Young Persons Behaviour & Attitudes Survey 2022: Substance Use (Smoking, Alcohol & Drugs)

Date published: 29 September 2023

The Department of Health today published the “Young Persons Behaviour & Attitudes Survey 2022: Substance Use (Smoking, Alcohol & Drugs)” bulletin.

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The Young Persons Behaviour & Attitudes Survey (YPBAS) is a school based survey carried out among 11-16 year olds (school years 8 to 12). It is commissioned jointly by a number of government departments and includes questions on a wide range of topics. Eight rounds of the survey have now taken place: 2000, 2003, 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019 and 2022. This publication presents an overview of the smoking, alcohol and drugs modules from the 2022 survey.

Key Findings

Smoking

  • In 2022, fewer than one-in-ten young people reported ever having smoked (8%) with 2% indicating that they currently smoke. This represents a decrease since 2000, when around two-fifths (37%) reported ever having smoked and 15% were current smokers. Those who smoke at least once a week are described as regular smokers and this proportion has fallen from 12% in 2000 to 1% in 2022.
  • Boys (9%) were more likely to report ever having smoked than girls (6%) and young people living in the most deprived quintile were more likely to report ever having smoked (11%) than those in the least deprived quintile (5%).
  • Those in the older age-groups were more likely to report ever having smoked and more likely to be regular smokers; a fifth of those in Year 12 (21%) reported ever having smoked however the proportion indicating they were regular smokers was smaller at 3%.

E-cigarettes

  • The majority of young people (95%) had heard of e-cigarettes, with a fifth having used an e-cigarette at least once (21%). Those in the older year groups were more likely to report ever having used, with findings ranging from 6% of those in Year 8 to 44% of those in Year 12.
  • A similar proportion of boys and girls indicated they use e-cigarettes now (9%) and within this group 6% were classed as regular e-cigarette users, that is, they use e-cigarettes at least once a week.
  • There was a notable difference across the school years with those in the older age-groups more likely to report e-cigarette use; the proportion of those in Year 12 that indicated they currently use e-cigarettes increased from 10% in 2016 to 24% in 2022 and the proportion classed as regular e-cigarette users increased from 6% to 17% in the same time period.

Alcohol

  • In 2022, around a third (31%) of young people reported ever having drank alcohol; this is similar to the previous survey finding of 29% in 2019 though is around half the rate found in the 2000 survey (59%).
  • Boys were more likely to report having taken a drink (33%) than girls (29%) and those in Year 12 (64%) were more likely to have done so than those in Year 8 (11%). 
  • Around half (46%) of those young people that reported drinking alcohol indicated they had been drunk at least once. The proportion was similar for boys (45%) and girls (47%), down from 61% and 62% respectively in 2000. Again, there was a difference found across the school years, ranging from a fifth of those in year 8 (19%) to three-fifths of those in year 12 (63%).

Drugs

  • In 2022, 4% of respondents reported ever using drugs; this is a similar rate to the finding in the previous surveys of 2016 (4%) and 2019 (5%).
  • Boys (5%) were more likely to report having used drugs than girls (3%).
  • The likelihood of both being offered a drug and taking a drug increased with age, with 6% of those in Year 8 reporting they had ever been offered a drug compared with 27% in Year 12. Similarly, fewer than 1% of those in Year 8 reported ever taking any drug compared with 10% in year 12.
  • Cannabis was the drug most commonly offered to and used by young people, with 10% of young people indicating they had been offered it and 3% reporting they had ever taken it. Those in the older age-groups were more likely to indicate this with 9% of those in Year 12 reporting they had ever used cannabis.

Notes to editors: 

  1. This publication presents an overview of the smoking, alcohol and drugs modules from the 2022 Young Persons Behaviour & Attitudes Survey. This is the eighth run of the school based survey, with previous surveys in 2000, 2003, 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2019.
  2. The fieldwork for the survey was conducted by the Central Survey Unit of NI Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) and covered the period September 2022 to March 2023.
  3. A total of 7,498 children in school years 8 to 12 completed the survey. Due to the high level of interest amongst policy makers on the views and behaviours of young people, topics were split across two questionnaires to accommodate additional questions. Version A was completed by 3,726 children and version B by 3,772 children. The smoking, alcohol and drugs modules ran in version B.
  4. The results are based on information that has been weighted by year group, sex and religion in order to reflect the composition of the Northern Ireland post-primary population.
  5. As the results are based on data collected from a sample of the population, they are subject to sampling error. This should be taken into consideration when interpreting the results. Differences reported are those that are statistically significant at the 95% confidence level.
  6. The Northern Ireland Multiple Deprivation Measure 2017 (NIMDM) was used as a measure of deprivation.  The NIMDM 2017 is the official measure of spatial deprivation in Northern Ireland. 
  7. This publication is available online at:
  8. Additional information is available from:
    Public Health Information and Research Branch
    Information Analysis Directorate
    Department of Health
    Annex 2, Castle Buildings
    Stormont
    Belfast BT4 3SQ
    Telephone:         028 9052 2340
    E-mail: PHIRB@health-ni.gov.uk

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