SALSUS shows self-reported increase in substance use among young people in 2018

The results of Scotland’s occasional survey on adolescent substance use have been published for 2018.

The Scottish Government’s Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance Use Survey (SALSUS) for 2018 received responses from around 21,000 second-year and fourth-year pupils from 325 secondary schools.

The survey provides local prevalence rates for smoking, drinking and drug use every few years across a sample of Scotland, the findings of which inform Government policies to reduce the harms from smoking, drinking and drug use among children and young people.

The findings for 2018 show drug use among 13 and 15-year-olds decreased in the decade to 2013 but had been increasing since.

Alcohol use is increasing among adolescents in Scotland, after a trend of previous years where the number of 13-15 year olds who had tried alcohol has steadily fallen since 2004.

Smoking had remained pretty stable since 2015, the survey said, with just 2% of 13-year-olds and 7% of 15-year-old being regular smokers.

Key highlights are below.


  • 6% of 13-year-olds and 21% of 15-year-olds had ever used drugs
  • 4% of 13-year-olds and 12% of 15-year-olds reported using drugs in the last month
  • Drug use has been gradually decreasing since 2002 but between 2013 and 2018 there was an increase
  • Cannabis was the most widely used drug, taken by 19% of 15-year-olds
  • It was most common for pupils to have used drugs out in the street or in someone else’s home
  • 22% of 13-year-olds and 47% of 15-year-olds had been offered drugs
  • It was most common for pupils who had ever taken drugs to get them from friends


  • 36% of 13-year-olds and 71% of 15-year-olds had ever had an alcoholic drink
  • 53% of 13-year-olds and 70% of 15-year-olds, who had ever had alcohol, had been drunk at least once
  • 6% of 13-year-olds and 20% of 15-year-olds had drunk alcohol in the week before the survey
  • The most common location for drinking was at home
  • The number of pupils who had drunk alcohol in the week before the survey increased in all groups except 15-year-old girls


  • Almost all 13-year olds were non-smokers (97%), 2% were regular smokers and 2% were occasional smokers
  • Smoking was more common among 15-year-olds but prevalence was still low: 7% were regular smokers and 6% were occasional smokers
  • 87% of 13-year-olds and 70% of 15-year-olds reported never having smoked
  • 17% of 13-year-olds and 35% of 15-year-olds had ever used an e-cigarette. However, only a small proportion used them regularly: 2% of 13-year-olds and 3% of 15-year-olds

SDF Comment

The SALSUS survey involves the voluntary participation of schools who host and administer the survey and the voluntary participation of pupils with parental or guardians’ consent.  The survey therefore misses data from schools or pupils who are opted out.  It also lacks data from pupils who are not attending school on the day of the survey.  It therefore misses pupils who have been excluded, have not been supported to attend school or who are choosing not to attend.  It is likely that pupils who use drugs will be over-represented in this group.

Also, this survey uses data of self-reported use of substances by children. The findings should be viewed with careful consideration due to the potential for skewing due to the embellishment of experiences or due to participants not wishing to disclose behaviour.

Given these caveats, it should also be noted that a decline in a fashion for one-off experimentation with drugs will impact on this data but may have little significance in identifying harmful use of substances or forecasting the nature or prevalence of future problem use.

Click here to view the survey results

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