Introduction: The relationship between economic downturns and substance use has been studied in numerous economic crises occurring worldwide, but the precise relationship between the two remains unclear.
Aims: The aim of the present study was to undertake a survey on behaviour and perspectives related to the latest European economic crisis among illegal drug users attending substance treatment services.
Design and methods: We conducted a questionnaire-based survey in drug dependence treatment settings, in three geographically different jurisdictions (England, Catalonia and Poland), including 180 drug users.
Results: Most of the participants of the survey (58.3%) reported an increase in drug use during the crisis, compared with only 25.6% of the sample who reported a decrease in drug use. The main reason given for increasing drug use was greater amount of free time available. Other important reasons were greater substance availability during this period, more stress at work and seeking comfort in response to the loss of a stable source of income, social status and/or family. Those who reported cutting down on the amount of drug use during the economic recession, reported economic difficulties as the main reason. Other important factors were family and friends' economic problems and the fear of losing their job. Illegal drug use reduction was compensated by increased smoking in 46.3% of the patients, and increased alcohol use in 39.4%.
Discussion and conclusions: While this result has potential interest for those developing policies and interventions to reduce drug-related harm, longitudinal studies and future research involving a broader population of drug-users (including those not in treatment) could shed further light on these behavioural mechanisms linking changes in drug use with economic recessions.