Why drugs?

Drugs, a topic which always raises eyebrows, gets people listening, rouses curiosity and which most often leads to people having a strong opinion about. What do we think the reasons for this may be? In Malta, in 1995, 2% admitted to the use of illicit drugs, in 1999 this rose to 8% and in 2003 it rose further to 11% admitting they had used illicit drugs.

It is interesting to note that although most people areaware of the adverse effects of drugs and that their use for recreational purposes is often banned and prosecuted by law, drug use is still on the increase.

But what could be some of the causes for drug use? I could think of four broad categories but I am sure one can come up with many more of these.

1. The first I could think of is an adverse social environment, this could be in various forms from unemployment and homelessness to the pressures society puts on the individual. What is often discussed is the speed at which society is functioning and to keep up with that pace, comes the increasing need for instant gratification. One no longer has to wait until the morning to buy a newspaper to find out what is going on in the world around him, but news is consistently being updated as we speak and is made readily available in the palm of his/her hands. This will be discussed further below.

2. Other reasons for drug use include; vulnerability of character. This means that certain characteristic traits of an individual such as being impulsive, sensation seeking increase the chances for substance misuse. Other vulnerabilities include the presence of a low self-esteem, depression, anxieties. Some behaviour associated with drugs use includes poor school record, truancy or delinquency.

3. Another important factor is the availability of drugs; this may be made through illicit sources but also from misuse of doctor’s prescriptions (e.g. Benzodiazepines, opioids) or taking drugs which are legally available such as cigarettes and alcohol.

4. The final and possibly the most important of the four, is the neurobiology of the individual. Many people use drugs but do not end up misusing them and also not all misusers become drug dependent. Drugs are often misused because they serve as positive re-enforcers that can cause positive experiences such as euphoria or reduction in anxiety. So as the concept of immediate gratification becomes rife in our society, the concept of delayed gratification is losing its place (no pain no gain).

This may intern influence ones choice of coping strategies that one uses in everyday life. Drug use, smoking and alcohol are all coping strategies but for the reasons mentioned above they are negative. They change certain chemicals (such as dopamine and nor-adrenaline) in the brain that give instant gratification and hence make us feel good for a short period of time.

Using the above, results in people tending to forget other good coping strategies such as sports, music, academic achievement, that causes a similar change in the chemicals of our brain, which too make us, feel better. The effect may not be as strong but is certainly longer lived and is known to have a longer positive effects on one’s self esteem.

It is not the remit of this article nor is it my area of speciality to go into the argument about whether drug use should be legalised or not. I think this article looks at the individual and drug use on a personal level and treats each person a unique, with his /her own strengths and vulnerabilities. With this perspective being kept in mind  I believe the decision on drug use lies in the hands of the individual, to reflect on his/her own personal life and contemplate what choices they are making for themselves in their daily lives and what stage of the change model (Prochaska and Diclemente 1986) they are at. Change is always hard, and it will only take place when one develops the motivation to make a decision and put that decision into an action.

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