Other drugs and substances

Alcohol is sometimes said to be a gateway drug to narcotics, and that youngsters who drink alcohol will look for stronger kicks and eventually try hard drugs. Fortunately, this is rarely the case, and most young people don’t even consider trying narcotics. Smoking cannabis, is, on the other hand, more common among heavy users of alcohol or tobacco smokers.


Just like alcohol, nicotine increases your body’s production of dopamine, which makes you, temporarily, feel happy and feel good.

But nicotine is strongly addictive and affects your body in a number of different ways, including an increased heart rate, higher blood pressure, and poorer overall fitness. Memory and learning abilities are also negatively affected. 


Smoking has declined steeply amongst teenagers since 2010, and 9 per cent of ninth graders and 20 per cent of year 2 upper secondary school students now say that they smoke. The vast majority do so sporadically, and smoking is more common amongst girls than boys.

Almost 6 out of every 10 high school and upper secondary school students who smoke say that they would like to quit, but the majority say they will do so “in the future”. As a teenager, it can be hard to understand that quitting will get harder and harder for every year that passes.

If my parents nag me too much I just stop listening.

Noah, aged 15, Gothenburg


Snus (moist snuff) usage among young people had been in decline between 2000 and 2010, but a substantial increase has been seen in recent years, and in 2022, 11 per cent of ninth graders and 24 per cent of 2nd year upper secondary school students said that they use snus. Snus usage is more common amongst boys, and it’s far more common for boys to use snus every day. But the increase is clear amongst girls, too.

“White snus”, as it is known, has established a market in recent years. It is marketed as a “fresher alternative” to ordinary snus and is classified as tobacco-free, despite containing the addictive substance, nicotine. 20 per cent of ninth graders and 35 per cent of upper secondary school students stated that they had used white snus at least once in the past year. White snus is probably behind the increase in snus usage, particularly amongst girls. A new law now also applies to tobacco-free products, which means, amongst other things, that there is a minimum age limit of 18 on the purchase or sale of snus, and that marketing targeting under 25-year-olds is prohibited.


Electronic cigarettes are a relatively new product and have quickly gained popularity amongst young people, whose use of the product has increased over the past year. In 2022, 36 per cent of ninth graders and 48 per cent of upper secondary school students said that they had used e-cigarettes at least once, in comparison with 24 per cent and 35 per cent, respectively, in 2021. More and more teenagers are using them more regularly, too – 20 per cent of ninth graders and 24 per cent of upper secondary school students said that they had smoked in the past month.

Smoking e-cigarettes is often known as “vaping”. The liquids inhaled when vaping often contain nicotine and additives that can be harmful. The minimum age limit is 18, just as for cigarettes.


If you’re an adult who smokes or uses snus, you should still try to convince your teenager that they shouldn’t start using. And maybe that conversation could give incentive for you to quit too.

Tonårstjej med hörlurar
Photo: Pablo Frisk

I’d never try drugs. If someone offered, I’d just walk away.

Ida, aged 15, Örebro


In Sweden, it’s illegal to buy, sell, use, produce, or possess narcotics and controlled medicines without a prescription. The attitude towards cannabis, for example, is more liberal in some other countries, but in Sweden, it’s illegal for young people and adults alike.


In some countries the use of cannabis and other drugs may be legal, as opposed to in Sweden. Which is why comparing different countries can be complex. Laws that may be applicable in some countries may not work in others. And the fact legislation differs between countries really isn’t that strange, as they tend to do so in a range of issue – not just concerning alcohol and narcotics. Speak to your child about the risks involved with trying and using drugs.


Using narcotics increases the risks of a variety of health problems. And the effects of narcotics on the brain, for example, can cause problems with concentration, poorer memory, and a deterioration in learning ability.  The younger we are the more sensitive our brain is. Which is why narcotics are more harmful for youth than adults.


The majority of both ninth graders and upper secondary school students who have used narcotics (51 per cent and 60 per cent, respectively) obtained them from girl- or boyfriends, friends, or siblings. Dealers were the second most common source of narcotics amongst both ninth graders and upper secondary school students (around 40 per cent).


Cannabis (marijuana or hash) is the most common narcotic in Sweden. 7 per cent of boys and 6 per cent of girls in the ninth grade say that they have used narcotics at some point. 16 per cent of boys and 13 per cent of girls in the 2nd year of upper secondary school have used narcotics. Amongst those students, with experience of narcotics, 51 per cent of high school students and 61 per cent of upper secondary school students stated that they had only tried or used cannabis.

Marijuana is currently the most common version of cannabis. Previously it was hash. Narcotics such as ecstasy, cocaine, and amphetamines are uncommon amongst young people.


In both Sweden as well as in many other countries attitudes to cannabis have shifted in the recent years and have become more liberal. Cannabis has been legalised in many places and is now commonly seen in popular series and films, and on social media.

The change is also apparent amongst teenagers – both those who have tried the drug and those who have not. In 2019, when ninth graders were asked if using cannabis regularly was very risky, 58 per cent said that it was. In 1995, just over 90 per cent said “Yes” in response to the same question.


Yes. Approximately 1 in 10 people who have ever used cannabis and 1 in 6 of those who start using cannabis at an early age, become addicted. Half of those who use it daily will develop an addiction. Cannabis use can also lead to serious problems that impact the user’s health, relationships, and schooling.


Many pharmaceutical products are classified as narcotics because they can give you a rush and cause addiction. Approximately 10 per cent of students in both the ninth grade and the 2nd year of upper secondary school state that they have, at some point, used this kind of pharmaceutical without a prescription. And many of those who have done so don’t see this as having used narcotics. If these students are included in the percentage who have, at some point, used narcotics, the numbers rise to 15 per cent of ninth graders and 20 per cent of upper secondary school students. Combining alcohol with pharmaceuticals can be literally fatal.


Laughing gas is a pharmaceutical product used in combination with oxygen to provide pain relief in the medical sector. There have, however, been recent media reports of young people using laughing gas to get high. The gas being sold is known as “non-medical nitrous oxide” and is not mixed with oxygen, and affects the user’s brain, making them relax and, potentially, gives a rush. Inhaling it poses a risk of, amongst other things, oxygen deficiency, which can result in users fainting and injuring themselves. As well as nerve damage, numbness, and weakened muscles.

The risk is small if someone tries the gas once or twice, but the more laughing gas you use, the bigger the risk of serious consequences. 6 per cent of ninth graders and 17 per cent of 2nd year upper secondary school students have tried laughing gas. It is more common amongst teenagers who drink alcohol and have tried other drugs to try laughing gas as well.


New, often synthetic drugs are constantly turning up on the market. They are often marketed online, and are consequently often referred to as ”online drugs”. New psychoactive substances (NPS) are another new concept. These substances are launched onto the market before it has become illegal to sell or buy them, but that doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous now.

Around 1 per cent of both ninth graders and upper secondary school students say that they have tried NPS at some point. This is a considerable reduction from levels when surveys of this usage began ten years ago.

You’ll find tips about organisations you can contact for more information about other drugs on this page.

More to read about the same topic

Useful contacts and more info

It can sometimes be good to talk to someone who knows a bit more about teenagers and alcohol, or about anything else, for that matter.

If you want to do more

There’s a lot you can do to support and be there for teenagers. Maybe you can take part in night-time patrols, or make it easier for them to say “no”, or help promote a smarter approach to alcohol in some other way.

Other important topics to read about

When parents are not around

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