Why Do People Use Drugs?

Last Updated: 27 Feb 2023
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Drugs and Dependency Essay One Why Do People Use Drugs?

Throughout history, people have used different kinds of drugs to alter the way they feel or experience consciousness. Ritualistic use of drugs has been commonly practiced by various cultures such as the mushroom induced trance state utilised by Native American Indians to commune with the Great Spirit. Pacific Islanders drink Kava as a means of connecting with the supernatural, healing illness and welcoming guests to the community.

Whilst Indians referred to being consciously high as the state of ‘Shiva’ and associated this process with the worship of one of their prime deities, Shiva. Over time the ritualistic use of drugs has integrated as a part of modern society which can be observed in celebrations such as weddings and birthdays where alcohol is commonly consumed. As there is such a vast range of drugs and influences available with many established uses and categorisations the process of determining why people use drugs becomes intricate very rapidly.

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Norman E Zinberg developed a theory on drug use which is a widely accepted public health model. The basis of this theory argues that it is not possible to understand drug use, the effects or the outcomes of the drug experience unless you take into account the interrelationship of factors between: the drug, the environment and the individual (Zinberg, 1986). For the purpose of this analysis various aspects of influence have been categorised based on Zinberg’s theory to coherently convey why people use drugs.

The categorizations are as follows: Individual (cognition, genetics, and physical/psychological state), drug (perceived functions of drug use in society/specific purpose for using a particular substance, drug related expectancies and compulsive use) and environment (social/contextual level). Boys et al (2001) recorded among a study of 364 participants that had used cannabis over the past year that, the two most popular reasons for using the drug were to ‘just get really stoned or intoxicated’ (90. 7%) and ‘help you to relax’ (96. 8%). People using drugs often state that they use them to feel ‘good’.

What makes these people feel ‘good’ is the way in which the chemicals in these drugs influence cognition. This state of feeling ‘good’ and or being high is attained because most drugs act on the limbic system in the brain, referred to as the ‘pleasure centre’. The presynaptic terminal releases the neurotransmitters Dopamine, Noradrenaline and Serotonin via nerves located at the terminal. These neurotransmitters are released and travel to the post synaptic terminal where specific receptor sites are located on the nerve cell for each neurotransmitter.

Here nerve action potential is developed via neurotransmitter action on the receptor site. Prevalent drugs act by blocking, mimicking or stimulating the release of neurotransmitters via the presynaptic terminal. When Dopamine levels are increased, mimicked or reuptake is permitted (blocked) the reward pathway in the brain is affected which when stimulated creates feelings of pleasure and euphoria (pleasure is associated with reward). The ingested drug is hence associated with pleasure and reward and the person is influenced to continue using the particular drug.

Current cognitive-motivational theories of addiction assert that prioritising appetitive, reward-related information plays an inherent role in the development and continuation of substance abuse (Field & Cox, 2008; Franken, 2003; Wiers et al 2007). A study focused on reward-related attentional processes among 682 young adolescents (mean age= 16. 14) had participants complete a motivated game in the format of a spatial orienting task as a behavioural index of appetitive-related attentional processes and a questionnaire to index substance (alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis) use.

Correlational analysis showed a positive relationship between substance use and enhanced attentional engagement, with cues that predicted potential reward and non- punishment (Ostafin et al, 2013). Research since the mid 1960’s has established that genetics play a modest (yet relevant) role in the development of drug use problems in some individuals (Pickens, 1988; Farrell & Strang, 1992; Hill, 1993). It has been conveyed by Mcgue (1994) that genetics have an influence on a person’s disposition to use drugs.

After a review of literature on genetics research in relation to alcoholism, Mcgue established that genetic factors exert a moderate influence on male and female risk for alcoholism. It has been suggested by Hansler (2001) that mental illness motivates sufferers to take drugs (prescription and recreational), this process can cause drug problems (when a person takes drugs in the hope of escaping their symptoms or becomes dependent on a prescription drug). Examples include a person suffering from social anxiety ingesting cocaine in order to temperamentally enhance their sociability when going out with friends.

