the whole boys thing but it’s like quieter.
 
Support from friends
Young people described what friendship meant to them. Being supportive meant really looking out for your friends and stopping them getting into trouble with drugs and drink.
 

Emma says looking out for your friends means telling them if they’re drinking too much.

Emma says looking out for your friends means telling them if they’re drinking too much.

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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I think the case there is look out for each other, maybe that should be something that’s encouraged, you know, the idea that you’re each looking out for each other, not just holding your friend’s hair back over the toilet but maybe more than that, watching how much each other’s drinking, knowing each other’s limits, knowing what each other can handle, and also being aware of, I don’t know, guys around that, you know, perhaps don’t have the most honourable intentions. Maybe that would a good approach to take of the, the kind of, take the kind of social side of, you know, drinking together and turning that into looking out for each other, and maybe this is how you should look after them if they’ve done too much, you should try and stop them from drinking too much, that might be more of a motivation than looking after yourself [slight laugh], if you know that people are watching out for you it might, you know, make you feel, you know, try to be more responsible because everyone, you know, to be the person looking after someone who’s really drunk the next day they can’t be more thankful, and you feel terrible to have impeded on someone by being in an absolute state and an embarrassment to yourself, you feel like an absolute idiot to have done that to a friend, you know, to ruin their night, and to have them have to take you home and make you drink lots of water and, you know it’s, maybe if that was emphasised the idea that you’re not just affecting you’re night you’re affecting all your friends night as well, that might be perhaps a good approach to take.
 

Hugh would be very worried if a friend who'd never used drugs suddenly started.

Hugh would be very worried if a friend who'd never used drugs suddenly started.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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Do you have any concerns about any of your friends or people that you know?
 
No. No I don’t. I mean but the thing is most of my friends who do drugs have been doing them for a while now. If I had for example, I mean [friend’s] an example. [Friend] has never really done, taken drugs. If, and he’s doing an amazing course at [City] and he’s kind of set up to do really well. If [friend] in his second year started doing huge amounts of drugs yeah I’d definitely, I’d say something, definitely. But you know if I said to my friend who’s been doing drugs since he was in Year 11 and isn’t at university, ‘I don’t think you should do this’. It’s kind of a bit late now I think. It wouldn’t really be to any benefit. It would be a bit embarrassing if anything. I wouldn’t do that.
 
So the people best placed to spot perhaps those who are having issues about alcohol addiction or...?
 
It probably is friends.
 
It’s friends isn’t it?
 
But only if it’s been a sudden change in attitude towards the two. I mean for example I don’t think I’d. If one of my friends started smoking cannabis in Year 9 and then takes Ecstasy in Year10, 11 and then takes Ketamine in Year 12 and then all the other drugs in Year 13 that, I mean that’s just a steady progression. Whereas if it’s a friend who was drinking alcohol casually in Year 12 and then taking acid in Year 13 then you’d kind of have something to say.
 
Why, why is that?
 
Because that’s just dangerous. I think that’s, [laugh] well actually I suppose there isn’t, they are both equally dangerous aren’t they? But you’d have to be concerned if it’s like a phase.
 
Ok so one
 
If it’s like a sudden phase you’d have to speak to them. 
See also Drugs, alcohol and social life, Stopping or cutting down on drug use and Choosing not to use drugs

Last reviewed :July 2018.
Last updated: January 2015.
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