No further decrease in alcohol, drug use among school kids; Laughing gas use on the rise

Teenagers using their smartphones on a bench in Amsterdam
Teenagers using their smartphones on a bench in AmsterdamPhoto: BiruteDepositPhotosDeposit Photos

After years of decline, the use of “traditional” substances like tobacco, alcohol and cannabis among school children stabilized last year, while the use of “new temptations” like laughing gas and non-alcoholic drinks are on the rise, the Trimbos Institute reported on Tuesday. According to the institute, these “new temptations” often have a more innocent image, but there is insufficient knowledge about their short- and long-term consequences.

The percentage of school kids who have ever smoked a cigarette dropped from 54 percent in 1999 to 17 percent last year. This decrease mainly occurred up to 2015. Between 2015 and 2017, the percentage of school-aged smokers decreased from 23 percent to 17 percent, and remained stable since.

Last year 47 percent of 12- to 16-year-olds said that they’ve consumed alcohol at least once, and 26 percent did so in the month prior to the Trimbos study. Alcohol consumption among school kids gradually declined between 2003 and 2015, and then stagnated.

The use of cannabis showed a similar picture to alcohol and tobacco. Between 1999 and 2019, the percentage of school-aged joint smokers decreased from 17 percent to 10 percent - roughly the same as in 2015. For most hard drugs, this stabilization has been around since 2007.

According to the Trimbos Institute, the stagnated decline in the use of these traditional substances show that more attention must be given to prevention policies, both nationally and regionally. “There is still much to be gained,” the institute said.

The institute also warned of “new temptations”, for which there is still little concrete information about consequences. “They often seem to have a more innocent image than traditional substances,” Trimbos said, but added that the “question is whether that is justified.” 

Last year, Trimbos asked kids for the first time about their consumption of alcohol-free beer, wine and cider. In groups 7 and 8 of primary education, 40 percent said they’ve had alcohol free drinks at least once, 16 percent more than once. 9 percent of kids aged 12 to 16 said they have these drinks at least weekly.

The institute also asked about nitrous oxide, or laughing gas. 10 percent of 12 to 16-year-olds said they’ve used nitrous oxide at least once, and 2.5 percent did so in the month prior to the study.