2009/10 Scottish Crime and Justice Survey: Drug Use

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3 The Experience of Drug Users

3.1 Chapter summary

Drug most commonly reported

Of those who had used at least one illicit drug ever, almost three in ten (28.5%) reported using at least one drug in the last year.

  • More than eight in ten (84.4%) of those who had used any illicit drug in the last year had used cannabis in that time.

Almost six in ten (59.1%) of those who had used any illicit drug in the last year had used an illicit drug in the last month.

  • More than eight in ten (84.2%) of those who had used any illicit drug in the last month had used cannabis in that time.

Three quarters (75.1%) of those who had used any drugs in the last month reported cannabis as the drug they had taken most often in that period.

Frequency of drug use

Half (49.9%) of those who had used drugs in the last month had used their only / most frequently used drug on at least a weekly basis, including around one in six (16.5%) who had done so every day or almost every day.

Dependency on drugs

Of those who had used an illicit drug in the last month, almost three in ten (27.8%) reported that they had felt dependent on the drug they used most often in the last month while over seven in ten (71.9%) said they had not.

Almost a third (32.3%) of adults reporting use in the last month said they had tried to cut down on their use of the drug they used most often in the last month, but found they could not.

Around one in six (16.4%) of those who had used an illicit drug in the last month had, in that period, felt dependent on the drug they used most often in the last month AND had tried to cut down on its use, but found they could not.

Polydrug use / mixing alcohol and drugs among recent users

Almost a third (32.7%) of adults who had used at least one illicit drug in the last month reported some kind of polydrug use involving that drug ever.

  • Over six in ten (63.6%) of those who had ever mixed the drug they used most often in the last month with any other drug, had mixed other drugs with cannabis, reflecting the predominance of that drug as the drug used most often in the last month;
  • The drugs that polydrug users were most likely to have ever mixed with the drug they used most often in the last month were cocaine (56.6%) or ecstasy (52.3%).

The majority (83.1%) of adults who had used at least one illicit drug in the last month reported drinking alcohol at some point in their lives while taking the drug they had used most often in the last month.

Age of first use

Late teens (16-19 years) was the most common age for first using drugs, with over half (52.0%) of adults who had ever used drugs reporting having first tried illicit drugs at this age. A quarter (25.2%) of those who had ever used drugs first tried them when they were less than 16 years of age.

Reflecting its dominance, cannabis was the first drug tried by more than three quarters (78.3%) of those who had ever used any illicit drug.

3.2 Introduction

This chapter takes a more detailed look at the experiences of those adults who reported illicit drug use in the last year and the last month.

Initially it examines drug use in the last year and in the last month by individual drug.

The chapter then moves on to look at more detailed experiences of drug use in the last month, including drugs used, frequency of use, levels of dependency, ease of obtaining drugs, polydrug use and the use of alcohol at the same time.

The chapter concludes by looking at first experiences and methods of drug taking.

3.3 Self-reported drug use in the last year

As discussed in Chapter 2, a quarter (25.2%) of adults in Scotland reported they had used drugs at some point in their lives. Of these, almost three in ten (28.5%) reported using at least one drug in the last year. Figure 3.1 examines the individual drug taken in the last year based on those who had taken at least one drug in that period. The figure is ranked in order of drugs ever used:

  • More than eight in ten (84.4%) of those who had used any illicit drug in the last year had used cannabis in that time;
  • Almost half (46.2%) of those who had used any illicit drug in the last year had used a stimulant in that time period. This included 29.7% who had taken cocaine in the last year, 26.2% who had taken ecstasy, 13.1% amphetamines, 13.1% poppers, 2.0% crack and 0.5% who had taken crystal meth in the last year;
  • Of those who had taken any drug in the last year, 14.6% had taken any illicit downers / tranquilisers in the last year including 13.2% who had taken valium and 6.1% who had taken temazepam;
  • Almost one in ten (9.1%) of those who had used any illicit drug in the last year had used one or more psychedelic drug, including 4.8% who had taken magic mushrooms, 4.0% had taken ketamine and 3.3% who reported having taken LSD in the last year;
  • 5.3% of those who had used any illicit drug in the last year had taken an opiate in that time period. This included 4.1% who had taken heroin and 3.9% who had taken methadone illicitly in the last year;
  • 1.1% of those using any illicit drug in the last year had used glues, solvents, gas or aerosols and 0.6% had used anabolic steroids in that period.

