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Drugs and Alcohol (young people)

School, drugs and alcohol

Research suggests that taking too many drugs and/or drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis may reduce a person’s ability and interest in learning.
 
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Harry got expelled from school for being 'stoned the whole time'.

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Sex: Male
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Now you said that you were expelled from boarding school?
 
Yes.
 
When you were how old?
 
17.
 
Why, did drugs have anything to do with it?
 
Yes. Just.
 
Can you tell me more about it?
 

Yes just never doing any work due to just being stoned the whole time on cannabis getting caught they always suspected me but they never, I don’t think they, no they never actually caught me with anything on me. Whereas they drug tested a load of my friends and knew that I was friend with them obviously and they could tell by the look in my eyes but then after a while like we’ve got these little eye drops to cover that up so, you know, I’m not sure that they, I think they’re for hay fever. To stop the redness in your eyes and then we take them and like even though we would be so aware that we are looking so stoned and we‘re chatting to a teacher they, we thought they wouldn’t be able to tell but we were sort of fooling ourselves really, they know the score they’re not stupid. 

 

Leah did well at school before she moved to a new area and started drinking.

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Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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When I started out in school I was really good in school up until about Year Five I was top of the class, really good, had friends, but I was good. Got to the point where I changed schools, changed areas, I moved from a nice area to a rougher area and that’s when I went downhill, I started getting gobby, I started thinking I was clever, I started seeing boys, started drinking, and that’s when it all went downhill.
 
And now I am paying for it because I didn’t do well in school then I have, I have got to come back to College now when I could be working, I could be getting on with my life, I have got to go back, I have got to go back in my steps to get better grades so I can, if I had done well at school I could have just, do you know what I mean? Gone to college, done my course, then within the next year I could have been fully qualified whereas I have got to come to College here, do my GCSEs again, then I have got to go to College for another two years, it just adds on really.
 
So you didn’t take your GCSE?
 
I did several GCSEs, my IT one I refused to do, one of my Science ones I refused to do because I was on the computer I didn’t want to come off, altogether I did my Math’s, my English, one Science, DT and RE. And I got, I was predicted in my Math’s and English to get top grades, like B, A, C, B or A. I got Ds and Es and Fs in my GCSEs.
 
Problems at home, having no money, wanting to have fun, trying to look ‘cool’ were the kinds of reasons our participants gave for starting to use drugs regularly, including on school days
 

Chloe used to bunk off school so she could smoke weed.

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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Yeah so back then I used to constantly be high. I didn’t engage in school. I used to bunk school just to go and smoke weed. Because my mum was a single parent at the time and didn’t have much money. She was working so also I didn’t really see her too much either. So I was a bit left to do what I was doing. But I did make up a story and they let me back in after three months because I said that it was an older person that had given it to me to hold and I’d been bullied into it. But that wasn’t true. And yeah I carried on using after that. I didn’t try anything else until I was probably in Year 10 or 11. And in my memory it, to me I know that it is Year 10 or 11 but I remember it as not being at school because I didn’t attend school very much. 
Young people we talked to recognised that there might be a connection between heavy cannabis use, poor school performance and bad exam results. For example; making it difficult to concentrate or think straight and causing memory problems.
 

Jim was using cannabis all the time in his last year at school which was when things ‘started...

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Age at interview: 23
Sex: Male
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When I was about 14 and 15 years old I started smoking cannabis, not that much at that time but I was smoking it here and there at night after school. During my last year of school I was only doing 3 days a week and I only took English, Math’s, Science and Geography as my GCSE subjects, all of which I got an E grade in. I did no revision and no coursework at all so I was lucky to get that really.
 
And when I finished school I started using a whole lot more cannabis. I was using it all the time and that’s where things started going downhill.
 
You were very involved with looking after your grandparents?
 
Yeah.
 
And missing school and. Because you said that you took your exams but you didn’t have time for revision or anything like that?
 
