Change Grow Live – health and social care charity

Impulsivity and risk-taking as mediators of transition to injecting drug use

Impulsivity and risk-taking as mediators of transition to injecting drug use

3 July 2018

At Change Grow Live we are committed to reducing harms related to drug use, one example of which is our needle and syringe programmes that aim to support service users who continue to inject. The UK has seen a decline in injecting over the past 10 years, recent data from NDTMS from April 2016 to 31 March 2017 showed that the majority of individuals presenting to treatment had never injected (76%), though there was variation by substance with 97% of alcohol only clients having never injected any substance compared to 40% of opiate clients. Just over a quarter (26%) of individuals using opiates were currently injecting, compared to 3% and 1% in the non-opiate only and non-opiate and alcohol clients respectively. The majority of non-opiate clients who inject are likely to be individuals using amphetamines and mephedrone. Injecting drug use is a high risk behaviour and a risk factor for the transmission of blood borne viruses and premature mortality.

In order to explore the mechanisms that might lead to someone injecting drug use Jennie Woodwards, Team leader at Stevenage, and Adam Huxley, Consultant Clinical Forensic Psychologist, recently published an article in Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities that investigated impulsivity, risk-taking and drug use amongst injecting drug users, non-injecting drug users and non-drug using controls. The literature has converged on the notion that impulsivity is associated with polydrug use and was a risk factor for migrating into injecting drugs. Individuals that engage in polydrug use have been shown to have greater levels of self-reported impulsivity than controls and even higher levels of impulsivity than those with a lower level of multi-drug use. Overall the results of the study confirmed that drug users reported higher levels of impulsivity and displayed greater risk taking on hypothetical tasks compared to a non-using control group. There were no significant differences when the drug using group was separated out in terms of injecting status. The findings suggest that whilst drug users tended to display higher levels of impulsivity that non drug users on selected tasks there was no difference when injecting was compared to non-injecting. These findings help us tailor our interventions to service users and explore impulsivity, risk taking and decision making as part of our aim to reduce risk and ensure safety amongst the service users who access our service.