Amphetamine Type Stimulants (ATS), such as amphetamine, methamphetamine, MDMA, and some Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS), are commonly used drugs in Europe. There is limited evidence on what shapes the course of individual ATS use over the lifetime, although the literature suggests the influence of a range of factors, including individual differences, social and cultural dynamics, as well as environment. This presentation explores findings from the qualitative systematic review conducted as part of the wider EU ERANID-ATTUNE study. The review examined ATS users’ perspectives on why they start, stop, increase, and/or reduce their ATS consumption, including the circumstances and conditions that appear to stimulate change.
We searched electronic databases (MEDLINE; PsycINFO; EMBASE; and PROQUEST) for qualitative research, published 2000 onwards, that explored the views of stimulant users aged 13+ on which factors have shaped their drug use careers. 41 papers met our inclusion criteria, with an internationally diverse literature covering North and South America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Participants ranged between 14-58 years old, and varied widely in terms of socio-demographics, including homeless people, students in higher education, LGBT communities, employed and workless individuals, parents, domestic violence victims and marginalised ethnic minorities.
Thematic analysis of the literature highlighted the diverse reasons triggering initiation in different groups of ATS users, including: to help manage the transition from opioids; to boost performance at work, college, in sexual relationships or the home; to promote a sense of ‘belonging’ in social networks; and to help manage stress and anxiety, sometimes as a result of past trauma. Similar reasons motivated continued ATS use, combined with the challenge of managing the effects of ATS withdrawal in heavy, long-term users. Increased tolerance and/or experiencing a critical life event appeared to contribute to an escalation in ATS use. Reasons for desistance focussed on: increased awareness of the negative health impacts of long-term ATS use, particularly during pregnancy; disconnecting from entrenched social networks or relationships; and financial barriers. Overall, the findings from this review underline the heterogeneous nature of ATS users, and the complex dynamic of social, financial, and emotional factors that shape patterns of use.