Figure 3.1: Pattern of drug use among adults taking drugs in the last year
SCJS 2009/10.
Base: Adults aged 16 or over who had used at least one illicit drug in the last year (736).
Variable name: Q12M.

Figure 3.1: Pattern of drug use among adults taking drugs in the last year

Examining the use of individual drugs in the last year as a percentage of those having used any illicit drug in the last year gives an indication of the relative use of different types of drugs within this 12 month time frame. It is also illuminating to examine use of an individual drug in the last year as a percentage of those who had ever used that individual drug at some point in their lives. 29 This takes into account relative differences in the continuity and scale of use of different drugs over different time periods:

  • More than a quarter of those who reported taking cannabis (26.5%) at some point in their lives reported using it in the last year;
  • More than a quarter (26.2%) of those who had used at least one type of stimulantat some point in their lives reported stimulant use in the last year. This included cocaine, where 32.0% of adults who had ever used this drug reported use in the last year. It also included crack (20.4%), 30ecstasy (25.4%), poppers (14.1%) and amphetamines (12.4%);
  • Around a quarter (25.7%) who reported ever using downers / tranquilisers also reported using at least one drug in this composite group in the last year. This included 27.4% of users of valium at some point in their lives reporting using this in the last year. Around one in five adults who reported use of temazepamat some point in their lives had used this drug in the last year (20.8%);
  • Less than one in ten (8.5%) who reported using any psychedelic drug at some point in their lives also reported using them in the last year. This included 21.8% of those who had used ketamineat some point in their lives who had used it in the last year, 6.5% of those who had ever used magic mushroomsat some point in their lives who had used it in the last year and 5.1% of those who had used LSD;
  • More than a third (36.3%) of those who reported taking at least one type of opiateat some point in their lives also reported using at least one opiate in the last year including half who had ever used methadone (50.2%) 31 and almost a third who had ever used heroin (32.0%) using the respective drug in the last year;
  • 3.8% of those who reported taking glues, solvents, gas or aerosolsat some point in their lives had used these in the last year.

3.4 Self-reported drug use in the last month

As described in Chapter 2, 4.2% adults aged 16 or over reported using one or more illicit drug in the last month. Figure 3.2 shows use of individual drugs in the last month as a percentage of those who had used at least one drug in the last month to give a relative indication of the most commonly used drugs. The figure is ranked in order of drugs ever used:

  • More than eight in ten (84.2%) of those who had used any illicit drug in the last month reported that they had used cannabis in that time period;
  • Over three in ten (31.5%) of those who had used any illicit drug in the last month reported stimulant use in that time period. This included 17.5% who had taken cocaine in the last month, 15.5% who had taken ecstasy in the last month, 8.1% amphetamines, 4.9% poppers, 1.4% crack and 0.1% crystal meth;
  • Of those who had taken any drug in the last month, 12.1% had taken downers / tranquilisers in that period including 11.1% who had taken valium and 4.0% who had taken temazepam;
  • Of those who had used any illicit drug in the last month 3.8% had used a psychedelic drug in that period, including 1.8% who had taken LSD, 1.5% who had taken ketamine and 1.2% who had taken magic mushrooms in the last month;
  • 7.1% of those who had used any illicit drug in the last month had taken an opiate in that time period. This included 5.7% who had taken heroin and 3.8% who had taken methadone in the last month;
  • 1.0% of those using any illicit drug in the last month had used glues, solvents, gas or aerosols and 0.3% had used anabolic steroids in the last month.

