Recreational Drug Use and Addiction

Humans have a long and complex relationship with drugs. For thousands of years, substances have been used for religious ceremonies, medicinal purposes and recreational. Humans have been known to use substances recreationally since about 7000 BC. The topic of addiction was first brought up in the 1600s and is still being researched. Think, for example, of alcohol, caffeine and nicotine, substances that have shaped both our history and modern culture. In many places, they are a household staple and an example of modern recreational drug use. Nowadays, however, there are more drugs that are used recreationally.

What Are Recreational Drugs?

Recreational drugs can be defined as drugs used to induce an altered state of consciousness for fun or pleasure by changing the user’s senses and feelings. Different people enjoy different drugs, depending on their effects. Most forms of recreational drug use are socially accepted, such as drinking a cup of coffee, going out for a beer or smoking a cigarette. This does not mean that they aren’t unhealthy. Nicotine and alcohol are particularly dangerous. In 2017, there were 7,697 alcohol-specific deaths, and in 2016 there were 77,900 deaths in England attributable to smoking.

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Types of Recreational Drugs

Recreational drugs are usually categorised into three main groups: depressants, stimulants and hallucinogens. Their effects are each vastly different.

Depressants or ‘downers’ are drugs that make the user feel relaxed, calm and sometimes tired. They do this by lowering the levels of neurotransmission, making neurons fire less, thus communicating less information. Effects of depressants typically include poor coordination, reduced anxiety, pain relief and cognitive impairment. Well-known depressants are alcohol and cannabis.

Stimulants or ‘uppers’ are the polar opposite of depressants. They increase activity in the central nervous system, making neurons fire more and communicating more information. This makes the user feel energetic and alert. Common effects include increased focus and sociability, decreased need for sleep and in high doses, euphoria. Examples of stimulants are coffee and cigarettes.

The final group, hallucinogens, is slightly different. Hallucinogens cause significant changes in sensory perception, thoughts and emotions. As their name suggests, they can also cause hallucinations. They can be divided into three groups: psychedelics, dissociatives and deliriants. The most common hallucinogens are magic mushrooms and LSD.

Which Recreational Drugs Are Addictive?

First off, there is an important distinction to be made between physical dependence and psychological dependence. Physical dependence means that after chronic use, withdrawal from the drug can cause physical withdrawal symptoms, such as fatigue, nausea and seizures. Drugs that can cause physical addiction include coffee, alcohol, nicotine, opioids and benzodiazepines.

In addition to physical dependence, there is also psychological dependence. This means that the withdrawal symptoms are emotional and motivational, such as anxiety and depression.

Every recreational drug can be psychologically addictive, even coffee. Many drugs are both physically and psychologically addictive.

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