The Belfast Youth Development Study (BYDS): a prospective cohort study of the initiation, persistence and desistance of substance use from adolescence to adulthood in Northern Ireland

Kathryn Higgins, Aisling McLaughlin, Oliver Perra, Claire McCartan, Mark McCann, Andrew Percy, Julie-Ann Jordan

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Substance misuse persists as a major public health issue worldwide with significant costs for society. The development of interventions requires methodologically sound studies to explore substance misuse causes and consequences. This Cohort description paper outlines the design of the Belfast Youth Development (BYDS), one of the largest cohort studies of its kind in the UK. The study was established to address the need for a long-term prospective cohort study to investigate the initiation, persistence and desistance of substance use, alongside life course processes in adolescence and adulthood. The paper provides an overview of BYDS as a longitudinal data source for investigating substance misuse and outlines the study measures, sample retention and characteristics. We also outline how the BYDS data have been used to date and highlight areas ripe for future work by interested researchers.

The study began in 2000/1 when participants (n = 3,834) were pupils in their first year of post-primary education (age 10/11 years, school year 8) from over 40 schools in Northern Ireland. Children were followed during the school years: Year 9 (in 2002; aged 12; n = 4,343), Year 10 (in 2003; aged 13; n = 4,522), Year 11 (in 2004; aged 14; n = 3,965) and Year 12 (in 2005; aged 15; n = 3,830) and on two more occasions: 2006/07 (aged 16/17; n = 2,335) and 2010/11 (aged 20/21; n = 2,087). Data were collected on substance use, family, schools, neighbourhoods, offending behaviour and mental health. The most novel aspect of the study was the collection of detailed social network data via friendship nominations allowing the investigation of the spread of substance use via friendship networks. In 2004 (school year 11; respondents aged 14), a sub-sample of participants’ parents (n = 1,097) and siblings (n = 211) also completed measures on substance use and family dynamics.

The most recent wave (in 2010/2011; respondents aged 20/21 years) indicated lifetime use of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis among the cohort was 94, 70 and 45 per cent, respectively. The paper charts the development of drug use behaviour and some of the key results to date are presented. We have also identified a number of key areas ripe for analysis by interested researchers including sexual health and education.

We have established a cohort with detailed data from adolescence to young adulthood, supplemented with parent and sibling reports and peer network data. The dataset, allowing for investigation of trajectories of adolescent substance use, associated factors and subsequent long-term outcomes, constitutes an important resource for longitudinal substance misuse research. A planned further wave as the cohort enter their late twenties and potential to link to administrative data sources, will further enrich the datasets.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0195192
Number of pages18
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 23 May 2018


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