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Young people and drug use

Western Australian data shows that only 22% of young people aged 15-24 years reported using illicit drugs in the last 12 months (2019).[1] That means 4 out of 5 young people don’t use illicit drugs - visit the stats page to find out more.

See Little White Lies for more information on the campaign. 

Compared to adults, young people’s decisions are more likely to be influenced by their peers.[2] They tend to over-estimate how many other young people use drugs.[3] If young people believe their peers are using alcohol and other drugs, it can influence their own personal use.[4] Young people are more likely to use alcohol and other drugs if they think other people their age are (even though their peers might inflate how often they use, or tell little white lies about using at all).[4, 5] That’s why it’s important for young people to know the real stats.[4]

Young people are likely to make friends and be in a friendship group with those who share similar attitudes, personality traits and behaviours.[5] Within any group are  there are ‘unwritten rules’, known as social norms, that influence how people behave based on their shared beliefs.[6,7] These can include beliefs around how many peers use drugs (whether that perception is correct or incorrect) and how acceptable drug use is.[4] Many young people worry about how they are viewed by their peers, overestimate how much others are concerned with them, and are more likely to take risks in the presence of their peers. All of these factors can indirectly pressure at person to act the same as the others within the group (or, to act in line with the ‘social norms’ of the group).[5] This highlights how social norms within a group can contribute to young peoples’ decisions about drug use;[2, 5] In fact, a young person’s beliefs about peer drug use  is a primary factor in a their own decision to try and/or continue to use drugs.[8]

That’s why it’s so important for young people to have access to factual information about how many people their age don’t use drugs. Drug Aware’s Little White Lies campaign aims to correct misinformation around young people and drug use, help young people make informed decisions and not feel pressured to use just because they think ‘everyone else is doing it’. Visit the campaign page for more information and campaign materials.

  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019, state and territory factsheets, table s.28, in Drug Statistics series 2020: Canberra
  2. Duffy, C. and C. Smith, Community Attitude Research on Alcohol and Other Drugs. 2017, Snapcracker Research and Strategy,.
  3. Hall, W.D., et al., Why young people's substance use matters for global health. Lancet Psychiatry, 2016. 3(3): p. 265-79.
  4. Debenham, J., et al., A pilot study of a neuroscience-based, harm minimisation programme in schools and youth centres in Australia. BMJ Open, 2020. 10(2): p. e033337.
  5. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Drugs and associated issues among young people and older people, in World Drug Report - Drugs and Age 2018, United Nations.
  6. Huba, G.J. and P.M. Bentler, The role of peer and adult models for drug taking at different stages in adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 1980. 9(5): p. 449-465.
  7. Elster, J., Social Norms and Economic Theory. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 1989. 3(4): p. 99-117.
  8. Debenham, J., et al., Alcohol and other drug prevention for older adolescents: It's a no brainer. Drug Alcohol Rev, 2019. 38(4): p. 327-330.

Last updated: July 2021

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