However, the school survey of 15- to 16-year-olds in 35 countries found that Ireland is near the top for use of ecstasy, cocaine, new psychoactive drugs, and inhalants.
The European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) said that while Irish school kids were drinking less often, they were still among the heaviest drinkers when they did take alcohol.
The 2015 report, published yesterday, said Irish 15- to 16-year-olds also have one of the highest rates of gambling — a bigger issue among boys.
It also found perceived availability of drugs was highest in Ireland for cocaine, second highest for ecstasy, but around average for both alcohol and cigarettes.
An analysis of ESPAD surveys over the last 20 years show that cigarette smoking among Irish 15- to 16-years olds has more than halved, with significant falls in alcohol and cannabis.
Irish figures for lifetime use (consumption at least once) show:
- Cigarette smoking has fallen from the highs of 74% in both 1995 and 1999 to just 32% in 2015;
- Alcohol consumption has dropped from the highs of 92% between 1995 and 2003 to 74% in 2015;
- Cannabis consumption fell from 39% in 2003 to 20% in 2007 and to 18% in 2011, rising slightly to 19% in 2015;
- Ecstasy consumption fell from a high of 9% in 1995 to a low of 2% in 2011, rising to 4% in 2015;
- Cocaine rose from 2% in 1995 to a height of 4% in 2007, falling slightly to 3% in 2011 and 2015;
- Inhalant use has dropped from a high of 22% in 1999 to a low of 9% in 2011, rising to 11% in 2015.
The 2015 report shows that, among the 35 countries surveyed, Ireland is now ranked 30th for lifetime use of cigarettes and 26th for alcohol consumption.
This translates to current usage, with Ireland ranked 29th and 28th respectively.
The report said Ireland was now one of a handful of countries with “low rates” of alcohol use. However Irish teens still consume greater quantities of alcohol when drinking — ranked 5th highest.
In relation to illegal drug use, Irish 15- to 16-year-olds are ranked 2nd for lifetime use of ecstasy and fourth for lifetime use of cocaine.
For new psychoactive drugs, also known in some countries as legal highs, Ireland is ranked 4th for lifetime use and 5th for recent (last year) use. Ireland is in joint 7th for inhalant use.
The situation in relation to cannabis is a bit more mixed, with lifetime use just above the average, and current use (within last 30 days) putting us in 11th position.
Howewver, as regards frequency of use, Irish teens are ranked 3rd, with cannabis used 13 times within the last year.
The 2015 report also looked at gambling and found Irish teens were slightly above average for gambling in the last year, but in 9th place for frequent gambling — with it far more common among boys.
The report said measures to prevent adolescent gambling problems — such as debts, psychological deficits and social disadvantage — were of “high priority”.
Minister of state for health Marcella Corcoran Kennedy welcomed the findings on cigarettes and alcohol, but expressed concern at the easy access to alcohol and the scale of binge-drinking.
Drugs minister Catherine Byrne said tackling the drugs problem continued to be a government priority.
Conor Cullen of Alcohol Action Ireland said: “While it is encouraging Ireland is below the European average in a number of important ESPAD categories, it is also notable that exceptions to this include the number of boys and girls who were drunk in the previous 30 days and the average alcohol intake on the last day of drinking.”