drinks meter does not diagnose any medical conditions and does not replace a face-to-face professional clinical assessment of a person. In addition, drinks meter states unambiguously the following:
- There is no safe level of drug use
- We do not condone the use of any intoxicant legal or otherwise
- drinks meter does not encourage any person to try any intoxicating substance
- drinks meter does not diagnose any mental health or substance use disorder
- drinks meter cannot tell you if your use of drugs is without harm
- drinks meter does not tell you if your use of any drug can be considered safe
- drinks meter cannot quantify the amount of drug you consume with accuracy because of the widely varying purities and composition of illicit drugs
- The use of illicit substances is by definition against the law, being found in possession of them can lead to serious problems for the individual
- The tips provided for safer use do not protect you from drug-related harms
- The tips provided for reducing your use do not in any way ensure that you will be able to reduce your use, nor guarantee that you will not experience withdrawal symptoms which in some cases may be life threatening
- If you are concerned about your drug use or mental health we recommend you consult your local drug and alcohol service or family doctor
Some background to the development of drinks meter by its creator Dr Adam Winstock
I qualified as doctor 20 years ago. I trained as a physician, before becoming a psychiatrist. I currently work in London as a consultant psychiatrist and drug and alcohol specialist. I am based in a community drug and alcohol team and a prison. The people I see are commonly dependent upon heroin, crack cocaine and alcohol, though I see other people who have problems with their use of cannabis, amphetamines or other drugs such as ketamine, GHB or mephedrone. Frequently the people I see also suffer from mental health problems and concurrent physical health problems. The people who I try and help often have numerous other challenges both in their past and present. However those people who are dependent on drugs and/or are in treatment represent the minority (perhaps 10%) of people who use or have used drugs or alcohol. Almost all of them started using drugs in a way that did not cause them serious harm. The journey to problematic drug use for many took several years and there may have been countess signals along the way that might have flagged that their use of drugs was no longer without the risk of harm.
The truth is that for most people, for most of the time, their use of substances is primarily a source of pleasure and does not incur serious harms to either themselves or other people. Many people are able to self-regulate their use; they dabble for a while and stop. Many people who start running into problems with their use of drugs, are able to pull back, they take a break, change the way they use or what they do when they use. Often a friend might suggest they take a break. But some people, I don’t how many don’t spot that their drug use is causing them problems or they can’t slow down. Some people whose drug use does cause them and others serious harm don’t recognise it. Some people who use loads of drugs think everyone uses loads—they look at their mates who also may use loads of drugs or are always getting smashed and think ‘well that’s normal’. If they see adverts warning them of the risks of using drugs they think those adverts are talking about risks to other people not them. When we hear a health message that tells us what we do might be causing us harm—most of us use the simple defence of saying ‘I’m different—I will be ok, I’m protected’. What we rarely do is consider that actually we might be at higher risk of harm. None of us are average. When it suits us we are above average (have you ever met a person who thinks they are not a better than average driver?). When it suits us we are below average (smokers who think they are less at risk of lung cancer than everyone else!)
So how does this lead to the drugs meter? Well I realised that although most people who don’t use drugs won’t ever need to seek treatment, many people who use drugs would like to use less, use more safely and most importantly don’t want to harm themselves or other people. In order to make informed choices around drug use people need information—personally relevant, objective information—about their use of drugs. But the reality is that there is no guidance for people who use most drugs about what constitutes safe levels of drug use. Why? Because there are no safe levels—but risk exists on a spectrum. However because most drugs are illegal most governments take the stance that all drug use is bad and harmful. The only way to avoid drug-related harm is not to use them. Of course they are right. And although many governments embrace the concept of harm reduction most of this is aimed at preventing harm encountered by the minority of people who use drugs—those people who use heroin or inject. What is typically ignored is drug use by the masses. People from all walks of life, all backgrounds, cultures and countries that choose to use drugs as one of a number of lifestyle choices. But for these people there are few places to go to get some rapid, objective and hopefully useful feedback on their use of drugs. I hope that drugs meter can be that place. I hope that the feedback people get is useful and moves them in the direction where harm is less likely to be part of their lives.