No, well I, It wasn’t just I didn’t have time it was the fact that I couldn’t be bothered as well. I mean I was spending a lot of time looking after my grandparents but I was also spending a lot of time going out with friends and socialising. I just couldn’t be bothered to do it. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to do it. I was using cannabis, getting stoned all the time.  
 

Sam’s school work just ‘went out of the window’ when he was stoned. He thinks his life would have turned out differently if he hadn’t been smoking cannabis during his school years.(played by an actor)

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Age at interview: 28
Sex: Male
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The most regular thing was the cannabis. I remember smoking a pipe and a couple of bongs before I went into my math’s exam for GCSE. There was like three of us just run offsite and went and had a smoke and went in. And I was so, I was so messed up I couldn’t find my seat when I got into the hall because everyone was already sat down. I was bumping into the seats and that. I never passed that exam and I didn’t pass subsequent exams later on in life as well because I was still stoned out.
 
So my work just went out the window. I didn’t do hardly any work or I’d just go in there stoned and be laid on the desk with my head like on the computer and that. And like we found it was funny to do random things instead of doing the work like. We made up a load of posters and of like animals smoking spliffs and that and stuck it all around the school promoting drugs to people, you know. Proper messed up. Like on Fridays we’d run away and go down to the, like wait to 12 o’clock until the pub opens and then run off and go to the pub man. Have a smoke. We’d be drinking spirits and smoking dope outside and that.
 

I’d have a very different life I think because for a start if I hadn’t of been smoking weed at school I would have probably done better on my exams because I ain’t really intelligent but I ain’t thick like. So I would have probably got enough to give me a better opportunity to carry on. And then I wouldn’t have been smoking weed at the next school so I wouldn’t have got kicked out because that was the reason why I got kicked out the first time from the college because I was smoking weed. I wasn’t doing coursework as I was getting fucked instead of doing anything.  

 
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Stephanie has trouble remembering things about her school days.

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Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
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I think you know I’m finding it quite difficult [laughs] to remember which is almost maybe a sign that I was, I don’t I think, yeah I think I must have been occasionally, I can’t picture me sitting in a lesson, I can’t see me doing that, but the, I mean that, it, what’s a shame is I do have a lot of time, because a lot of my friends would say, “Remember we did this?.” And I can’t remember, I will have a, a lot of trouble remembering certain ages where I would have been smoking a lot of Weed which is quite a shame, I, there are a lot of things I can’t remember from that time so I think I probably would have been I did, I remember going to one of my exams, it wasn’t a serious exam but I do remember having a joint before I went to the exam, mostly because I kind of resented doing, because my school would make me choose subjects and it was only two subjects I wanted to do, they would make me take other subjects that I didn’t want to do so I wouldn’t be interested and I went to that, so I think I’d had a joint before that exam I didn’t really care, I’d never do that now but [laughs] yeah I do remember doing that yeah.

A few people said they didn’t fit into the school system and it caused them to struggle with education. Drugs or alcohol could be a way to cope with this. Some said that their parents and/or teachers could have done more to help them.
 

Tara hated school but a teacher persuaded her to take her GCSEs.

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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I hated school. Hated school [laughs], I didn’t do, I didn’t do too badly to be fair but I had, I probably had it in me to do a lot better, if I wasn’t going through what I was going through, in my last year, I was very depressed, I was self-harming, I had a random suicide attempts just to try and get something done but, I went and spoke to one of my teachers and said, “Look I’m not going to be able to take my GCSEs, I just, I don’t want to do it, I’m going to fail everything.” He finally persuaded me to do them and I done okay, I scraped a handful, but I had the potential to do a lot better.
 

Peter explains why he was so bored and easily distracted at school but managed to get the training he needed later on.

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Age at interview: 27
Sex: Male
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So you stayed at school and went to college and?
 