Most of the evidence, however, seems to indicate that these factors can lead to problems; that is, biological, social and/or environmental factors predispose a person to have both a mental health and a substance abuse problem. Aesthetics and physicality are also motivators for drug use. A person will ingest substances to alter the physical nature of their body, primarily due to the fact that they are not satisfied with a particular aspect of their physical self. Examples include; performance enhancing drugs (steroids), Viagra and antibiotics.

In beginning the process of analysing the perceived functions of drug use/specific purpose for using a particular substance, psychoactive drugs are the first place to start as due to the broad range of this category. The classification of psychoactive drugs is sub divided into three categories (with some drugs falling into more than one category); Depressants, Stimulants and Hallucinogens. Depressants work by inhibiting the activity of the CNS (Central Nervous System), which slows down various bodily functions such as heart rate and breathing.

This classification of drugs has with it a reputation inherent within society as having a calming effect (popularised primarily due to alcohol its acceptance and availability). People generally take this type of drug to relax, another primary function and motivation of the use of depressants is to combat the effects of stress and anxiety (reduces nerves and relaxes muscle). These drugs are typically easy to obtain being available illegally and legally. Examples include acquiring a depressant legally via a doctor’s prescription or benzodiazepines to treat anxiety and purchasing marijuana from a local drug dealer in order to alleviate stress from work. Stimulants work by stimulating the CNS (increasing brain activity) which causes the body to become more aroused and responsive. Hence stimulants elevate the mood, create excitement and even induce a state of euphoria. Due to the nature of stimulants improving responsiveness this category of drug is associated with increasing people’s energy levels as brain activity is dramatically increased.

Stimulants are widely available legally and illegally with the most common being caffeine, which is the most widely used drug in the world (Julien, 2001). Hallucinogens are a class of drug that alter perceptual functions; sight, hearing, smell, taste or physical touch. Hallucinogens disrupt how the nerve cells and the neurotransmitter serotonin interact with the CNS. By altering the natural levels of serotonin in the body, hallucinogens alter the way in which your brain processes information relevant to perceptual functions.

The inhibition of the user’s perceptual functions allows for the body to generate an intense high. Hence many users of hallucinogens utilise this type of drug to experience the intensity of the high and/or to escape reality. Examples of hallucinogens include; magic mushrooms, marijuana and LSD. A web based survey of 96 (50 female, 46 male) regular drinking college students over a ten week period) reported on their previous week alcohol use and experience of 24 alcohol-related consequences, including their subjective evaluations of those consequences.

Most notably of the results, hierarchical linear model tests revealed that students drank less and experienced fewer consequences following weeks in which they rated their consequences as more negative (relative to their own typical subjective evaluations), suggesting that viewing one’s recent consequences as aversive prompts self-initiated behaviour change. It was conveyed by Boys et al (1999) that significant relationships between perceived functions and both the persons intentions to use the drug again in the future and the recent use of a particular drug.

Data was collected from a cross sectional survey of one hundred participants aged 16 – 21 years of age. Higher scores on a five item social/contextual function scale (Eg. using a drug to help you feel more confident in a social situation) were associated with a greater frequency of recent cannabis use. Drug expectancy is a psychoactive process that occurs as a response to an individual’s expectation that a drug induced effect will occur. Drug expectancy divulges the nature of a person desire to experience the effects from a particular drug(s).

The effect occurs from a person’s own experience with a drug, education, feedback from peers/family and media influence. Once acquired via direct experience with a drug, the memory network of positive expectancies can be primed by internal or external drug associated cues. Primed expectancies are thought to guide subsequent drug use (Hersen, 2013). Self-reports from 704 college students were content analysed and used to develop the Marijuana Effect Expectancy Questionnaire. Responses were examined using exploratory and confirmatory principle components analysis.

Six marijuana expectancies (34. 6% of variance) were identified: (a) cognitive and behavioural impairment, (b) relaxation and tension reduction, (c) social and sexual facilitation, (d) perceptual and cognitive enhancement, (e) global negative effects, and (f) craving and physical effects (Schafer & Brown, 1991). When a person begins using a drug on a regular basis they begin to become dependent on the drug. As tolerance towards the drug grows in the person they become more dependent on the drug in order to achieve the same effect they attained from their first usage.

