Sex, drugs and club life send Britain's youth raving for the good times

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The Independent Online
Sanjay is 26 and has been going to clubs in London for the last five years. He usually takes an ecstasy tablet, smokes the odd joint and occasionally doessome speed.

He is typical of most young clubbers according to a survey which shows that nearly nine out of 10 young people going to clubs admit taking illegal drugs - usually ecstasy, cannabis or amphetamines - before, during or after their night's entertainment.

A survey of 520 regular clubbers in London and the South-east and East Anglia also found that just over half had had sex with someone they met at a dance - one-fifth had had four or more partners.

"When I go to a club, I usually take one ecstasy tablet, although I sometimes miss a week to give me time to recover. I also smoke some grass, have a few beers and do a bit of speed occasionally," he said.

The drugs agency Release found that 97 per cent of those in the survey, which is the largest of its kind, said that they had taken drugs - three times the national average.

This figure drops to 87 per cent for those who take illegal substances regularly when going out. There was very little difference between men and women or among different ages - the 15- to 19-year-old group that made up nearly one-third of the sample were slightly more likely to take drugs than older clubbers.

Of the total, 59 per cent planned to take or had used cannabis, 53 per cent had taken ecstasy, 39 per cent amphetamines and 16 per cent LSD.

Cocaine accounted for 8 per cent, while crack and heroin were only popular among 1 or 2 per cent. Ecstasy was by far the most popular dance drug, while cannabis was frequently used to wind down or "chill out" at the end of the evening.

Ecstasy was also named as the drug that created the most negative and positive experiences.

Among the problems experienced by half of the clubbers were depression, excessive mood swings, fatigue, paranoia, weight loss, nausea and vomiting.

Teenagers had more problems than older clubbers.

On the plus side, ecstasy generated happiness, humour, confidence and energy.

The report concluded: "This suggests that for most drugs, the reasons for taking them are to do with seeking positive experiences, rather than trying to escape negative ones."

Despite the widespread use, drugs were listed as only the fifth biggest attraction of dance events, after music, socialising, the atmosphere and dancing.

Nearly everyone questioned wanted facilities to test the purity of ecstasy at the dance events to help weed out adulterated tablets.

The most common source of drugs was a friend who did not sell regularly. However, nearly as many people obtained their drugs from a professional dealer.

Only about one-quarter of the drug-takers had experienced any problems with the police over their habit.

An equal number of men and women were questioned during the study, almost all of whom were aged under 30, and about half were working. About one- fifth were students and a similar number were unemployed. Nine out of ten were white.

Researchers visited clubs and dances in London, Luton, Brighton, and Norfolk, details were also compared with unpublished surveys in Sheffield and Cardiff.

Mike Goodman, the director of Release, said: "We have to recognise we are talking about a fairly intelligent, well-educated group of people.

"We have to be more sophisticated about how we inform these people in the future."

Sanjay, who prefers smaller off-beat clubs which attract from 200 to 700 clubbers mostly in their 20s, confirmed that the use of drugs was widespread in the club scene.

"Usually about half of them are on E, which cost about pounds 10 each.

"I usually buy from a mate - I don't get them in the club because you are likely to end up buying aspirin," he said.

"People also take speed, hash and beer, sometime cocaine, ketamine [an animal anaesthetic], and acid, but this is quite rare."

He said he had never seen anyone take heroin.

"People usually take ecstasy fairly openly, and most places don't mind people smoking dope as long as they're not too obvious.

"The club and drug scene has become the leisure activity of choice for 10 to 20 per cent of young people. It's what they do at weekends and it's become a normal part of life.

"The older generation used to get hammered at the pub on Friday and Saturday nights when they were young, whereas now, people drop a few E's instead."

The Release drugs agency is releasing a benefit dance CD, 22 Class A Tracks, later this month to celebrate its 30th anniversary.