People who drink heavily or use illegal drugs tend to downplay their levels of consumption when comparing themselves to others, according to a new study based on the Global Drugs Survey (GDS), the largest drug survey in the world.
The findings show that 68 percent of respondents to the GDS were drinking at hazardous or harmful levels, yet the vast majority (83 percent) felt they were drinking at low or average levels, report the researchers from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.
The same pattern emerged among users of illicit drugs as well. While frequent and/or heavier users were more likely to report their consumption as above average compared to more moderate users, they still tended to downplay their levels of use. For example, the survey showed that using cannabis every day or most days was fairly unusual yet a third or more of respondents who used cannabis this frequently considered their use to be average (33 percent) or less than average (42 percent).
For ecstasy and cocaine, more than half of even the heaviest users thought they were using at no more than average levels.
“Given that drug use carries certain risks, whether this be to health, of getting caught or of damage to reputation, we shouldn’t be surprised that some people downplay their levels of use as a way of managing their anxieties about what they’re doing,” said Dr. Michael Shiner, an associate professor in LSE’s Department of Social Policy and expert advisor to the Global Drugs Survey.
A significant proportion of GDS respondents expressed a desire to reduce their existing levels of consumption. Thirty six percent wanted to drink less alcohol and 25 percent wanted to reduce their use of illicit drugs — mainly cannabis and cocaine.
The desire to cut down was linked to participants’ actual and perceived levels of use. Heavier users, and those who saw themselves as such, were more likely to want to reduce their consumption than those who used less or thought they did.
Regardless of respondents actual drinking habits, those who thought they were drinking at a high rate compared to others were almost twice as likely to want to cut down as those who thought they were drinking at average levels. Similar effects were evident in relation to cannabis, ecstasy, and cocaine.
“Whether drugs are classified as illegal or not, there is group of people who will continue to use them, so we need ways, other than the law, of changing behavior,” said Dr. Adam Winstock, a Consultant Addiction Psychiatrist at Maudsley Hospital, and creator of the Global Drugs Survey.
“With this in mind we’ve created an app where people can confidentially input their use and it will give them a true picture of how their use compares to others. We hope that for some people this might provide the jolt they need to address their excessive alcohol or drug use. ”
The findings are published in the journal Social Science and Medicine.
Source: London School of Economics