Binge drinking and drug abuse among teenagers is a huge worry for most young people in Northern Ireland, a major poll for the Belfast Telegraph today reveals.
The vast majority of young people here – almost 83% – say drink and drug abuse among teenagers is an issue of importance or huge importance to them.
The statistic has emerged on the second day of a poll carried out as part of our series 'The Young'. The poll asked 550 of our rising generation, aged between 16 and 24, about how big an issue drink and substance abuse is for teens.
And the age group most vulnerable to the dangers of drink promotions and cheap illicit drugs revealed deep concern for their peers.
The LucidTalk research showed the bulk of those who took part saw the issue of alcohol and substance abuse as important (28%) or very important (54.9%).
The data showed no particular patterns of demographic variations, with equal concern voiced among Protestant and Catholic young people, and those from various areas across Northern Ireland.
Just nine (1.6%) of those who took part believed drugs and drink were not important issues for teenagers.
Further findings from our research, published today, show two-thirds of young people think it is important to vote.
Of those who took part, 41.3% said it was very important to vote, with 21.6% saying they consider it important.
There was a 60/40 split with more young people from a Catholic background believing voting is important compared to their Protestant peers.
Interestingly, nearly two-thirds of young people think the voting age should not be lowered to 16.
Fears over the perceived risks posed to young people by drink and drugs were the most alarming aspect of the second day of our survey.
The findings were last night described as a "wake-up call" for society.
The dangers faced by our youths was starkly demonstrated earlier this year when a dance event descended into chaos.
More than 100 young people required medical attention and 18 were hospitalised during a concert by DJ Hardwell at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast.
The majority of those who took unwell were said to be heavily intoxicated with many believed to be underage.
Drugs were also said to have been taken by some of those affected.
Over-stretched medical emergency crews and two hospitals were forced to declare a Major Incident, with extra staff called in to help.
Following the Hardwell incident Health Minister Edwin Poots blamed the availability of alcohol at "pocket money prices".
A subsequent investigation by this newspaper showed the events at the Odyssey in February were not isolated.
There was further widespread concern when the 'Neknomination' craze was latched onto by young people here.
A number of people across the UK and Ireland died as a result of the social networking drinking game.
An addicition expert welcomed the findings of our poll, saying he hoped they would mark a sea-change in attitudes towards alcohol.
All of this week the Belfast Telegraph is giving an unprecedented platform to the young people of Northern Ireland.
The Young asks; who are they and what do they want?
Eight students – four boys and four girls from various schools – have joined our editorial team for the entire week.
As part of the focus on youth, a specially commissioned poll asked young people about a range of issues including politics, drugs, jobs, education and their futures.
Polling work was conducted by LucidTalk, the Belfast-based market research company which carried out the full opinion polls we published in 2012 and 2013.
Young people, aged 16-24, were interviewed across Northern Ireland until a random sample of 550 full responses was obtained.
Expert says poll findings are a 'wake-up call'
The realisation of the scale of the problem of drink and drugs abuse by young people serves as a wake-up call to society as a whole, according to an addictions expert.
Dr George O'Neill, a GP with 40 years' experience, said the results of a LucidTalk poll, which showed the majority of young people were concerned by misuse of both, could mark a long-awaited sea change in attitudes.
"Far and away the biggest problem we face is alcohol," said Dr O'Neill, chairman of Addiction NI.
"We have a culture in which there is widespread availability of alcohol and a different pattern of use.
"It's encouraging the 550 young people have raised this concern because it demonstrates an insight and could could be a good sign for the future."
Dr O'Neill said misuse of alcohol and drugs transcended social classes and backgrounds.
"Alcohol is a universal social lubricant – our whole lives revolve around alcohol," he added.
"The results of this poll could mark a tipping point and a sea change in how we as a society look at alcohol and how we use it.
"The findings are promising."
Dr O'Neill said young people could play a key role in pressurising their parents to consider their drinking habits, as has been demonstrated with smoking. Alcohol abuse costs Northern Ireland up to £900m each year.
In 2012 270 people died here as a direct result of alcohol misuse.
Recent statistics show a fifth of school-aged pupils who have drunk alcohol got their last drink from their friends, 18% from a parent.
The PSNI revealed last week that children as young as five had been detected drinking alcohol.
The availability of so-called party drugs is also of huge concern with potentially lethal substances such as ecstasy readily available for less than the price of a pint of beer.
There was an average of one drug-related death every four days here between 2008 and 2012.
A batch of ecstasy tablets in circulation last summer was widely blamed for the deaths of eight young people within weeks of one another.
In the aftermath of the spate of tragedies, First Minister Peter Robinson led calls for police to do more to tackle the scourge of drugs.
Pip Jaffa from charity Parenting NI recently warned young people could avail of drugs "everywhere they turn".
"It is not the case (that drugs can only affect lower-class families) – certainly we are not finding that," she said.
"No family is excluded because drugs are available and they are very accessible."
METHODOLOGY: HOW WE ARRIVED AT THE POLL FINDINGS
Polling was carried out by Belfast-based polling and market research company LucidTalk.
The project involved interviewing more than 1,000 respondents within the 16-24 year-old age-group in Northern Ireland until a random sample of 550 full responses were obtained within the targeted age-group.
The survey project was carried out by telephone ( 70%), by direct liaison with Youth organisations (20%), and face-to-face interview (10%), with the polling taking place from March 18 to April 1.
The project used 15 poll questions agreed with the Belfast Telegraph and all questions were agreed to professional market research standards to ensure balance. All the collated opinions were analysed demographically to ensure the results represented an accurate view of current Northern Ireland opinion, in the targeted age-group. All reported margins of sampling error will include the computed design effects for weighting.
All data results produced are accurate to a margin |of error of +/-4.1%, at 95% confidence.
LucidTalk is a member of all applicable professional polling/market research industry organisations including the British Polling Council.