‘Try it… Won’t kill you’

The war against drugs continues. It’s now six years since
former drugs tsar Keith Hellawell put forward his 10-year plan to
“stifle the availability” of illicit drugs and enable young people
to lead “healthy and crime free lives”. There is little evidence
that that the plan has had much impact. A 2003 government survey of
11 to 15 year olds found that the proportion of children who had
used drugs in the last year has almost doubled since 1998, from 11
to 21 per cent.1 So why are young teenagers so keen to
get high, and where do drugs fit into their lives?

Thirteen-year-old Porscha says taking drugs was a form of
compensation for the disappointment she felt on her birthday.

“I started smoking weed (cannabis) on my 13th birthday. My
birthday was rubbish. The presents I got weren’t satisfactory
so my sister suggested I brought some weed with the money I got. So
I did. I got it from a local dealer. “

Porscha explains why she is attracted to taking drugs, in
particular smoking cannabis: “Right now I’m going through an
experimental stage. It’s fair enough to experiment but you
don’t need to go to the extreme and get addicted.”

For 15-year-old Kelly it’s the buzz of being high that
makes her go back for more: “I just like being lean [stoned, high]
I smoke everyday or whenever my friends have it. It’s like
being in a dream.”

So what happens when the novelty of smoking cannabis wears off?
Are these young people drawn to harder drugs to satisfy their need
for the buzz?

Connor, aged 14, claims he has been offered cocaine on a few
occasions but has refused to take it.

“There is only one thing that I wouldn’t do and that is
coke. I’ve taken ecstasy and other stuff. I was offered coke
at a mate’s house This kid made a line and told me to sniff
it but I didn’t take it. The kid who offered it to me said he
was glad I didn’t take it. Me and my mates just want to rebel
against something. That’s why we try drugs. It’s the
buzz of getting caught.”

For Kyre, 15, his first experience of taking drugs (smoking
cannabis) was more of a social opportunity, a chance to have a
laugh with his mates.

“All my friends were smoking and they said: ‘Go on have a
pull, it won’t kill you.’ I did and I started coughing.
Everyone was laughing at me. That was two months ago. I started
smoking from that day on. It’s fun.”

For Connor, taking drugs is also fun and it offers him an escape
and a way to feel better about himself. “Taking drugs makes me feel
better.It makes me feel brave. I take drugs because I want to
escape from what’s happening in my family life. I smoke to
make life look like it’s normal again.”

Kyre agrees with Connor on the family escapism factor and says:
“When I started smoking I was under pressure. I was angry with my
mum so when my mates said let’s buy some weed I was like a
kid in a sweet shop.”

Sixteen-year-old Bianca also associates drugs use with gaining
confidence. She adds: “Everyone gets a false confidence. When you
smoke (cannabis) or take ecstasy you are not yourself anymore.
Everyone behaves differently. Some people might make you laugh,
other people might become more talkative it just depends on the
mood you are in.”

But for 15-year-old Kelly her environment encouraged her to try
drugs. “Everyone in my area takes drugs. If you lived in my area
you’d understand. It’s one of the worst estates in

However, Chelsea sees drug-taking as cutting across all social,
class, and racial divides. She says: “Most young people have
experimented with drugs at some time or the other. I don’t
think it matters if you come from a council estate, posh house or
if you are white or black. Everybody smokes!”

So if everybody is taking drugs it must be quite easy for young
people to find a dealer? And what do they think of them?

Kyle doesn’t have to try very hard to get his next fix he
just visits a friend and has a chat with his friend’s mother:
“My friend’s mum sells it [cannabis] to us; all the teenage
boys in our area go to her. I don’t think it’s good
what she does because she has a 13-year-old son to raise. If she
wasn’t selling it to us I would ask my cousin to get it for

Others don’t see dealers in such a bad light. For Chelsea
personal choice is what counts. The issue is not dealers forcing
drugs on young people. “Well I can’t really judge them. I
don’t really know them. I think that everyone has a choice to
buy weed. No one is forced to buy it.” Bianca agrees: “I
don’t think they are bad, they are not forcing you to buy it.
We want it. Me and my mates chip in and buy drugs at the weekends.
We put our money together. It can be anything from one pound fifty
to two pounds. The one who puts in the most gets to take whatever
is left over home. It’s easy and cheap to buy drugs if you
know the dealers in your area.”

They may be doing drugs now but don’t see themselves
becoming hard drug-taking adults. Kyre says: “I’ll stop
smoking cannabis when I’m 17, if I can. That’s when
I’m going to stop messing about. Yeah. I’ll stop when I
get my life together.”

Drug Use, Smoking and Drinking among
Young People in England in 2003
, National Centre for Social
Research/National Foundation for Educational Research,

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