European Youth More Likely to Smoke and Drink, Less Likely to Use Illegal Drugs, Compared to US




The European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) this week released its 2015 results on substance use by 15-16 year old students in 35 European countries.


Cigarette use and alcohol use have declined among 15-16 year olds in both Europe and the US (based on 10th grade results in the Monitoring the Future study). Daily cigarette smoking by youth ranges from 2% to 25% across European countries with an average of 12%; in the US it is 3%. Drinking alcohol in the past 30 days is fairly common at 48% among European teens and less so among US teens, at 22%. Binge drinking is reported by 35% of European and 11 % of US teens. Binge drinking means 5+ drinks in a row over the past month in the European survey and over the past two weeks in the US survey. Icelandic youth report remarkably low rates, with 3% smoking, 9% drinking in the past month, and 8% binge drinking. Despite lower usage rates in the US compared to Europe in general, alcohol and cigarettes are seen as readily available to slightly more US youth.


Marijuana use has risen among 15-16 year olds in both Europe and the US. It is higher in the US (31% ever used, 15% in the past 30 days) than in Europe (16% ever used, 7% in the past 30 days). France and the Czech Republic have high rates comparable to the US, and Moldova has the lowest lifetime use at 4%. Two thirds of US youth say marijuana is fairly or very easy to get, compared to 30% of European youth.


Only 18% of European 15-16 year olds have ever used an illicit drug, compared to 35% of US youth of the same age. Interestingly, the ESPAD press release calls the European rates “stable but still at high levels.” Nonmedical use of amphetamines is 2% for European youth and 10% in the US. Lifetime hallucinogen use is an average of 2% among European youth and 5% among US youth.


ESPAD was designed based on Monitoring the Future surveys of US 10th graders and the data of the two studies are comparable. ESPAD has been conducted every 4 years since 1995. Monitoring the Future has conducted annual surveys of 10th graders since 1991.


The 2016 ESPAD report

The 2016 Monitoring the Future report

UM News press release