Home > SLAN survey data on illicit drug use.

Connor, Aileen (2007) SLAN survey data on illicit drug use. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 23, Autumn 2007, pp. 23-24.

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The Survey of Lifestyle, Attitudes and Nutrition (SLAN) is a national, cross-sectional, postal survey of adults in Ireland.  It was first conducted in 19981 by the National University of Ireland, Galway, with a second survey carried out in 2002.2 The surveys obtained 6,539 valid responses in 1998 and 5,991 in 2002. A section of each survey collected information on drug use. Participants were asked about their experiences of using the following illicit drugs: 

  • marijuana or cannabis
  • non-prescription tranquillisers or sedatives
  • amphetamine
  • LSD
  • cocaine
  • heroin
  • ecstasy
  • drugs by injection with a needle, e.g. heroin, cocaine or amphetamines
  • solvents
  • magic mushrooms

 For all the drugs listed except cannabis, the study collected data on use within the 12 months prior to the survey. Data on the frequency of cannabis use were collected for three time periods: within the last 30 days, within the last 12 months and within the respondent’s lifetime.  For the most part, the figures in this article refer to drug use within the past 12 months, referred to as ‘current’ drug use. 

In 1998 1,143 people (17.5%) reported taking illegal drugs at some point in their lives; this figure increased to 1,173 (19.6%) in 2002. In both years the rate of current drug use was 7.6% of the population surveyed, which equated to 494 respondents in 1998 and 453 in 2002. In 1998, 27.3% of the drug-taking population had taken one of the drugs listed above in the previous 12 months; this decreased to 25.4% in 2002. 

Cannabis was the most commonly used illegal drug, with lifetime use rates of 16.3% in 1998 and 18.6% in 2002, and current use rates of 6.2% in 1998 and 6.3% in 2002.  The vast majority of those who reported taking only one drug used cannabis. In 1998, 89.6% of illicit drug users had taken cannabis within the past year, decreasing to 88.1% in 2002. Non-prescription tranquillisers or sedatives were the second most commonly taken drugs. Nineteen per cent reported using these drugs in 1998, decreasing to 13% in 2002.   

The study also examined concurrent polydrug use. This is the use of different drugs on separate occasions within a 12-month period. Concurrent polydrug use was lower in 2002 than in 1998.  Over 6% of current drug users reported using two of the above drugs in 1998 and 5.4% reported such use in 2002. In 1998, 9.4% used three or more drugs, while in 2002 the corresponding percentage was 7.8%. Cannabis was the drug most widely availed of by polydrug users; 96.7% had taken cannabis at some point in their lives and 82.4% were taking it concurrently with other drugs. Over one in six current polydrug users had taken cannabis before progressing on to other drugs, and over three-quarters of those engaging in polydrug use had taken cannabis within the last 12 months. 

After cannabis, ecstasy was the illicit drug used most frequently in conjunction with other drugs. Eighty per cent of those who took drugs by injection also reported ecstasy use. Similarly, 71% of LSD users, 67.1% of cocaine users, 64.2% of amphetamine users and 21.4% of cannabis users also took ecstasy. There was a close link between heroin and cocaine use, with four out of five heroin users reporting that they also took cocaine. 

Heavy drinkers and binge drinkers were more likely than social drinkers and non-drinkers to report illicit drug use. The average alcohol intake of those who reported using drugs was 6.5 units per drinking occasion, compared to 4.5 units in the non-drug-taking populace. Similarly, regular and occasional cigarette smokers reported a higher level of illicit drug use than non-smokers. Over one-third of drug users smoked regularly and 8.2% smoked occasionally, while in the non-drug-taking populace only 20.1% smoked regularly and 2.9% smoked occasionally. 

Gender was an important determinant of level of drug use, with 9.2% of men surveyed disclosing that they had taken drugs in the last 12 months, as opposed to 6.4% of women.  Also, 4% of men surveyed were current polydrug users, in comparison to 2% of women. Of the 940 respondents who were currently using drugs, 21.1% of men and 14.5% of women were polydrug users. Men aged between 20 and 24 years were the most frequent users of illicit drugs, comprising over one-fifth of all current drug users and just under one-third of current polydrug users. One in five women aged between 20 and 24 years reported that they were current drug users, of whom almost one-fifth were polydrug users. 

It must be noted that there are limits to the extent to which the SLAN data typifies the level of illicit drug use in Ireland. The SLAN survey is not designed to collect information specifically about drug use and the amount of space it can devote to such questions is limited. Nevertheless, the SLAN data do offer useful insights about illicit drug trends in Ireland. A third SLAN survey is due for publication in late 2007. 

1.  Friel S, Nic Gabhainn S and Kelleher C (1999) The national health & lifestyle surveys: survey of lifestyle, attitudes and nutrition (SLAN) & the Irish health behaviour in school-aged children survey (HBSC). Galway: National University of Ireland.

2.  Kelleher C, Nic Gabhainn S, Friel S, Corrigan H, Nolan G, Sixsmith J et al. (2003) The national health & lifestyle surveys: survey of lifestyle, attotides and nutrition (SLAN) & the Irish health behaviour in school-aged children survey (HBSC). Galway: National University of Ireland.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Issue Title
Issue 23, Autumn 2007
July 2007
Page Range
pp. 23-24
Health Research Board
Issue 23, Autumn 2007
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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