Alcohol, Drugs and Media Cognitive Dissonance 

I spotted this article in a tabloid newspaper. It follows the same formula as most articles about young women dying from taking ecstasy (the media don’t seem to care as much about young men – or anyone else part from young women – dying from taking ecstasy, curiously).

To put it in context, in Scotland in 2015 there were:

  • 15 deaths from ecstasy-type drugs – this being one of the highest rates ever recorded
  • 1,150 alcohol-related deaths

If the newspapers were to report alcohol-related deaths the same way, they would have to print three front pages for each alcohol-related death EVERY DAY.

While this is undoubtedly a tragedy, in the context of drug and alcohol-related deaths you have to wonder why this one tragedy warrants a front cover story. Perhaps because the publishers cynically know that people care more about a young women dying than the scores of older men dying of alcohol-related deaths each year.

Also, the article fails to mention that many ecstasy-related deaths result from the nature of our drug policies. Ecstasy is illegal, therefore we cannot control it’s strength, it’s purity, whom it is sold to or where it is sold; the best we can do is tell people not to take it – when we know for absolute fact that asking somebody not to do something greatly increases the likelihood that they will do it. It’s called reverse psychology – people have a negative reaction to being persuaded or convinced out of a belief, and thus rebel against persuasion. Likewise, deterrence through threat of punishment doesn’t work either, and we’ve known this for decades. But that’s another rant…

Why don’t tabloids report deaths related to alcohol in the same sensationalist way they do ecstasy-related deaths? Perhaps it’s a case of mass cognitive dissonance, with two conflicting opinions about two drugs, despite both being drugs. Conflicting opinions about the dangers of one over the other, despite the evidence showing that it is the legal drug that is most dangerous.

Perhaps it’s because alcohol is the drug of choice for the elite, the media included and ecstasy is the drug of choice for the young and increasingly marginalised?

(not to say they don’t enjoy some Cocaine between friends after a long hard misreporting drug-related deaths to sell more papers – more cognitive dissonance, coupled with corporate greed)
There’s a drug policy debate in Parliament today, several years after the government’s own report finds that decriminalisation is a better approach than the current one, that punishment does not deter use, and that decades of punitive drug policy have failed outright, with drug use and drug-related harm, including deaths, practically rising year on year.

This isn’t because drugs are inherently dangerous – it’s because our drug policies are inherently dangerous, and the corporate media are party to perpetuating anti-drug myths that in turn maintain our current approach – patently the wrong approach – cognitive dissonance and all.

Brainstorming is dead, long live brainwriting! 

If you’re a bit of an introvert like me, you’ve probably grudgingly taken part in some form of groupwork brainstorming-type session at some point, while thinking to yourself “I’d be better doing this alone”. And, well, you’d actually have been right to think that. A recent article based on research into brainstorming techniques states that:


The old brainstorming method infiltrated the American workplace over half a century ago, after an advertising executive named Alex F. Osborn coined the method in the 1940s. As companies all over the country adopted the method, psychologists started to wonder: Does brainstorming actually work? Many scientific studies later, they had their answer: a resounding no. Study after study found that people who use this group technique produce fewer good ideas than those who ideate alone”

So there you have it, throw that at your over-eager HR manager next time you and your colleagues are forced to ‘share’ ideas round a table like a group of toddlers at pre-school.

