Drugs and Alcohol (young people)

Social life, drugs and alcohol

Social life and fitting in with other young people is important to many teenagers. People told us that fitting in means experimenting, socialising, and bonding with friends. People described drugs and alcohol as being part of this, saying that they were:
  • ‘Fun’ and ‘exciting’
  • An ‘interesting’ thing to do with friends
  • As a way to enhance their experience
  • Or simply a phase that young people go through.

Peter started smoking weed at a time when he was socialising a lot.

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Age at interview: 27
Sex: Male
Was there anything in particular going on in your life when you were 18 and started smoking cannabis?

When I started smoking it more regularly? I’d say other than availability there’s nothing pressuring me to do it. I wasn’t, I wasn’t depressed or anything. No I was going through like one of the best times of my life probably actually. I was a lot more confident than I’d ever been. I was doing. I obviously because I’d had issues when I finished school and then gone to the college but I was doing well with my work placement. I had my part-time job at Burger King. So I was quite popular with the girls at college so I was. I was going through a good time in my life really. So no there was no pressure. There was nothing making me smoke.  


Raphael found smoking weed sociable and relaxing. He also liked the idea that it was illegal.

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Age at interview: 24
Sex: Male
And what were your reasons for, for starting smoking Cannabis were you curious...?
Yeah just, yeah I just, I don’t know why I just, don’t know, when I was younger I liked to take a, not take a risk I just liked to try something different and I knew it was illegal and I quite like that, that was quite like, quite liked the idea of that, but and I smoked cigarettes so I didn’t think it was going to be much different to be honest.
I don’t, don’t know never really thought about it like that, I’ve just more just thought of it being like a, and again like the same maybe relaxing sort of enjoy, I enjoy it, and I don’t know, I don’t really know, different feeling. 
Young men and women said they drank alcohol for ‘Dutch courage’ to make themselves feel more confident in groups of people. Some drank alcohol or took drugs because they wanted to ‘look cool’ in front of other people they knew. This tactic didn’t always work and some ended up being sick in front of the person they wanted to impress!

Joe says his mates will often have a few drinks to help them feel more confident about talking to girls.

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Age at interview: 24
Sex: Male
Boys tend to drink in order to sort of become more confident with female, with girls?
I think, yeah I think it can be, a sort of, yeah like almost, you know, if you’re going out and there’s, if you’re nervous about speaking to someone new, you know like a girl, then yeah you might have a couple just to relax and be a bit more confident, yeah the Dutch courage as they call it yeah, and I think that’s quite, probably quite common amongst, amongst guys, I’ve, I’ve been there myself actually yeah and you know since then, I have been out and there’s, there’s a girl I don’t know and I want to speak to her I’ve had, you know, I’ve had a couple of drinks to think about and build up the courage and, you know, relax a bit more first before, yeah. So I’d say that’s. 

Kayleigh says that 15 and 16 year olds want to be like everyone else and be like the ‘popular’ people at school.

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Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
I think I was, like when I had, sort of had a proper drink I was probably like fifteen or sixteen which is, later than, than some people at our school, but I mean I was in the group of friends that never really sort of did things like that, but when you got to fifteen or sixteen you soon realised that you were kind of the odd one out because, you know, you didn’t know how much people said were true because you know it was stories that at school, you know, girls say aren’t always true but yeah and they were going and drinking and doing this and that, then all of a sudden the things that you do, though you enjoyed it didn’t seem like it was good enough because you weren’t doing what they were doing.
So you wanted to be part of that group?

Yeah you sort of, you felt like, I don’t know I think when you’re a teenager, especially when you’re sort of fourteen and fifteen, sixteen, all you want to do is be like everybody else, that’s all, you know, all you think, you could do, you must dress like them, when I say them I mean like the popular people who would have been like in my school, and [em] you know, you want to dress like them, you want to be like them, you want to be a, yeah a part of them and so you just go along with it really. 

Young people like Sophie or Sam described life at home or in small towns and villages as ‘dull’. They said that drinking alcohol or using drugs was like a ‘hobby’ to relieve the boredom.

Alcohol was also appealing to young people we spoke to because they didn’t have a lot of money to spend on their social lives and drinking alcohol seemed cheap compared with other activities. Hugh pointed out he could buy enough drinks to last an evening for the cost of a cinema ticket.

Hugh, Alex and Ben discuss alternative activities but think that drinking alcohol is cheaper and fun.

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
Alex' I think there are probably about 3 reasons why I drink. Probably I’ll have it sort of it’s because not to would sort of be unusual for me. To have fun sort of and socialise and probably just to relax so those are probably the three main reasons why I drink.
And you?
Ben' It’s also like you know, building on that I would say our culture. I mean you go like anywhere and you can’t kind of avoid drinking. So I mean, yeah I mean we know about like one person that like doesn’t drink at our age pretty much.
Hugh' There is actually just one.
Ben' And...
Only one?
Ben' Pretty much.
Alex' What else is there to do? I mean you just, you can’t avoid it. I mean you go into the city centre at night whatever, I mean...
Hugh' Go to the ice rink, you can try it in there [laugh].
Alex' Or like in the cinema, the cinema’s like £7 for an hour and a half or you can go to Weatherspoons and buy three drinks which would last probably about...
Ben' Drinking is a lot of fun.
Hugh' Yeah it’s fun but...
Ben' Let’s not forget that it is a lot of fun.
Hugh' Yeah it’s fun
Alex' I had fun at the cinema the other day without drinking actually.
Ben' Yeah, I mean you can have a lot of fun without drinking but also. Maybe it’s just kind of like if you all meet up somewhere and drink a lot you kind of know you’re going to have like a, like a good enough night.
Hugh' Definitely
Ben' But it’s maybe sort of a failsafe it’s like, ok you could think of like good things to do. But I mean it’s pretty simple just, you know, let’s all meet at a pub or let’s all meet somewhere and let’s get drunk and, you know.
Hugh' That’s completely right.
Ben' We’re going to have fun.
Hugh' But we don’t just. We do do other things apart from drinking. That would be, we’ll play football today for a couple of hours and like.
Ben' Yeah and tend to for the evening.
Hugh' Yeah.
Ben' But yeah I guess yes maybe it’s a failsafe option to have a good night. 
Specials offers on drinks such as ‘happy hours’ and the cheap deals available during Freshers’ weeks can be appealing to young people on a budget . Alex said he’d be more tempted to use cannabis and other drugs if they were free.

See also alcohol and social life.

Last reviewed: July 2018.
Last updated: January 2015
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