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Principal reasons for drug use

The most popular drugs used today are caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.

Since humans have always experimented with natural drugs, the reasons for use are many. For example:

  • To feel good
  • To relieve stress or tension
  • Temporary escape
  • Peer pressure
  • Rite of passage
  • Thrill of taking risks
  • Conditioning
  • Media influence
  • Better living through chemistry
  • Enhancement of religious or mystical experience
  • Performance enhancement (athlete's use of steroids)

In considering the reasons for drug use, a distinction should be drawn between misuse and abuse.

Misuse involves use of a drug in a way that can have detrimental effects. Getting drunk may be a misuse of alcohol but a person who drinks to excess is not necessarily an alcoholic and does not necessarily suffer physical damage.

Abuse, on the other hand, is drug use that leads to physical, mental, emotional or social impairment. Abuse can also hurt those with whom the drug user has contact.

Drug dependence characteristics

Drugs make people feel good. As a result, each time they are used the experience is rewarding and the behaviour is positively reinforced.

Certain drugs cause physical dependence and as a result, secondary dependence, which comes from avoiding the symptoms of physical withdrawal. The feeling of withdrawal is unpleasant and the drug is taken to avert this process.

Drug use may be hard to stop because of tolerance. As tolerance grows, the dosage to achieve a "high" must be increased and the reward of taking the drug becomes less important. This is the hallmark of addiction. As a result, the need to prevent withdrawal becomes the most important reason for continued drug use.

Addiction is a disease

Addiction was often believed to be based upon the substance used and the effects it created on the human organism.

Addictive disease is defined as abuse of drugs that interferes with the user's health, or economic or social functioning. Addiction is characterized by compulsion, loss of control, or continued use in spite of adverse consequences.

The most important principle in the concept of addiction as a disease is the shift of focus from the physical effects of the drug to the person using the drug. The question is not whether the drug is addictive but whether the user has an addictive disease. The trend among scientists is to view addiction as a problem rooted in the user, not in the substance.

Addiction cannot be cured, but it can be brought under control. Remission is brought about by learning to live a comfortable, rewarding and satisfying life that does not include the drug(s).

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Copyright © 2004 G. Kupferschmidt Consulting Services Ltd.