Use of alcohol among users of a Young People’s Sexual Health Service

P. McGough, P. Keogh, M. Lamont, C. Thow

The Sandyford Initiative, Glasgow, Scotland, UK

The use of alcohol by young people, and its links to antisocial and risk-taking behaviour, has been the subject of much government and media attention. Links to sexual risk-taking have been shown in some studies and not in others. In an effort to discover whether this link was important to our practice, three hundred young people attending various clinical services across a large Scottish city were asked about their alcohol intake, and the relationship to various health and social behaviours. 83% of the subjects were female, reflecting the use of services locally. The age range was from 12–25 years, with most being 16–18 years old. 39.7% of respondents were still at school.

The results: 74% drank at weekends or more frequently, with only 8% stating they never drank alcohol. 50% said they stop when they’ve ‘had enough’, but 22.7% drink ‘until it runs out’ or ‘until very drunk’. 40% drank spirits mainly, with another 15% choosing ‘alcopops’.

While 47% of the sample had never taken drugs, 42% of respondents had mixed alcohol and other drugs, with cannabis being the most frequently mentioned drug.

Adverse events were common: 19% stated they had experienced concern or hurt through their own drinking, and 41.7% said they had experienced concern or hurt through someone else’s drinking. 25.7% had been injured or hurt, 11.7% had been in hospital, and 24.7% admitted that they had been in trouble with the police as a result of alcohol use. 35% said that their alcohol use was linked to unprotected sex, and 25.7% that alcohol had been linked to sex they later regretted.

These figures show that a large proportion of young people in this group were drinking alcohol regularly, and regretted, unprotected sex and its sequelae are only one of the adverse unintended consequences of this. This has several implications for education of young people, provision of services for them, and training of staff working with them.