Who hasn’t heard recreational drugs are bad- after all, they are made illegal for a reason. We all know they cause over-confidence, addiction and brain damage. But most of us, no matter what it is, think “It won’t happen to me”. Many early users specifically, who use such drugs a handful of times, think that this won’t be a cause of concern. However, it’s important to note that no matter what the drug, the effect can happen fast. Despite that people take drugs quite casually, without thinking about the potential consequences. Besides, using drugs once in a while is okay, or is it…?
What are recreational drugs?
The use and distribution of recreational drugs is one of the great banes of civilization and the buying and selling of these drugs fuels many criminal activities. And though this is an important discussion when talking about recreational drugs, we will take more of a scientific perspective when dealing with this topic: what they are, the effect of the user, any side effects and the general consensus regarding recreational drugs.
Recreational drugs are chemicals typically used for pleasure, rather than for medical reasons. These drugs can lead to addiction, health and social problems, and most commonly, crime. Since most are illegal, yes, you will be facing the consequences of breaking the law. Others however, can be used in medical treatments when prescribed by a doctor. These are described as being ‘controlled’ and benzodiazepines are an example. Referred to as controlled as these are only legal if prescribed by a doctor otherwise if it’s in your possession it’s deemed illegal. You do get legal recreational drugs, the most famous examples being alcohol and nicotine which you will find everywhere. They are not to be mistaken for the drugs that are prescribed by medical professionals – those are used for medical purposes only. However, there may be a crossover between the two, in certain scenarios as previously mentioned.
Some common recreational drugs
Types of drugs include stimulants, depressants, opioids and hallucinogens. Stimulants are drugs that speed up the central nervous system, make people feel more ‘energetic’ and ‘alert’, which can all in turn provide a feeling of pleasure and excitability when taken. These stimulants are mostly available to the public; including caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines (speed and ice). An illegal stimulant is cocaine.
Depressants (sedatives) are substances that slow down the function of the brain. Most of these substances are illicit and illegal. Examples include alcohol, cannabis, benzodiazepines, heroin and other opioids. These can help people to calm their nerves, relax muscles and slow heart rate.
Opioids are substances that act on opioid receptors to produce morphine-like effects. These make a person feel more drowsy, dreamy and give them rushes of pleasure. These are most commonly given as pain killers in medical treatment.
Finally, hallucinogens are substances that activate serotonin receptors. These increase heart rate and blood pressure, and may cause trembling and dizziness. Examples include LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, PCP, cannabis, ecstasy and ketamine.
Why would people use recreational drugs?
There are many reasons as to why a person might try recreational drugs. Perhaps people from their social network are doing it, and they don’t want to feel “left out”. They could be bribed or pressured into having them, even if they didn’t have the intention to do so originally. They might feel it gives them a new experience and perspective to life, as it helps a person to feel more relaxed and confident, and it allows them to forget about their worries and fears. These are all perfectly normal reasons for anyone to want to try these substances out, but most people know little about them and their effects when having them the first time round.
How does addiction even occur?
Every person is unique and the mechanisms of addiction for each person is also therefore unique. However, we as humans are all ‘wired’ in a particular way and this may explain why some people can become so addicted to recreational drugs and literally anything else you can think of. This mechanism for addiction is known as the reward pathway. Put briefly, in lay terms, the reward pathway describes the processes that occur in our brains when we do something we deem ‘enjoyable’. We get a rush of dopamine, essentially, the ‘feel good hormone’. Our brain loves this feeling and it’s something that the brain and by extension ourselves want to repeat again and again and again. Dopamine is a neurohormone- a hormone which has its effects on the central nervous system. When it’s secreted, it acts on dopamine receptors which then allows it to exhibit the said effect-giving us feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.The problem arises when we feel the urge to recreate the feelings of euphoria we get from this ‘dopamine rush’. So we will go back to whatever gave us that intense feeling. However, the more and more we do so, the less euphoric the feeling and therefore, we become reliant and need more and more to try and replicate the same feeling that we once had.This is because the dopamine receptors in the brain can become desensitised therefore exhibiting a lower effect. All Sounds familiar? This is how addiction occurs.
Physical problems of using recreational drugs?
The effect of recreational drugs on your body depends on what type of drug is being consumed, and the effects do vary from person to person. It actually depends on a wide variety of non-modifiable factors, including gender, age, weight, general health, and significantly, whether there are other drugs that are acting on the body at the same time. It is quite important to note that illegal drugs are not “controlled” substances, so the dosage and strength can vary in different batches.
There are many short term and long term health outcomes of consuming such substances. The most dangerous short term health effect is the inability to think as well as someone would normally since it severely impacts brain function. This makes people more vulnerable to criminal activity, violence, risky behaviour (such as speed driving and unprotected sex), and the general inability to make a rational decision.
Unfortunately, these substances might make a person feel “good” for some time but the long term effects on health are pretty much detrimental. It harms vital organs and systems in the body, particularly the throat, stomach, kidney, liver, heart, pancreas, brain and nervous system. Yes- basically every organ you can think of. And when these organs get harmed, a person becomes highly susceptible to organ failure; which in most cases is fatal. It also increases the risk of having certain infections which are transmissible through needles, such as HIV, as well as a highly increased risk of having cancers. It can cause major effects on the ontology (teeth) and gum health. Most commonly, it causes major effects to mental health – making a person more susceptible to mood swings, depression and anxiety, psychosis and mood swings.
Psychological problems of using recreational drugs?
It’s important to remember when discussing recreational drugs and by extension, anything health related, the effects on health are more than just the physical manifestations that you see. Social and psychological factors also have a part to play. An individual may become addicted and therefore dependant on a recreational drug to the point which they feel as if they can’t cope without it. Therefore, feelings of reliance and intense need start to settle in once the initial crazings have creeped up on the person. Then the prospect of ever living without said recreational drug almost becomes impossible to them and that’s why withdrawal is always so hard and that’s where withdrawal symptoms come in. There’s no clear, defined symptom for withdrawal and they themselves can range from mild to severe. However a few common ones are: insomnia, irritability, depression, anxiety, cravings, aches and pains, hallucinations, insomnia and nausea to name a few. It’s important to note that the symptoms aren’t limited to this list but can extend further. In certain scenarios, when specific drugs are taken, the effects can be more catastrophic. Studies have shown a link between regular cannabis use and increased levels of anxiety and depression in people. Also in another study, it shows a rising prevalence of negative long term mental health in regular drug takers. In fact, those who take strong cannabis can actually develop mental illnesses like psychosis or schizophrenia. Therefore it’s always important to try and get help as soon as possible if you ever find yourself battling drug addiction.
Social problems of recreational drugs?
We have discussed the physical and psychological aspects of recreational drugs and the social effects really go hand in hand with what has been said. The social effects of drug taking are in fact a direct result of both the physical and psychological effects combined. Feeling fatigued and reliant on drugs? Then you will spend more time and money purchasing and using those drugs and less time doing any social activity whether it be: sport, exercise, a family day out etc the list goes on. The new habit formed will cost the addicted individual financially and they can be at risk of losing their jobs, friends and family; spiralling down a cascade of negative events eventually until you hit rock bottom and lose your sanity.
Recreational drugs have long been present in our history. And they will surely be present in our future. That’s not to say we haven’t progressed as a civilisation. We understand the threats and connotations that surround these drugs better than we ever did before. Yet it seems the younger generation (generally living in more deprived areas) are more inclined to partake in drug taking whether that be because of peer pressure, the absence of good role models or simply bad parenting, for whatever reason it may be, it is our duty to help and inform and be a beacon of guidance for anyone suffering the terrible fate which is recreational drugs.