Western Cape pupils are bingeing on a cocktail of sex, alcohol and drugs from as young as 13, the SA Medical Research Council has found.
Results of its survey on substance use, risky behaviour and mental health among pupils in Grades 8, 9 and 10 were released yesterday.
Surprisingly, drug use among pupils in the Western Cape is decreasing but, the survey found, 66% of them drank alcohol and 40% smoked.
The council's Professor Brownyn Meyers said: "These risky behaviours have long-term consequences for adolescents, including unplanned pregnancies, risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted illnesses, and social and academic problems."
More than 2000 pupils at 227 schools participated in the survey.
The principal investigator for the survey, Professor Neo Morejele, said the results were troubling. They showed that both male and female pupils used alcohol and a quarter of them admitted to using dagga.
"What we found, which is of concern, is that of those who said they had started using tobacco, 20% said they used tobacco every day, 2% said they would become intoxicated every day, and 13% of those who had started using dagga said they used it every day," said Morejele.
"Of interest is the extent to which young people are engaging in sex and are exposing themselves to risks. We noted that about 30% reported that they had sex, 60% of them said they had unprotected sex, a quarter of them had sex under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and 20% said they had more than one sex partner."
Morejele said the pupils started taking drugs, drinking and smoking as young as 13.
The researchers found that the use of illicit drugs was declining. Only 2% of the pupils interviewed said they had used mandrax or methaphetamine (tik), and 1% had used heroin, cocaine or ecstasy.