Comparing substance use behaviours among EU and US school students

In this respect, the release in 2016 of two new major school surveys of students (aged around 15 to 16) is helpful, as it allows comparisons to be made between patterns of cannabis and other substance use among European and American students. Encouragingly, in both regions, the most recent data show a decline in use of tobacco and, albeit to a lesser extent, alcohol; though trends in cannabis use appear more stable. However, in respect to levels and patterns of use of these substances, important differences exist between European and American students.

In Europe, measures of cannabis use are lower than those found in the United States, and cannabis use is less commonly reported than tobacco use. In contrast, US students’ use of cannabis exceed their use of tobacco, which is very low. Levels of alcohol consumption also differ, with more European students reporting alcohol consumption, and more intense patterns of drinking, than their American peers.

Further analysis of both the similarities and differences in the students’ substance use is needed to explore the relative influence of the social, contextual and regulatory factors on the choices made by young people. Understanding, for example, what has led to the reductions in cigarette smoking observed in both the United States and Europe may offer insights for addressing the use of other substances, such as cannabis. It is also important to remember that differences exist in how substances are consumed. In Europe, for example, in contrast to the United States, cannabis is often smoked in combination with tobacco, and this is likely to have implications for public health policies.

Understanding trends in cannabis use and related harms is important

Substance use among school students in Europe and the United States


Trends in last month substance use among 15- to 16-year-old school students in Europe and the United States. European averages (unweighted) are based on data from 21 EU countries and Norway (source: ESPAD). US averages are based on samples of 10th grade students (source: Monitoring the Future).