Figure 3.2: Pattern of drug use among adults taking drugs in the last month
SCJS 2009/10.
Base: Adults aged 16 or over who had used at least one illicit drug in the last month (436).
Variable name: Q1M.

Figure 3.2: Pattern of drug use among adults taking drugs in the last month

Further analysis also examined use of individual drugs and composite drug groups in the last month as a percentage of those using the respective individual drug or drug from the composite group in the last year.32 Overall, almost six in ten (59.1%) of those who reported taking any illicit drug in the last year also reported taking one or more illicit drug in the last month:

  • Almost six in ten, 58.9% of those who reported taking cannabis in the last year also reported use in the last month;
  • Four in ten (40.4%) of those who had used any stimulant drug in the last year reported taking these drugs in the last month. This included reported use of cocaine, with over a third (34.9%) of those using it in the last year also having used it in the last month, and a similar percentage (35.1%) of those using ecstasy in the last year reporting using it in the last month. 36.6% of those who had used amphetamines in the last year and 22.4% who had used poppers had used the respective drug in the last month;
  • Around a half (49.0%) of those who had used any of the drugs classified as downers / tranquilisers in the last year reported having used at least one of these in the last month, including 50.0% of those who reported using valium in the last year who had also used it in the last month;
  • Almost a quarter (24.6%) of those who had used any psychedelic drugs in the last year reported having used at least one of these in the last month.33

3.5 Experience of drug use in the last month

Self-reported use of illicit drugs in the last month provides information on drugs taken in the most recent time period covered by the SCJS 2009/10. This section looks at the single illicit drug reported as being used / used most often in the month prior to interview, the frequency with which that drug was used and adults' perception of their dependency on that drug. 34 The ease of obtaining the drug used most often in the last month and use of additional drugs (polydrug use) or alcohol alongside the most frequently used drug is also examined.

The single drug reported as being used most often in the last month extended across a range of drugs though cannabis was identified as predominant:

  • Three quarters (75.1%) of those who had used any drug in the last month reported cannabis as the drug they had taken most often in that period;
  • Around one in six (15.4%) of those using drugs during the last month identified a stimulant as their most frequently used drug;
  • 5.6% reported cocaine as the drug they used most often in the last month, the highest percentage after cannabis;
  • Other stimulants reported as being most used in the last month included ecstasy (4.1%) amphetamines (2.6%), poppers (2.3%), and crack (0.7%). No adults reported crystal meth as the drug they used most often in the last month;
  • Fewer of those who had used a drug in the last month (3.7%) had used a drug from the composite group of downers / tranquilisers as the drug they had used most often in the last month;
  • 2.7% of adults reported that they had taken valium as the drug they took most often in the last month, whilst 1.0% reported temazepam as the drug they took most often in the last month;
  • No adults reported a drug from the composite group psychedelics (including ketamine, magic mushrooms or LSD) as the illicit drug used most often in the last month;
  • Opiates were used most often in the last month by 4.8% of those who had used any illicit drug in that period including heroin (2.6%) and methadone (2.3%);
  • Less than one per cent of those using any illicit drug in the last month had used glues, solvents, gas or aerosols (0.5%) or anabolic steroids (0.3%) most often in the last month;
  • Among Class of drugs, 15.3% of users of any illicit drug in the last month reported a Class A drug as the drug they had used most often in the last month, 77.7% reported a Class B drug and 4.0% a Class C drug.

3.5.1 Drug used most often in last month - frequency of use

Half (49.9%) of those who had used drugs in the last month had used their most frequently used drug on at least a weekly basis, including around one in six (16.5%) who had done so every day or almost every day. Over a third (34.5%) had taken the drug they used most often in the last month only once or twice in that period (Figure 3.3).

Figure 3.3: Frequency of using the drug used most often in the last month
SCJS 2009/10.
Base: Adults aged 16 or over who had used at least one illicit drug in the last month (436).
Variable name: QDROFT.