But wait a minute, I’m getting ahead of myself. Is thinking on your own really the best option, then? As it turns out, that’s also a resounding nope. Unsurprisingly researchers have found that a mixture of individual and group thinking produces far better results – so you don’t quite have that free pass to introvertsville yet. Specifically, researchers employed the use of group ‘brainwriting’ (already sounds better than brainstorming, right?) alongside individual thinking sessions to produce better results:

Ultimately, the researchers found that if you only had two options—to work in a brainwriting group or work alone—you’re better off in a group. The brainwriters came up with 37% more ideas than the loners. The team also discovered that if people did brainwriting in groups and then brainstormed on their own, they produced more good ideas than when they did the reverse scenario (i.e., working alone, then group brainwriting). “We’ve found that what happens is once you’ve been in a group for a while, interacting and sharing ideas, and then you’re alone, there’s a big jump in your creativity”

However, when there are only two options – brainwriting or individual thinking – the best option turns out to be the former, so us introverts aren’t quite off the hook yet. Nonetheless, as someone who can’t stand phonecalls (something I wish my PhD supervisor would realise) because it’s difficult to organise and articulate my thoughts when I’m also having to worry about the social and interactional aspects – the psychology – of working with others, brainwriting definitely sounds like an improvement. It also sounds like the library equivalent of group work, with fastidious silence and a focus on writing, not speaking. Writing is a great leveller when you remove all the personal factors like voice and physical appearance and just focus on the words and their meaning.

A final word about group work. What I liked about this research is that is forces both introverts and extrovert to question the assumptions of their behaviour and demonstrates that each of the different modes of thinking – brainwriting and individual thinking – have their merits, but that ultimately a combination of the two works best. Or put in other words, a compromise between introversion and extroversion is best for all.

I like this because it highlights the value that individual working can bring and the value of introverts being occasionally left to their own devices, but does so without totally trashing group work and the benefits it can clearly bring as well. I can only imagine that for some people used to brainstorming as a main method of producing ideas, the brainwriting approach might help them become more independent and therefore creative in their thinking, and that can never be a bad thing.

So next time you’re hassling your introverted friend to go to the club or your quiet colleague to take part in some dreaded group exercise, instead of feeling sorry for them, fill their heads with ideas then leave them to stew it over on their own – that’s apparently how you’ll get the best results out of us. Who knows, by forcing introverts to work with others permanently with no time for personal reflection, maybe we’re delaying the cure for cancer, or the answers to finding life on Mars. At the very least, you’re really, really annoying us, so take a leaf out of our book for a change.

The full article that inspired this post and details of the research I’ve referred to can be found over at fastcodedesign.com

I couldn’t find a source for the image I used at the start of this post. If it’s your image and you want it taken down, or would like it credited to you, then please get in touch.

Will Brazil be next to reform drug policy?

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Photo credit: Tomaz Silva / Agencia Brasil

Brazil looks set to be the next country to decriminalise possession of small amounts of drugs for recreational use. Brazil is one of several Latin American countries to consider steps towards a more progressive approach to drug use.

For Brazil the emphasis on the ‘victimless’ nature of drug use – where no third party is harmed – has prompted a reconsideration of the law. This follows a relaxing of penalties for possession and use in 2006 which, although designed to lessen the punitive treatment of drug users, has unfortunately achieved the opposite. The choice given to courts to prosecute as possession or trafficking coupled with no real definition of what constitutes either has meant Brazil has seen a marked increase in incarcerations for trafficking.

This was announced shortly before the United Nations declared punitive drug policies around the world to be in breach of human rights. In March the UN Development Agency also attacked drug policies for their role in hampering international development. This potentially signals a global shift away from a punishment-based approach towards one focused on health and human rights. Well, maybe…

Despite this several countries within the UN, such as China and Russia, still support punitive policies while remaining highly critical of harm reduction policies or a health-focused approach. Recently Russia has ceased provision of basic harm reduction measures such as needle exchange. China has been the leader in a bid to classify Ketamine as an illegal narcotic at the global level (at present only individual states have legally controlled Ketamine). In addition there is political opposition to decriminalisation in Brazil itself.

Meanwhile Saudi Arabia, a country which routinely executes for possession of even cannabis, now chairs the UN Human Rights council (with leaked documents suggesting this might be the result of dodgy dealings between Saudi and the UK government). This could potentially pose problems for reform at the global level.

