Dancing on Drugs
Dancing on Drugs: Risk, health and hedonism in the British club scene
The findings of the largest independent study of UK dance clubbers and dance drug use and their health and safety, by academics from Lancaster University and the University of Manchester are published in a new book.
Based on a two-year in-depth study during 1997-1999 and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, it combines social and medical research with contemporary cultural analysis to provide the most comprehensive overview of the British dance drug scene to date. The research occurred in the real club world, with fights, police raids, paramedics, alongside thousands of happy clubbers.
Fiona Measham, lecturer in Applied Social Science and colleagues, surveyed more than 2,000 clubbers (mostly aged 17-30 years) inside three dance clubs in the north west of England. Over 350 clubbers who had taken dance drugs (amphetamines, ecstasy, cocaine, LSD or crack) were also interviewed in depth and gave voluntary urine samples for laboratory analysis. Fifty four had full medicals at a later date.
Among the findings were:
- Clubbers who take Class A and Class B dance drugs are from all socio-economic backgrounds but the full time employed, those in higher education and young professionals are particularly strongly represented.
- Clubbers are frequent drinkers, with three quarters drinking twice a week or more. 7 in 10 are current smokers. Nearly half go clubbing at least once a week.
- Nearly all clubbers (84%) drink on their nights out and two thirds (64%) take dance drugs. Over half of clubbers interviewed consume both alcohol and drugs together: the mixing of alcohol, ecstasy and amphetamines is routine at dance clubs, with cannabis used after the event to ?chill out? and help to sleep. Ecstasy remains both young people?s favourite dance drug and their favourite drug in general at the turn of the century.
- Clubbers spend an average of £51 in total on a night out, and about £18 specifically on drugs. 7 in 10 clubbers buy their drugs from 'friends' and another quarter buy their drugs from 'dealers' who are known to their social network. Less than 1 in 10 young people we interviewed bought drugs from unknown dealers or from staff in pubs and clubs. The extent of small scale dealing amongst young people can be seen from this study: 9 in 10 had received drugs from their friends and 8 in 10 had provided drugs for friends. This raises important issues regarding the criminalisation of otherwise 'respectable' and law abiding young people who risk maximum prison sentences for the supply of Class A drugs.
- The clubbers regard 'getting off it' at weekends as a top leisure activity. They can get self confidence, energy, sociability, a buzz and romantic or sexual possibilities from these nights out. They have a long list of reasons to say 'yes' to recreational drug use.
- Clubbers need a day or two recovery period after clubbing and dance drug use. A significant minority considered themselves to suffer at work or study the next week with after effects such as poor performance, tiredness and poor concentration being common.
- Most clubbers occasionally suffer physical and psychological negatives. For a small minority these are serious and signs of 'comorbidity' were found, with mental health problems and heavy stimulant use linked. Nearly half had health problems as a result of their alcohol or drug use, with amphetamines being the drug which caused most concern for clubbers. Nearly a quarter of the young people in this sample had visited a doctor for health problems that they perceived to have been caused by their alcohol or drug use.
- Clubbers have problems getting home with a lack of affordable late night transport options. Nearly half drive or are driven by a companion. Driving under the influence of both alcohol and illegal drugs is cause for concern.
- The authors conclude by calling for a targeted harm minimisation programme for British clubbers, something that the government is too 'embarrassed' to encourage.
Clubbers pose a dilemma for the government because they routinely breach the Misuse of Drugs Act and yet by and large are otherwise law abiding citizens. Their role in supplying each other Class A drugs as 'sorting' is best resolved in the short run in a new offence as recommended by the Independent Enquiry/Runciman Report.