Figure 3.3: Frequency of using the drug used most often in the last month

3.5.2 Drug dependency

Two questions relating to dependency on the drug used most often were asked of those who had taken any illicit drug in the last month.35

First, those who had used at least one illicit drug in the last month were asked whether, in the last month, they had felt dependent on the drug they used most often in that period. Almost three in ten (27.8%) reported they had felt dependent on the drug they used most often in the last month while over seven in ten (71.9%) said they had not. 36

  • Almost one in five (19.4%) of those who had used at least one illicit drug in the last month said they felt dependent on or needed to take cannabis in that period;
  • 1.3% of those who had used at least one illicit drug in the last month reported feeling dependent on any stimulant drug in that period. This included 0.4% on ecstasy, 0.4% on poppers, 0.3% on amphetamine and 0.2% reporting that they felt dependent on cocaine in the last month. No adults among those who had used at least one illicit drug in the last month reported feeling dependent on crack in that period;
  • 2.5% of those who had used at least one illicit drug in the last month reported feeling dependent on any downer / tranquiliser in that period, including 2.0% saying they felt dependent on valium and 0.5% on temazepam in the last month;
  • No adults among those who had used at least one illicit drug in the last month reported feeling dependent on any of the psychedelic drugs in that period;
  • 4.6% of those who had used at least one illicit drug in the last month reported feeling dependent on any opiate in that period including 2.3% saying they felt dependent on heroin and 2.3% on methadone in the last month;
  • No adults who had used at least one illicit drug in the last month said they had felt dependent on glues, solvents, gas or aerosols or anabolic steroids in that period.

Those who had used at least one illicit drug in the last month were also asked whether in the last month they had tried to cut down on the drug they used most often in that period, but found they could not. Almost a third (32.3%) said they had tried to cut down on their use of the drug they used most often in the last month, but found they could not.

More than one in five (22.9%) of those using at least one illicit drug in the last month reported that they had tried, but were unable to cut down on their cannabis intake in the last month;

  • One in twenty (4.9%) of those taking drugs in the last month had tried to cut down on any stimulant drug in that period including 1.9% who had tried but were unable to cut down on their cocaine use, 1.6% their ecstasy use, 0.6% their use of poppers, 0.5% their use of crack and 0.3% their amphetamine use;
  • Of those using at least one illicit drug in the last month, 1.8% said they had tried but were unable to cut down on downers / tranquilisers including 1.6% who had tried and failed to cut down on valium and 0.2% on temazepam in the last month;
  • No adults among those who had used at least one illicit drug in the last month said they had tried to cut down on their use of any psychedelic drug and had were unable to do so in that period;
  • Among those who had used at least one illicit drug in the last month 2.6% said they had tried to cut down on their use of any opiate but had not been able to. This included 1.6% who had tried and were unable to cut down on heroin and 1.0% on methadone;
  • No adults among those who had used at least one illicit drug in the last month said they had tried to cut down on their use of anabolic steroids or glues, solvents, gas or aerosols and were not able to in that period.

More than four in ten (43.7%) of those who had taken at least one illicit drug in the last month had felt dependent on the drug they used most often in the last month and / or had tried and were unable to cut down on their use.

3.5.3 Ease of obtaining drugs in the last month

Those who reported taking any drug in the last month were asked how difficult it was for them to get hold of the drug they had used most often in the last month.

The majority of adults (83.4%) who used any drug in the last month reported that it was easy to get hold of the drug they had used most often in the last month, including 46.1% who said it was very easy (Figure 3.4).

Figure 3.4 displays how difficult it was for those using at least one illicit drug in the last month to obtain the drug they used most often in that period over time. The differences in percentages between the SCJS 2008/09 and the SCJS 2009/10 are not statistically significant, indicating that ease of getting hold of the drug most often used in the last month has remained the same between years.