Well yeah I mean I stayed at, what I did I stayed at school actually I probably shouldn’t have stayed at that school because I went to a terrible school and actually like I came from a bad area. I went to a terrible school but I was actually considered quite bright but I didn’t live up to my potential in terms of academically because I was easily distracted, bored. It wasn’t really challenging for me being at a school like that because I. You’ve got to understand it. You’ve got to teach to the level of everybody. You can’t teach to the level of one person. So I was finding myself constantly bored at school anyway because it wasn’t challenging. So actually I stayed at sixth form. I started ‘A’ levels but I’d already got to the situation where parts I’d had antagonistic relationship with a lot of the teachers anyway so. I should have gone to college, is what I should have done at the time.
 
But what I did after that I went to a, I went to place called [name] Post Training which basically it’s like a training college. So they’re going to train you how to do either administration or IT. And then they were going to get you placed within an office, which is how I got my first job, my first real job. I’d had a part-time job at Burger King before that. So, yeah, after I went there it’s like one day a week college, four days a week in an office environment. And then since then I’ve jus. I’ve been in the same industry.
 
Do you think that drugs or alcohol had something to do with your schooling, had an effect on your schooling?
 

No. I wasn’t a, no. No I wasn’t using alcohol to... or any drugs to a degree where it could have affected my schooling. I honestly believe my schooling was. I don’t want to paint myself as a victim but I honestly think I was a victim of the circumstance there. I think had I been at the right school I think I could have achieved a lot academically. 

 

Chloe claims that schools don’t want to admit their pupils are taking illegal drugs.

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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I think one point is that at that time school teachers didn’t have the ability to engage with young people on issues that were really affecting them. And they didn’t, weren’t really aware of the culture that was developing amongst young people because the culture has changed a lot even within the last 15 years and drugs culture as well. There’s ten times more drugs on the street than there was 10, 15 years ago. And it was a thing where young people were trying things that the adults hadn’t tried. Whereas before the adults would have tried it and could pass on what they’d experienced but in the last 10, 15 years the young people were experiencing these things and the older people couldn’t relate to that. So they didn’t know what to look for. They didn’t know those sorts of things.
 
Also I think that is because and it’s still, I think, now where some schools don’t want it to look like they have a drugs problem in their school. So they will keep it under the carpet and do a minimal. I mean there’s a big thing now, I know, because I work in schools and do different things where the government is pushing for that and they want like workshops and things like that. But in my school they didn’t want to address, they didn’t want to say, ‘Right we’ve got a drug problem here.’ And my school had a very big drug problem as well.
 
Ok but they didn’t want to acknowledge that?
 
They didn’t seem like it no. They wanted to stop you disrupting the class so that they could tick the boxes for the most A to C level GCSEs but they didn’t want to address why you were disrupting a class. 
After they left school some of the young people we spoke to had started work or were trying to get training and work experience.
 

Kasim has worked with young people and done some volunteering. Now he’s planning to train to become a hairdresser.

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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Kasim' I’m going to I start my hairdressing course 12th of August. Yeah which is good because at the moment I’m not really doing anything. I am on a 13-week course but I haven’t really been attending because I’ve got my college placement myself and that. So I don’t feel the need to go to a course and look for work and like college placement and stuff if I’ve already sorted out my college placement. But in a way I can’t wait to like start my course and stuff because I think then I’ll feel more like level-headed and stuff and like yeah something good will come out of it as well. And because I’m getting older now I’ve been like chopping and changing, chopping and changing like I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I think now I know what I want to do so I think now is the time like, you know, because I know certain people that are my age they still haven’t got a clue of what they want to do in life and stuff. And I just think to myself like…. like you need to like know sort of thing because we are getting older and do you know what I mean like. 
 
I think you should have something to fall back on as well because I was going to go back. I used to be a teaching assistant and a youth worker and I was going to go back into it again but I feel that, you know, like I’ve done that. Been there done that. I’ve got like experience. I mean I volunteered for like 5 years and stuff before I started getting paid and stuff. Like volunteered at a young age and stuff and with youth work you can’t get paid until you’re 18. So I volunteered for a while and stuff but yeah like now I know what I want to do I think I’m just going to stick at it and, you know, just better myself really. 
 


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