Alcohol, cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine: Drugs of reasoned choice amongst young adult recreational drug users in England

Lisa Williams, Howard Parker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper describes the current drugs consumption patterns of a cohort of English young adults who have been tracked, longitudinally, since they were fourteen. It compares their tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs consumption at 22 years (n = 465) with when they were 18 years (n = 529) using self-report questionnaires and in-depth interviews (n = 86). It further explores whether, as a very drugwise/experienced sample of adolescents, this cohort are now beginning to settle down and reduce their substance use. The results suggest that any reductions in recreational drug use are likely to be delayed beyond traditional markers. The cohort have largely maintained their consumption habits with rates for current tobacco smoking (35.5%), regular drinking (82.3%), on-going drug involvement (past year, any drug, 52.1%) and more regular use (past month, any drug, 31.2%) being almost identical to their rates at 18 years. Current drug involvement is increasingly dominated by cannabis however. A minority continue to use ecstasy. LSD and amphetamine use have declined but cocaine trying (lifetime prevalence 5.9% at 18 years up to 24.6%) and use have increased dramatically. Mixing and combining substances is commonplace. Hedonistic motives for these substance use patterns remain but are now joined by the need to use psycho-active repertoires 'sensibly' to relax and reduce the stresses of the working week. This style of recreational drug use by generally conforming adults offers a severe challenge to current national drugs strategy. © 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)397-413
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Issue number5-6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2001


  • Alcohol use
  • Lifestyles of young adults
  • Longitudinal study
  • Poly drug use
  • Recreational drug use in UK


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