  • In the SCJS 2009/10, 83.4% of those using at least one illicit drug in the last month reported that it was fairly or very easy to get hold of the drug they reported using most often in that period;
  • 15.6% of those using at least one drug in the last month said it was very or fairly difficult to get hold of the drug they used most often in that period

Figure 3.4: Ease of getting hold of drug used most often in the last month
SCJS 2008/09; SCJS 2009/10.
Base: Adults aged 16 or over who had used at least one illicit drug in the last month (2008/09 384; 2009/10 436).
Variable name: QDRHOLD.

Figure 3.4: Ease of getting hold of drug used most often in the last month

3.5.4 Polydrug use

Polydrug use is the use of more than one drug at the same time, often with the intention of enhancing or countering the effect of another drug. Polydrug use is distinct from multiple drug use, where users may be taking more than one type of drug over a particular period (Brown and Bolling, 2007). Polydrug use is a particular concern because of the increased risk to both mental and physical wellbeing, including the risk of overdose due to the interactions between drugs, as well as the use of unfamiliar drugs (Hoare, 2009).

Respondents who had used at least one illicit drug in the last month were asked if they had ever used another drug when they were under the influence of the drug they had used most often in the last month:

  • Almost a third (32.7%) reported some kind of polydrug use;
  • Men who had used at least one drug in the last month were significantly more likely than women to have purposefully mixed the drug they used most often in the last month with any other illicit drug at some point in their lives (37.3% compared with 23.2% women).

Over six in ten (63.6%) of those who had ever mixed the drug they used most often in the last month with any other drug, had mixed other drugs with cannabis, reflecting the predominance of cannabis as the drug used most often in the last month (section 3.5). More than a quarter (27.7%) of those who had used cannabis most often in the last month had mixed it with one or more other drugs.

The drugs that polydrug users said they had ever mixed with the drug they took most often in the last month are shown in Figure 3.5. This shows that:

  • The types of drugs polydrug users were most likely to have ever mixed with the drug they used most often in the last month were stimulants (81.1%), in particular cocaine (56.6%), ecstasy (52.3%) or amphetamines (34.2%);
  • Three in ten polydrug users (30.7%) had ever mixed the drug they had used most often in the last month with psychedelics, principally with magic mushrooms (21.3%);
  • Three in ten (30.2%) had ever mixed the drug they had used most often in the last month with downers / tranquilisers, principally with valium (25.4%);
  • Over a third (34.0%) of polydrug users had ever mixed the drug they had used most often in the last month with cannabis.

Figure 3.5: Drugs ever mixed with drug used most often in the last month - most often mixed drugs37
SCJS 2009/10.
Base: Adults aged 16 or over who had ever mixed the drug used most often in the last month with other drugs (136).
Variable name: QDRWHIC.

Figure 3.5: Drugs ever mixed with drug used most often in the last month - most often mixed drugs

3.5.5 Mixing alcohol with the drug used most often in the last month

The majority (83.1%) of adults who had used at least one illicit drug in the last month also reported drinking alcohol at some point in their lives while under the influence of the drug they had used most often in the last month. This compares with 32.7% who reported ever mixing the drug they had used most often in the last month with other drugs as seen in section 3.5.4 (Figure 3.6).

  • Consistent with findings related to polydrug use, men were more likely than women to have mixed the illicit drug they had used most often in the last month with alcohol at some point in their lives (86.6% compared with 75.9% of women).

Figure 3.6: % ever mixing drug used most often in the last month with other drugs or alcohol by gender
SCJS 2009/10.
Base: Adults aged 16 or over who had used at least one illicit drug in the last month (436).
Variable name: QDRMIX; QDRALC.

Figure 3.6: % ever mixing drug used most often in the last month with other drugs or alcohol by gender

3.6 Experience of drug use ever

Having examined drug use in the last year and in the last month, this chapter concludes by considering aspects of drug taking among those adults who reported using drugs at some point in their lives. This includes the age at which they took their first drug, their drug of first use and the method(s) of drug taking they had ever tried.

3.6.1 Age at which first drug was taken

All those who reported ever having used one or more illicit drug were asked at what age they first took drugs (Figure 3.7).