Drug dependency can manifest in both physical/psychological forms. This can be classified in the sense that the body requires the drug to function properly relating to either form of classification. When a person abstains from retaining the normal level of the abused drug in their blood withdrawal symptoms begin to act. Those with a physiological dependency experience physical discomfort, shaking, nausea and vomiting as withdrawal symptoms. People with a Psychological dependence feel depressive, anxious, aggressive and irritated.

Research supports the belief that the negative nature of withdrawal symptoms is associated with drug users continued abuse of a certain drug (Rogers, 2002). Social/contextual level influences have a massive level of governance over a person’s rationalising to use drugs. College students say they utilise alcohol and drugs in order to lessen depression, increase sociability, satisfy curiosity, heighten sexual pleasure, alleviate physical discomfort and expand consciousness (Robbins et al. , 1970). Association with peers tilising drugs is one of the strongest predictors of adolescent drug use (Fergusson et al, 1995; Brook et al, 1990). If other members of the group begin using drugs, some people are influenced to trade sobriety for use in order to fit in and adapt to the group. Motivation for this exists in the individual wanting to conform to the dynamics of the group paired with fear of rejection from the group. An example of this is conveyed by Hohman et al (2013) via a study of data obtained from the National Survey of Parents and Youth (N= 1,604).

Two hierarchical multiple regression models were developed examining the association between ambivalent attitudes, intentions and later marijuana use. The hierarchical models consisted of; an analysis of the moderating effect of ambivalence on the persons intent to use marijuana and the testing of the moderation of ambivalence on literal marijuana use a year later. Results from both hierarchical analyses propose that ambivalence moderated the association of friend norms and subsequent adolescent marijuana use: friend norms were better predictors of marijuana intentions (? 0. 151, t = 2. 29, p = 0. 02) and subsequent use when adolescents were attitudinally ambivalent about marijuana use (? = 0. 071, t = 2. 76, p = 0. 006). The environment of a person greatly influences their susceptibility to drug use. Not only does the social context of a person influence drug use but the environment itself plays a very influential role. A study undertaken in Zinberg’s ‘Drug, Set, And Setting: The Basis For Controlled Intoxicant Use’, analysed a group of American soldiers who began using and became addicted to heroin during the Vietnam war.

After the war effort, usage “virtually ceased”, with only 12% of the soldiers remaining addicted after returning back to the United States. It is evident that these American soldiers were utilising heroin as a form of escapism, a way to disassociate themselves from the harsh reality they were situated in. Hence it can be expected that a person’s socioeconomic status would affect their use of drugs. People living in a negative environment and/or of a lower socio economic status would be more likely to turn to drug use as a means of dealing with and escaping their predicament.

In the process of determining why people use drugs a diverse range of conclusions have been reached via a model representative of Zinberg’s theory. We began by stating the ritual usages practiced for thousands of years which have transcended into society after society. We begin with Zinberg’s notion of the individual and diverge into the way in which human cognition is affected by drugs. As this topic is explored it is conveyed just how susceptible our brains are to drug use and why we enjoy the temperamental effects drugs create.

Genetics, physical and psychological disposition are also conveyed as influencing reasoning for drug use. Drugs are addressed via the perceived functions of illegal and legal drugs by an analysis of drug categorisations where perceived functions and reasons for use are conveyed. Drug expectancy and tolerance is explained and the reasoning for continued use and addiction is communicated via a study by Schafer & Brown (1991). The social/contextual level of influence is analysed via various studies by Zinberg (1986) and Hohman (2013) conveying environmental and social influences.

People ingest a diversity of different drugs for a variety of different reasons; socialisation, environmental factors, perceived norms, to relax, pleasure, to conform, genetics, addiction, out of boredom or curiosity or to escape their problems.

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Why Do People Use Drugs?. (2017, Jan 24). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/why-do-people-use-drugs/

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