There is a point between casual drug usage and troubling drug misuse that happens before addiction fully sets in that needs to be addressed. Recreational drug use has been a facet of society for as long as history has existed. Drugs of all kinds, from opioids to alcohol, have always found their way into the lifestyles of the upper-class, as well as those who are stricken by poverty. Just like addiction, drug misuse doesn’t belong to a particular “type” of person or demographic, even though some people may be predisposed to addiction or drug use based on genetics and their surrounding environment. The focus of drug misuse is the bridge between experimentation and continued use into eventual dependency and addiction. Recognizing troublesome misuse early on can potentially stop cases of addiction in their tracks which is why it’s important to be aware of the signs.
What Is Drug Misuse?
There are many different phrases when talking about the use of drugs but what is “misuse”?
- The use of illicit drugs: Experimentation can quickly go from a one-time use to habitual use, even if it doesn’t occur every day. The recreational use of illicit substances is always a risk since there is no way to fully know what a person is ingesting when a drug is acquired “off the street.”
- Incorrect use of medication: Even legal, prescription drugs can be a part of drug misuse, especially when the person taking these drugs is using them outside of medical reasons without a doctor’s discretion or in dosage amounts that exceed the doctor’s instruction. This also occurs when someone is taking medication that does not belong to them.
- Overuse of legal drugs: For example, just because caffeine and alcohol are legal doesn’t mean they cannot be misused. Regular or binge use of these substances can pose serious health concerns and result in potentially fatal consequences once a level of dependency is reached.
Drug misuse is a willful act which, when done continuously, can lead directly to dependency and unintended addiction. When someone habitually disregards the negative effects of drug misuse it’s likely they have crossed from misuse into addiction. The following are signs that someone has reached the stage of drug misuse:
1) Making Drugs A Priority
When someone starts planning their days, evenings, or entire weekends about obtaining and consuming drugs, misuse is likely a factor. Typically this begins shortly after the first or second experimental experiences they’ve had with a drug and become curious to try more. This can also become somewhat of a ritual. Leisure time is no longer to relax; it begins to focus solely on using the drug of choice in excess until there is no more left or more needs to be acquired. When social outings or gatherings seem to be exclusively dependent on having the drug available, misuse is in play.
2) Drastic Changes in Social Circle
Sometimes people are exposed to drugs and begin to experiment as a way to get acquainted with new friends. Usually, this involves someone new entering a social circle that opens members to a particular drug where its use becomes more and more prevalent. When someone drastically changes their social habits and social circle to include only other people who participate in the use of that drug, it’s more than likely they are misusing the drug regularly. They are most likely associating with people who can give them access to more of the drug.
3) Decline in Health or Appearance
When someone misuses drugs, their body typically experiences neglect or mistreatment. If someone is showing signs of:
- constant fatigue
- Other unusual outward behavior due to their excessive “partying”
it’s likely they are misusing drugs in their free time. People who are usually ‘put together’ may come stumbling into work or class looking disheveled or ill to hide a hangover or may be struggling through the “come down” from a high from the night before. Mysterious “illnesses” will also be a common excuse as to why they are frequently feeling sick from the misuse of drugs, or the effects that follow after a large dose.
4) Normalizing Drug Use
While some circles may treat recreational drug use lightly, the complete normalization of drug use every time someone goes out or socializes could be a sure sign of drug use. When people no longer attempt to hide the frequency of their consumption of drugs and begin to use them freely around other people, they have completely normalized the misuse of these drugs. Speaking fondly of the drug and their many adventures while using the drug can also be a sign that their use is has moved past the experimental or recreational phase into more serious use. If someone grew up in a household where drug misuse was frequent, this puts them at a much higher risk of drug misuse.
5) Facing Negative Consequences
When wild, drug-fueled events or nights out start leading to unwanted ramifications like constantly being late for work, receiving bad grades, or ruining close relationships, misuse is likely at the source. When people begin to take bigger and bigger risks to consume their drug of choice, it’s likely that their misuse has become full-fledged and they are now starting to see consequences of their decision-making. When someone starts dealing with constant social problems that are a direct result of their drug use, it may lead them to rethink their actions, but those who are misusing drugs at a constant rate may be lacking the self-awareness to correct their behavior.
Without addressing misuse, we cannot effectively make efforts stop addiction in its early phases. There is a period between experimentation and addiction that is the cornerstone of how people develop a substance use disorder. No matter what drug is being misused, the behaviors and subsequent consequences that result in misuse are what can turn a healthy, vibrant person into a shell of their former selves. We cannot ignore the fact that the attitude towards recreational drug misuse in society is troubling and sending the wrong message. While we fail to address misuse, people who fall victim to substance use disorders that once started as occasional misuse will still have to deal with the awful stigma attached to addiction. We can’t ignore something until it becomes an uncontrollable problem while blaming those who have succumbed to it. Prevention can and will help many if the message is clear. Discussing topics like misuse could potentially save many lives before they ever begin to experiment with addictive substances.