  • Late teens (16-19 years) was the most common age for first trying drugs, with over half (52.0%) having first tried them at this age;
  • A quarter (25.2%) of those who had ever used drugs first tried them when they were less than 16 years of age.

Figure 3.7: Age at which first drug ever taken
SCJS 2009/10.
Base: Adults aged 16 or over who had ever used at least one illicit drug (3,072).
Variable name: QDRAGE.

Figure 3.7: Age at which first drug ever taken

  • Those who had ever used any drug who were living in social rented accommodation at the time of interview were significantly more likely to have first tried any drug when they were under 16 (36.6%) compared with those living in private rented accommodation (25.8%). Both of these groups were significantly more likely to have first tried any drug when they were aged 10-15 years compared with owner-occupiers (18.8%);
  • Adults living in the 15% most deprived areas of Scotland and who reported that they had ever used drugs were significantly more likely to have first tried any drug when they were under 16 than those living in the rest of Scotland (36.6% and 23.1% respectively);
  • Victims of crime as measured by the SCJS 2009/10 who had ever used drugs were also significantly more likely to have first used drugs when they were under 16 than non-victims (29.4% of victims of crime compared with 23.4% for non-victims).

3.6.2 First drug ever used

Respondents who had ever used one or more illicit drug were also asked to indicate the drug they first took. Their responses are shown below in Figure 3.8, which is ranked in order of the most commonly used drugs ever.

  • Cannabis was the drug that adults were most likely to have tried first. 78.3% of adults who reported that they had ever used any illicit drug reported that cannabis was the drug they used first;
  • Over one in ten (11.3%) of those who had ever taken any illicit drug reported first taking any stimulant with 3.7% first taking poppers, 3.6% mentioning amphetamines, 2.7% ecstasy and 1.3% cocaine;
  • 1.7% of those who had ever taken any illicit drug reported first taking downers / tranquilisers including 1.4% first taking valium and 0.3% first taking temazepam;
  • 4.5% of those using illicit drugs ever had first used a psychedelic drug including magic mushrooms (2.8%), LSD (1.6%) and ketamine (0.2%);
  • 3.2% of those who had ever taken any illicit drug had first taken glues, solvents, gas or aerosols.

Figure 3.8: First drug ever used38
SCJS 2009/10.
Base: Adults aged 16 or over who had ever used at least one illicit drug (3,072).
Variable name: QDR1ST.

Figure 3.8: First drug ever used

The dominance of cannabis as the first drug used was maintained regardless of the age at which an adult took their first drug. The percentage taking some other drugs first varied depending on the age at which they were first taken:

  • For those taking their first drug aged under 16, a higher percentage of adults reported their first drug was glues, solvents, gas or aerosols among both men (11.3% compared with 3.3% of men who had ever taken any drug on average) and women (9.5% compared with 3.0% of women who had ever taken any drug on average);
  • For those taking their first drug at the age of 25 or over, a higher percentage of adults reported their first illicit drug as a downer / tranquiliser (9.7% compared with 1.7% of all adults);
    • Among men who took their first drug aged 25 or over, 5.6% said the first illicit drug they took was valium compared with 0.8% of all men who had ever taken any drug whose first drug taken was valium;
    • Among women who took their first drug aged 25 or over, 7.7% said the first drug they took was valium compared with 2.2% of all women who had ever taken any drug whose first drug taken was valium and 5.0% reported they first took temazepam compared with 0.6% of all such women;
  • A higher than average percentage of men who reported taking their first drug aged 25 or over said the first drug they took was poppers (9.2% compared with 3.6% of all men who had ever taken any drug whose first drug taken was poppers).

3.6.3 Methods of taking drugs ever tried

This final section briefly examines methods of taking drugs that adults who reported having used drugs at some point in their lives had ever tried.

The majority (91.8%) of those who reported having ever used drugs said that they had taken them by smoking, sniffing or inhaling them. However, two in five (40.4%) had tried swallowing, eating or drinking them. Just 1.6% who had used drugs at some point in their lives reported that they had injected them. 39