Whats New Drugs Info Legal Research Links Email
Some articles have not been moved to our new site yet.
As a result you have been redirected to our old site.
If you wish to return to our new site - click here.

Measuring Patterns of Drug Use

(Query from Drug Misuse Research mailing list)


I'm currently involved in developing a monitoring and evaluation system for a counselling service for young people with subtstance misuse problems in Edinburgh. We are hoping that the system will be able to give a better profile of the clients attending, as well as some indication of their progress.

One thing that we would like to be able to do is give a truer picture of their pattern of drug use over the time they are in contact with the project. We had thought about using a pre & post intervention measure as an indication of outcome, but while this is useful, it only captures their level of drug use at one point in time.

Does anybody know of any way in which client's drug use can be tracked and categorised in a way that is fairly operationalised as opposed to subjectively placing them in a category (i.e. stable, chaotic etc...)?

Thank you in advance for your assistance.

Kathleen Robson, Research Assistant, Centre for HIV/AIDS and Drug Studies Lothian Health, Edinburgh


We have been conducting surveys of drug use since 1984, primarily of regular recreational users using anonymous self-report questionnaires. To date, our database includes over 6000 respondents.

We categorise usage of each drug as follows:

Experimental - used less than 10 times

Occasional - use less than monthly

Regular - use at least monthly, inc weekly use

Daily - use every day, or virtually every day.

Former users - who have stopped

Non users - including those who state they might try a drug, or would never use.

We alse measure usage quantitavely:

Monthly spending on a particular drug (cross referenced with purchase frequency, quantity and price paid)

Amount used/bought per month, no of spliffs per day (cannabis)

The use of spending on drugs as a reference point is that it subdivides daily users into moderate or heavy users. Daily use, by itself, does not represent heavy use (someone drinking 2-3 cups of tea a day would not be a heavy user, likewise someone smoking 5 cigarettes a day, or 1-5 spliffs would be a moderate user of tobacco/cannabis).

If you would like further information, check out the Regular Users surveys (published-minus tables & graphs - on our website), or telephone myself or Simon Davis at our office (01942-522946).

We can send you as many survey forms as you like, as are particularly keen to increase the number of responses from problem drug users, particuarly of amphetamine, opiates, and cocaine, who are under represented in our surveys.


Follow Up

I read with interest your posting, however, just one tiny point: I would suggest that a person who smokes five (or three or four) spliffs a day should be categorised a 'heavy' user, not a moderate user as you suggest. I know it's splitting hairs, but five spliffs a day is a lot in my opinion.

Ian Sutherland, Adolescent Assessment Services, Swansea


Bear in mind that these are 'Eurospliffs', not US neat reefers, let alone Caribbean 'ital' spliffs.

A person smoking 5 spliffs a day mixed with tobacco will only be using around 1g of cannabis (approx 150mg resin or 200mg herbal in an average reefer), whereas a US smoker would use around 500-1000mg in a single 'neat grass' joint. Rastas or Coptics can smoke much more at a single time, Bob Marley was reputed to get through an ounce (28g) per day.

If 5 'UK' reefers a day is to be classed as heavy use, then there will be upwards of 1.5 million 'heavy' users in the UK. I would prefer to reserve the descriptor of 'heavy' users for the minority of 'daily' users who are really 'caning it', using over 2g per day (some up to 10g per day). Roughly one in 20 regular users would smoke an ounce a week (4g per day), or around 100,000 UK individuals.

More details in:

Regular Users II - UK Drugs Market Analysis, purchasing patterns and prices 1997. IDMU Publications (text published on IDMU website - minus graphics & tables)

Follow-up 2 (anon)

I think you make a very good point - however, some of the UK spliffs I used to come across (before I became a respectable pillar of the academic community of course), would have put an elephant away!

As I said though, I think you make an excellent point.

All contents of this web site & any links to other sites etc, is for educational & research purposes. IDMU at no time seeks to encourage illegal activities. All sections of this site and its contents are protected under copyright laws. © IDMU Ltd 1994 - 2008