Recreational drug use is a term we hear used quite regularly – whether on the news, in articles or in conversation. On hearing the term, many of us think only of the use of certain drugs – the particular types often relying on the social norms of where we live. However, recreational drug use includes all manner of drugs – illegal, controlled substances, prescription drugs, and even legal substances many of us do not classify as drugs, like alcohol and nicotine. Recreational drug use is the use of any kind of drug at all to experience pleasurable effects. This differentiates it from medicinal drug use, which is meant to treat, alleviate or prevent symptoms of an illness or condition.

Perhaps due to the inclusion of the word ‘recreational’, this term is often used to refer to drugs we may consider ‘less serious’ such as cannabis. Similarly, recreational drug use is often thought of as ‘lighter’ use of a drug by a person who is completely in control of the use and partakes only occasionally. These are extremely dangerous misconceptions. Recreational drug users may start off by saying their drug use is a harmless dalliance that provides them pleasure now and then, but this practice regularly leads to addiction as well as a laundry list of other issues, including health problems, societal issues, and even incarceration. It is therefore extremely important that we understand what recreational drugs are, their use, how to spot signs of abuse and how to get help.

What Are The Most Common Recreational Drugs

Before getting into the specifics of their use, it’s helpful to know what types of drugs are most often used recreationally. Through data provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Data Archive, experts were able to compile a list of the 25 most used recreational drugs in the U.S. Unsurprisingly, those most easily accessible tend to be at the top of the list – that is, those that are legal or not as tightly controlled, either through law enforcement or through prescription. However, as you will see, there are exceptions.

  1. Alcohol – It is highly unlikely that alcohol will ever lose its number one spot as the most used recreational drug. Completely legal across the U.S. (except for in a small number of ‘dry counties’), this depressant was used by an astounding 61.4% of those polled in 2017. While the legal age of purchase is 21, alcohol is notoriously easy for determined adolescents to obtain.
  2. Tobacco – Similarly to alcohol, its legal status and ease of access make tobacco a popular recreational drug, with 31.1% of respondents reporting they used it recreationally. With the advent of vaping, there is a discussion about whether this number should be higher, as although liquid ‘vapes’ do not contain tobacco, they do contain the active ingredient nicotine.
  3. Marijuana – While marijuana remains illegal on a federal level, many states have now decriminalized its use. Encouragingly, however, there has not been a significant rise in the level of use (at 17.7% in 2017). Still, its increased availability makes it all the more important to educate people, especially adolescents, about its use and inherent dangers.
  4. Vicodin – This is the most popular drug that is part of the unfortunate opioid epidemic gripping our country. 3.17% of people reported using this drug recreationally – its prevalence likely due to how easily and often it is prescribed.
  5. Phenethylamine Amphetamines (Aderrall etc) – Designed to treat conditions such as ADHD and narcolepsy, these amphetamines are used recreationally as powerful stimulants by 2.8% of the population.
  6. Cocaine – Though this drug has not been available through prescription for a long time, it remains one of the more popular recreational drugs due to its powerful though fleeting euphoric effects. In its ‘crack cocaine’ form, a heightened effect has created addicts across the country.
  7. Oxycodone – Better known by its most common proprietary name, OxyContin, this is one of the most notorious names in the opioid crisis. While Vicodin may be used recreationally by more people, ‘Oxy’ is responsible for a terrifying number of fatalities, as well as countless more overdoses. Extremely potent and highly addictive, its deadly effects have prompted a close look at the pharmaceutical industry and prescription practices.
  8. Alprazolam (Xanax, etc) – Like OxyContin, Xanax is simply a brand name for a certain drug (alprazolam). A powerful tranquilizer, it has become a popular recreational drug in addition to being prescribed largely to insomnia sufferers.
  9. MDMA – Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, commonly known as ecstasy or molly, is a popular ‘party drug’ known for its euphoric and hallucinogenic effects. A well-known issue with this drug is that its composition varies wildly from batch to batch – thus precisely the same dose can have completely different effects on an individual.
  10. LSD – Lysergic acid diethylamide is well known as a uniquely hallucinogenic drug. The widely held belief that it has ‘gone out of style’ since the 1960s, however, is incorrect. While it does not share the dangers of overdose that opioids do, it’s powerful hallucinations can put users in mortal danger, and serious brain damage is a proven long term effect.

In addition to these 10 most used recreational drugs, others such as methamphetamines, Ritalin, Valium, Ambien, Ativan, Ketamine, ‘magic mushrooms’ and a host of opioid drugs figure heavily into the picture of recreational drug use. In addition, there are solutions and chemicals not considered drugs at all that are used in this way. Cough medicine, for instance, does contain small amounts of certain drugs – therefore when taken in excess, can provide mind-altering results. Particularly dangerous are volatile substances – gases, glues and aerosols that are inhaled for a short-lived euphoric effect. These can cause brain damage, and in certain cases, instant death. Even mouthwash is abused by certain individuals for the alcohol contained therein. Unfortunately, people searching for drugs to use recreationally have quite a wide range of options to choose from.

what are recreational drugs

Why Do People Use Recreational Drugs?

