Are substance refuseniks just bores and nerds? Hester Lacey asks a few
IF YOU don't take drugs, you are probably starting to feel in rather a minority. Because it seems that everyone else is snorting, smoking, injecting or swallowing something illegal. A week rarely passes without some prominent public figure on the front pages of the papers tearfully confessing to "my drugs shame" and a £500-a-week habit.

And substance-abuse shenanigans aren't confined to the rich and famous. Depending on which of a rich crop of reports and surveys you believe, anything between 25 and 80 per cent of young people use Ecstasy and cannabis, while yuppies relax with cocaine rather than Ovaltine. One in three 15- year-olds are rushing to confess (or boast) that they too have tried dope. There are persistent calls for cannabis to be legalised because it's claimed so many people are already using it that banning it is pointless. The most respectable types are not immune. Clive Froggatt, the eminent doctor who masterminded the NHS reforms, has just admitted to a heroin habit.

So is everyone really doing it - apart from a sad minority of squares, bores, nerds and social inadequates? Perhaps not - though nobody knows for sure. "It's extremely difficult to measure," says Dr Janet Keene of the Centre for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Wales in Swansea. "It depends on whom you ask. It's difficult to estimate the extent of any activitity that is seen as anti-social or illegal." Asking people straight out about their drug use is seen as so hopelessly inaccurate that some researchers question subjects about their peer group, assuming they are more likely to tell the truth about others.

Current research projects are attempting to discover why, for some people, drugs are simply not attractive. "There is a possibility that there may be some kind of physiological difference," says Dr Keene.

So not craving illegal substances may quite simply be beyond one's control. "I've got a horror of drugs - I've never even puffed a cigarette," says Julia Lester, 28, a librarian from Bournemouth. "Not even when I was a student - none of us took drugs of any kind. Even in sleepy Bournemouth, well, I'm sure there's a serious problem out there, but I've never even felt tempted."

Sara Rostov, a secretary from London aged 25, has also never felt the urge to get high. "I don't even smoke cigarettes. I think that's very important, because if you can't smoke a cigarette, you can't smoke anything else without looking stupid, and looking cool is a big part of drugs. Also, I can imagine getting addicted to drugs really easily, because I've got no self-discipline. And I have a very vivid imagination - my dreams are scary enough without giving it any more scope. I already get high on antibiotics."

She managed to share a house with dope-smokers without giving in to peer group pressure. "It was alienating, though, because when they were smoking, they'd talk differently and be different - they kept telling me to chill, so in the end I'd just be sitting in the corner saying nothing, trying not to be normal, because they'd accuse me of being hyper."

"You make the key choice at parties at university," suggests Stephen Parker, 30, a technical writer from Bath. "In one room everyone is pogoing away happily, having a good time; in the next, everyone is listening to Bob Dylan, dead silent, really anti-social, passing round a joint. I made my choice - to stick to being the great British drunk."

Once the great student experimental stage is passed, many would agree with such traditionalist sentiments - but even some teenagers don't want to get out of their heads. "I was really put off not only drugs but drinking by seeing my friends doing both," said Tom, 19. "There's something really ugly about people out of control. I often seem to end up holding someone's head while they puke at the end of the evening. Once this girl I used to really like was high as a kite and laughing so much at not being able to remember her own phone number that she just pee'd herself in the street.

"I mean, ugh. I'm not particularly one for ladylike behaviour, but that's just gross. But please don't use my full name, because a few of my friends do use drugs and I don't want to be seen to criticise. I believe all drugs should be legal and everyone should have free choice."

His attitude was typical: no one I spoke to seemed to think it was odd to be asked why they don't take drugs, and no one was at all censorious of those that do. In fact, most of them, conscious of the voguishness of drugs, took great pains to emphasise their extreme hipness in other directions. "Just because I don't do E doesn't mean I don't go to raves," said Tom. Sara was also concerned for her cred. "Don't make me out to be a miserable, stodgy old prune!" she pleaded. Drugs, after all, are cool.