Swiss youth warned against substance abuse

Alcohol and drugs consumption often go hand-in-hand with personal problems Keystone

Young people who consume drugs, alcohol and tobacco often have serious psychological problems, a new study shows.

This content was published on February 18, 2004 - 16:07

The research was funded by the Federal Health Office, which believes these youngsters need support and treatment quickly.

But the study was unable to show whether the mental problems encouraged substance abuse, or the other way around.

The findings come at a time of increasing concern over drug taking by Switzerland’s youth. Just last week the Office announced a major prevention campaign for schools, designed to warn young people of the dangers of cannabis.

The study, carried out by the University of Lausanne, followed 102 young people between the ages of 14 and 19 who regularly smoked cigarettes, drank, and consumed cannabis.

Researchers found that heavy consumption was clearly linked to psychological, social and family problems.

Monique Boligni, head of the research unit, said these findings were actually more surprising than they at first appeared.

“Substance abuse is not always directly associated with psychological problems,” she told swissinfo.

“And the problem is that in many cases, there's no investigation behind what leads to substance use. And it's a problem that's difficult to admit to - many parents don't know their children use substances - or they don't want to know - and it's very difficult to detect.”

Depression and violence

Over half of those surveyed said they had suffered bouts of serious depression and anxiety.

Among the girls in the study, 33 per cent also had eating disorders, and 45 per cent admitted they had made suicide attempts.

Among the boys, the problems were more related to violence; 27 per cent admitted to violent and aggressive behaviour.

The study found that two thirds of those surveyed consumed cannabis every day, while alcohol was more of a weekend drug.

Levels of cigarette smoking were also high; more than half the teenagers smoked between ten and 20 cigarettes a day.

Flawed research?

The researchers said the fact that just over 100 people took part in the survey did not invalidate its results.

“Obviously we would have preferred 1,000 youngsters,” said Boligni. “But problems of budget and time prevented that.”

“But in fact 100 is enough to get an accurate picture,” she told swissinfo. “It is a homogeneous group; adolescents who are regular consumers, that means at least once a week over a period of three months.”

And the researchers maintain the survey fills a useful gap in information about substance abuse, since most Swiss studies so far have concentrated on the adult population.

One of the things to come out of the study was that most of those questioned did not see their drug and alcohol consumption as a problem, and almost no one thought they needed to seek help for it.

Although such heavy substance abusers represent less than ten per cent of Switzerland’s teenage population, their problems are such that the Federal Health Office believes both preventative and therapeutic action is necessary.

swissinfo with agencies

drug abuse

The study surveyed 102 young people aged between 14 and 19 years.
All were classed as "heavy" consumers of cannabis, tobacco, and/or alcohol.
The study found that heavy substance abuse was closely linked to mental and social problems, but was enable to establish cause and effect.
Over half of those surveyed said they had suffered serious bouts of depression, 45 per cent of girls had attempted suicide while 27 per cent of boys admitted to violent behaviour.

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