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Polydrug Use

Comparisons of polydrug use at national and inner-city levels in England: associations with demographic and socioeconomic factors (2013)

J. Carter, J. Strang, S. Frissa, R. Hayes, the SELCoH Study Team, S.L. Hatch, and M. Hotopf



Polydrug use, or the recreational use of more than one legal or illegal drug within a particular time period, is common. However, research in this area has been limited. Polydrug use may be higher in inner-city areas than across England nationally. This study aimed 1) to discover more about polydrug use across England, and 2) to compare this to polydrug use in an inner-city London area.

How was the study conducted?

7,418 people took part in the 2007 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS), which studied mental health across England. They were compared to 1,698 people from the South East London Community Health (SELCoH) study, which was carried out in two London boroughs, between 2008-2010. Both surveys asked people if they had used any of 8 illegal substances in the last year: cannabis, amphetamines, cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, tranquilisers, crack and heroin. Their smoking habits and alcohol consumption in the last year were also compared.

In each survey, people were grouped based upon their level of polydrug use. We studied individual characteristics for each group, such as age, gender, level of education, and marital status. Polydrug use and these characteristics were compared across the APMS and SELCoH surveys.

What did we find?

More people in SELCoH reported illegal drug use, while more people in APMS reported drinking hazardous levels of alcohol; both had similar numbers of people smoking cigarettes. 

There were three main groups for polydrug use in each survey: low polydrug use, moderate polydrug use and high polydrug use.

5.3% of people from SELCoH and 2.2% from APMS were categorised in the high group, who were more likely to use cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, cigarettes and alcohol, with some of these individuals also using amphetamines, LSD and tranquilisers. Within SELCoH, people of White ethnicity were more likely than ethnic minority groups to be in the high polydrug use group. Within the APMS, people aged between 35-44 years were less likely than those aged 16-24 years to be in the high polydrug group.

15.6% of people from SELCoH and 11.3% from AMPS fell in the moderate group. In this group, people were more likely to use cannabis, cigarettes and alcohol. Within APMS, those with higher levels of education were less likely than those with lower levels of education to be in the moderate polydrug use group.

79.1% of people from SELCoH and 86.5% from APMS fell in the low polydrug use group (people less likely to smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol).


This study shows that patterns of substance use, in particular poly substance use, differ between the national data and a community sample in South East London.


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