Parents will often miss the fact that their child is a recreational drug user, or could ever become one, because of the view that only wild, rebellious individuals engage in such behavior. “Not my kid!” is a common refrain. However, it is important to realize that there are a huge number of reasons for and causes of recreational drug use, which results in people of all ages, beliefs, and walks of life falling victim. These include:

  • Peer Pressure – Though the term sounds clichéd, it is firmly rooted in reality. Pressure from other adolescents is difficult to resist at a time of one’s life when the goal is to be accepted.
  • Fitting in – For the same reason as above, adolescents (and some adults) choose on their own to use drugs recreationally because their peer group is doing so and they do not want to be excluded.
  • Experimentation – This reasoning is common regardless of age. The fact is, after hearing about ‘incredible’ experiences on a certain drug, an individual may be tempted to try it, often ‘just one time’, to see what all the fuss is about.
  • Increasing Creativity – Many drugs, especially hallucinogenics, are purported to increase creativity or change the creative process. As a result, a disproportionate number of artists, musicians, and others begin using certain drugs recreationally in pursuit of this effect.
  • Spiritual/Mind-Expanding Pursuits – While many of us will use meditation or yoga, others believe that drug use can take them to different, special places mentally or expand their ability to use their mind. A number of individuals who participated in extended drug use of this type and as a way to increase creativity stand as cautionary tales, eventually descending into mental illness or greatly reduced brain function.
  • Self Medication – This, it may seem, does not gel with the idea of ‘recreation’. However, many individuals are completely unaware they suffer from a particular medical condition, be it physical or mental. An excellent example is individuals suffering from undiagnosed anxiety or depression. The effects of certain drugs may provide them relief from the distressing symptoms of this disease, which they have just assumed is ‘how they are.’
  • Relaxation/Leisure – Especially for individuals with high-stress occupations or unhealthily busy lives, recreational drug use during their precious downtime can feel like a well-deserved way to maximize this time. Many an honor student, legal professional and law enforcement official/first responder partake in this kind of drug use.
  • Discovering Enjoyable Effects Through Legitimate Use– We all are familiar with the heart-breaking cases of individuals prescribed certain drugs that, after some time, found themselves helplessly addicted without even realizing it. However, there are also cases where the transition from therapeutic use to recreational is a conscious one. As the need for therapeutic use wanes, the euphoric or soothing side effects may become more apparent. For some, this may be a discovery that they are unwilling to give up.

The most recent research has uncovered an important fact – in nearly all cases, recreational drug use, and even more so drug dependency is caused by not just one factor but by a combination of many. In addition to the above, genetics, gender, age, psychological and physical issues, personal history, availability, and a host of other factors are likely to influence an individual’s drug use. They are not mutually exclusive – the possible combination of causes is almost endless. Beyond education and limiting availability, it is difficult to find a sure-fire way to prevent recreational drug use.

How To Tell If Someone Is Using Drugs Recreationally

Because some recreational drug users have not entered the addiction phase, it may be more difficult to tell if an individual is using drugs recreationally. Though some are more subtle, there are certain signs to look out for. It is important to note that a number of these can be attributed to puberty in adolescents and other factors, so it is extremely important to look at the entire picture before jumping to conclusions.

  • Changes in behavior – These can include staying out later, becoming more secretive, and participation in undesirable activities that previously would not have been expected.
  • Changes in mood/mood swings – Even without heavy use, drugs can have a noticeable effect on mood, especially immediately after use.
  • Changes in Social Groups – In both adolescents and adults, recreational drug use can see individuals begin to associate more with other drug users and neglect their original peer group.
  • Loss of Interest/Motivation – Drug use can cause a loss of interest in activities that were previously extremely important to an individual. It can also cause a lack of motivation to complete tasks related to schoolwork, family and societal responsibilities and even personal hygiene.
  • Loss or Gain of Appetite/Weight – While certain drugs such as marijuana stimulate the appetite, others like cocaine severely curb it. The result can be sudden and extreme fluctuations in appetite and weight.
  • Unusual Physiological Symptoms – Bloodshot eyes, dilated or constricted pupils, sores and rashes, unusual body odors, tremors, poor coordination and a host of other reactions may be signs of recreational drug use.

How to Get Help For Recreational Drug Use

By educating individuals (especially when young) and keeping lines of communication on the topic open, you can reduce the likelihood of recreational drug use. However, as mentioned before, the large number of factors at play make it impossible to guarantee prevention. If you believe that a friend or family member is participating in currently harmful or potentially dangerous recreational drug use, your first step should be to approach them in a non-confrontational, non-judgmental way. While the misconception of its harmlessness may be part of the decision to recreationally use drugs, it may also make individuals more willing to discuss it once they are approached in the right way. An open and honest discussion on the dangers, as well as the effects they may be oblivious to, is a good start to moving towards cessation of the drug use.

Many recreational drugs will not only be difficult to quit without help (to the surprise of many users), a professionally designed program that includes supervised detox, therapy, and nutritional direction greatly increases the safety of coming off drugs, which can be quite difficult on both the body and the mind. The Satori Recovery Center in Malibu, CA offers one of the country’s most effective recovery programs, including additional treatment facets such as fitness therapy, mindfulness/meditation and even adventure therapy – all of which teach individuals how to address their issues and fulfill their needs in healthy ways. To find out more about The Satori Recovery Center’s one-of-a-kind program, contact us today.

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