With the UNGASS 2016 fast approaching it is a very interesting time for international drug policy. Watch this space with fingers crossed – 2016 could be the only real chance of reform for decades to come.

wpid-wp-1443983342424.pngRead the full article on Brazil’s move towards decriminalisation, originally published by Talking Drugs, below:

Brazil’s supreme court could rule in favour of decriminalising drugs – http://wp.me/p4jSGm-dD

Image credit: Transform Drug Policy Foundation (2015)

ESRC New Drugs Seminar 3: Liverpool John Moores University

The above video is a recording of my recent presentation at the 3rd ESRC New Drugs Seminar, hosted at Liverpool John Moores University. In the video I present findings from the first stage of my research based on an online survey of NPS users who engage with online communities.

For more information about the ESRC New Drugs Seminar series check out the New Drugs Seminar website.

PhD Research – Novel Psychoactive Substances, Harm Reduction and the Internet

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I’m currently in my second year of a PhD at the University of the West of Scotland, and my research focuses on the use different sources of information for harm reduction advice on novel psychoactive substances (sometimes referred to as ‘legal highs’  or ‘research chemicals’) and the effect that this has on drug users’ perceptions and use of novel psychoactives in terms overall attitude towards harm, harm reduction practices, novel Vs illicit drugs and policies aimed at novel psychoactives and wider drug use.

For anyone who is interested in social research I’m using mixed methods and coming at the research from a interpretative social constructionist epistemology. I haven’t made the data gathering easy for myself… I’m triangulating data between a survey, semi-structured interviews and a content analysis of mainstream (newspapers, and online news reports) and alternative (Internet forums) media content on novel psychoactive substances, focusing on portrayal of risk and harm, legality and policy, portrayal of users and harm reduction information.

I’m looking for people who are drug users, who also use novel psychoactives (or ‘legal highs’/’research chemicals’) –  a broad (and admittedly somewhat inaccurate) definition by which I mean synthetic compounds and analogues of illicit drugs, as well as herbal and botanical psychoactives which are legally available, and prescription/pharmaceutical drugs which are used outwith the context of a doctors prescription (either for medical or non-medical use). The only stipulation is that respondents need to be 18, for ethical reasons, but can otherwise be from anywhere (I’ve had responses from as far away as China so far). The wider the base of respondents, the better.

I’m considering putting together another site for my PhD research and to blog about wider issues in drug use and policy, but in the mean time I’ve decided just set up this page on my site in the hope of attracting at least a few responses for my survey.

So here it is – My survey on Novel Psychoactive Substances, Harm Reduction and the Internet.

It only takes 5 minutes to complete and all of your answers are confidential and anonymous. If you would be interested in taking part in an interview to better express your views then please leave your email address at the end of the survey (this is kept in strictest confidence and will not be shared with anyone).

If you are able to share my survey on Facebook, Twitter or even by email or over whichever social network you and your friends use then I would be extremely grateful. If you share the survey on Twitter be sure to tag me – @kierandhamilton – so I can say thanks.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. If you have any questions or would just like to chat then please leave a comment, or you can email me – hello@kieranhamilton.org

Best wishes to you all,

Kieran

(Image credit: fromthewax.com)

Drug use and the Internet (workshop)

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I recently delivered a workshop on the Internet and drug use on behalf of HIT in Liverpool. The workshop was attended by members of various drug treatment and advocacy services and covered the following topics:

  • What motivates people to find information about drugs online?
  • What motivates people to buy drugs online?
  • What drugs are people buying on the internet?
  • How are people using the drugs they buy online?
  • What does the internet mean for drug users?
  • How can policy best address the issue of drugs and the internet?
  • Darknet/Deep Web marketplaces

To view more information on training from HIT as well as the slides from my presentation, click here.

If your organisation would like to host a workshop on the Internet and drug use, novel psychoactive substances, online drug user communities, general harm reduction or use trends around controlled drugs and NPS please get in touch via hello@kieranhamilton.org for more information.