The first step in recognizing the problem of smoking, alcohol and internet use among adolescents is to know the extent and characteristics of the phenomenon, by monitoring usage and trends. This Unit is aimed to getting insight into the problem, by providing skills to find and understand most recent relevant data from the scientific sources. The knowledge of the extent of the problem can help address it timely and appropriately.
In Europe, two large projects are conducted in schools, which address the problem of smoking, alcohol use and internet use among adolescents: European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD), and Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC). The overall aim of ESPAD is to collect comparable data on substance use among 15–16-year-old students in European countries, monitor trends and compare trends between countries. The data is collected every four years, starting with 1995. ESPAD reports, as well as data based on the research, are available online. HBSC is a WHO collaborative cross-national study, conducted on 11-, 13- and 15-year-old boys and girls for over 30 years. One part of the research focuses on risk behaviours (also use of tobacco and alcohol), and from 2017/2018 the questions on electronic media communication and cyberbullying were introduced. The results of the HBSC studies are available online.
Additional data can also be found in the results of other large scale research projects, like General Population Surveys based on the EMCDDA’s methodology, Global Youth Tobacco Survey, and European Health Interview Survey. The aim of these projects is to obtain empirical data on the extent and patterns of the problem in question, using standardized methodology allowing the between country comparison, and following trends of use in country.
For better understanding of the data, it is important to define basic terms linked to the prevalence of use. The term “prevalence” refers to the proportion of population who reported using (tobacco, alcohol, Internet) over a particular time. In the research, prevalence is mostly measured in a way that respondents are asked to recall their personal use in the following periods: a) lifetime (ever used), b) last year (used during the past twelve months) and c) last month (used during the past 30 days). The knowledge of the extent and patterns of use is fundamental for understanding and assessing the situation, defining priorities, and forming and evaluation strategies.