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What Makes Recreational Drug Use Dangerous?

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According to SAMHSA, in 2016, 28.6 million people aged 12 or older used an illicit drug in the past 30 days, which corresponds to about 1 in 10 Americans overall (10.6%) but ranges as high as 1 in 4 for young adults aged 18 to 25. An estimated 11.8 million people misused opioids in the past year, including 11.5 million pain reliever misusers and 948,000 heroin users. Additional information is gathered in NSDUH for the misuse of pain relievers in the past year. Among people aged 12 or older who misused pain relievers in the past year, about 6 out of 10 people indicated that the main reason they misused pain relievers the last time was to relieve physical pain (62.3%), and about half (53.%) indicated that they obtained the last pain relievers they misused from a friend or relative.

With recreational drug use in America on the rise, it’s important to understand the risks involved with drugs that can lead to addiction. There is a very short amount of time between the experimental phase of recreational drug use and the next steps towards losing control. Based on statistics, recreational drug use is common among a wide range of ages and socioeconomic classes because addiction does not discriminate. Knowing the potential dangers of drug misuse can help educate others to prevent them from using drugs that could lead them down a dark path.

Drug Use that Leads to Addiction

While growing up, many of us are exposed to scare tactics that are used by school programs to help steer us away from drugs and alcohol. While their intentions are good, curiosity, peer pressure, and underlying risk factors that make people prone to addiction tend to override these measures.  According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), about 24% of 12th graders have used illicit drugs in the last month. While the general attitude towards teenagers is that we expect them to rebel, drug misuse at an early age can severely affect young developing brains. The prefrontal cortex controls the flow of dopamine in their brains, helping with logical decision making. This area doesn’t fully develop until mid-to-late 20s. When a young person has access to drugs during these developmental stages, it can acutely increase their risk of drug use disorder. The most common drugs teenagers are using that can quickly lead to addiction are opioids, methamphetamines, cocaine, and various forms of ecstasy.

From Recreational Use to Addiction

Most commonly, people who consume drugs recreationally do so when they want to let loose and party, whether it be at special events, concerts, or other social situations. Under these circumstances, it’s important to closely consider when use has become a problem, like when they can no longer enjoy themselves if they are not under the influence. Red flags are raised when they begin to consume much more than their friends or even begin to use when alone, outside of social situations. When personal responsibilities fall by the wayside, and drug use becomes the focus, it’s time to seek treatment. Once the line has been crossed, and the addiction has taken over, it’s very difficult to successfully recover without the help of a drug treatment program that can help assist with many different levels of care.

Phases of Misuse

Typically, the steps from recreational use to addiction are gradual. The typical process stems from early curiosity and can potentially lead to something much more serious.

  1. Experimental: Usually this step occurs while still young. Peer pressure builds, and they want to fit in with friends who are doing it too. It can affect adults too. Some people experiment with drugs for a change of pace. It can also appear to help ease social anxiety or negative emotions surrounding an event or incident.
  2. Recreational: Consumption of drugs becomes more frequent during this phase. Every month there’s an occasion where drugs are consumed socially. Usually, there is thrill-seeking involved. There usually aren’t many negative consequences at this phase other than feeling worn out and depleted after using.
  3. Regular Misuse: Drugs have become commonplace every weekend and sometimes on weekdays. Things are dull when not experienced while high and using and obtaining more of the drug becomes a focus. Their social circle begins to mostly include people who use as well, and former friends have slowly pushed
  4. Risky Use: Higher doses become the norm. There are consequences at stake, yet drug use trumps them all. Financial problems start to set in as most funds are used towards obtaining drugs. Usually, run-ins with the law like DWIs or worse are involved at this level.
  5. Dependence: Drugs have taken control over their life, and most relationships have deteriorated with loved ones and close friends. Their body has become physically dependent and needs a constant stream of drugs to function normally.
  6. Addiction: A high is no longer achievable, but the main purpose of ingesting drugs is to simply ward off withdrawal symptoms. Most significant areas of life have been heavily impacted by drug use, and they are holding onto life by a single thread, whether it is blatantly obvious or not from the outside.

Taking drugs recreationally may seem harmless, but it’s one step towards addiction. While some people can experiment with substances without losing control, there are many other factors involved in what makes someone more prone to addiction. Once the wheels towards addiction are set in motion, it’s hard to stop them.

If you find yourself questioning whether or not your drug use is truly recreational, or whether or not you have reached the level of addiction with your drug use, consider taking an assessment at a treatment center to help stop addiction in its tracks with the help of trained professionals.

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