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Headlines claiming Brits most alcoholic, Spanish the least, but is this reporting accurate?

A survey published on Monday 25th January by the Global Drug Survey has provided a some intriguing headlines. The survey of over 110,000 carried out between November 2019 and February 2020 is being reported in Spanish media that while Spain has the lowest incidence of alcoholism in the world, the UK has the largest.

As ever with such surveys headline reports do not always tell the full story, Statistics are being presented that say Brits report being "seriously" drunk until their physical and mental faculties are affected and have "lost their balance and rational speech" an average of 33 times a year, more than double what is reported in many other countries.

More than 5% of people under 25 in the UK who took part in the survey reported having sought hospital treatment after getting drunk, compared with a global average of 2%. The survey questioned more than 110,000 people around the globe, including 5,283 in the UK.

What is being excluded from most of the coverage is the make up of those who complete the survey. It is an online survey that targets people who tend to already use drugs, with the intention to highlight differences and trends among users, rather than a country’s population as a whole. Further investigation of the data collection reveals that only 25 countries were engaged in the study with 52% aged under 25 years with 22% of the sample aged 35 years or older.

This immediately requires us to change our language when reporting the survey findings. It dies not report that Brits get drunk on average 33 times a year, but self identified drug users in Britain get drunk 33 times a year on average. The Heraldo headline proclaimed "The UK tops the ranking of the world's most alcoholic countries" which is a very loose interpretation of the findings. That is in keeping with the reporting for most media on this GDS press release.

There is some interesting reporting regarding regret and drunkenness with some media outlets highlighting that Scots and English were less likely to feel regret than users in other countries. On average, 32.8% of people around the world said they regretted getting drunk. In England it was 31%, and in Scotland 33.8%, compared with 88.3% of Colombians. So the difference being seized upon was 0.2% for the English and 1% for the Scots, hardly a deviation from the global average. There was an obvious parallel between greater regret reported in countries with less alcohol consumption but what is buried within the data is what constitutes regret. A varied list included "Said something I wouldn't normally have said 42%" and minor percentages for other potential incidents including sexual encounters or social media embarrassment but the clear leader was "bad hangover" with a massive 75%.

The survey also presents data on GHB, LSD, Cannabis, MDMA and Ecstasy use. The front page of the survey web page targets drug users much more than drinkers. Topics on the landing page include

"Micro dosing - how do you do it and what are your experiences?" (taking small amounts of psychedelic substances whilst still engaging in everyday tasks such as work, childcare and driving!)

"Sharing spliffs, snorters and drugs – how much of difference has COVID made?",

"Partying like it’s 2021. How clubs and pubs need to adapt in 2021 – have your say!"

"Digital Pleasures: ASMR, binaural beats and other ways to change your brain without drugs"

The survey is perhaps not the snapshot of everyday life that the headlines present it to be. This is a self reporting survey aiming to gain data on drug use from established users.

If you would like to participate in the GDS, it is anonymous and accessed directly from their webpage

The GDS Webpage also provides access to online resources for those seeking support with their drug or alcohol use.


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