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.

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


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 –

Best wishes to you all,


(Image credit:

Drug use and the Internet (workshop)


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 for more information.