Drug Use Can Be Fun

Millions of Australians use, or have used, illicit substances at some point in their life, while millions more are regular users of legal drugs such as alcohol, tobacco or sleeping pills.

While some people become heavy users of alcohol or other drugs as a way of coping with past trauma or mental illness, this is not the story for millions of others. Young (and older) people use drugs and alcohol for fun, enjoyment and socialisation.

Read more: Three Charts on who uses illicit drugs in Australia

NSW Greens MP Cate Faehrmann summed it up well when she explained why she had used MDMA (ecstacy) in her 20s (and since):

We knew there were risks but we were prepared to take them because having a good time was our priority … The ‘Just Say No’ message was around then too. We ignored it. Some things never change.

“Fun” or “having a good time” as a reason for drug use is often dismissed as trivial or inconsequential. Why would people risk their health or life for simple fun?

Let’s look at the evidence for why people use three different types of drugs: party drugs, such as MDMA (ecstasy), cocaine or crystal methamphetamine (ice/crystal meth); marijuana; and alcohol.

Party drugs

The party drug category includes a range of drugs commonly used for dance parties, particularly MDMA (ecstasy), cocaine or gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB), as well as crystal methamphetamine (ice).

In studies exploring motivation for party drug use, fun and pleasure are central. Users describe party drugs as giving them energy to dance and socialise, reducing inhibition and enhancing feelings of connection to others.

For some, party drugs also intensify sexual experience.

In these studies, party drug users’ descriptions of fun often relate to the quality of social relationships – drugs are fun because they allow for intense and disinhibited experiences with friends and lovers.

Read more: What do young people gain from drug use?

Some studies have suggested that party drug use can lead to social benefits that carry through into other areas of life, including building friendship networks and social connections through which people derive support.

Fun, in this sense, is not just about hedonism, but about the experience of belonging and developing social bonds.

Marijuana

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in Australia, with 35% of the nation trying it at least once.

There are many studies examining reasons why people use marijuana. For some, it is about coping and managing stress or difficult emotions. However, most people tend to use marijuana for fun, enjoyment, or relaxation in a social setting.

In the 1950s, sociologist Howard Becker described the ritual of smoking marijuana as a process in which people formed social ties and established a sense of group identity as they learned how to derive pleasure from the act of smoking marijuana.

For young people, marijuana use can also symbolise independence and a sense of freedom – a change in their social status.

Alcohol

Understanding what motivates people to drink alcohol is a complex task, given that unlike illicit drugs, alcohol is integrated into mainstream rituals and routines of modern life. We drink together to mark success, to celebrate marriages, to commiserate loss. Bars, pubs and restaurants are the focal points of most adults’ social lives.

The physical effects of alcohol – relaxation and disinhibition – are part of the pleasure associated with alcohol. But this can be hard to disentangle from the pleasure of participation in social rituals.

As with other drugs, studies which ask people why they drink cite social reasons – fun, enjoyment and disinhibition – as common motivations for drinking.

Why is this relevant?

Emphasising the social nature of drug use should not detract from the recognition that drug and alcohol use can devastate the lives of some individuals.

There is also a valid argument that the legitimised social status of alcohol allows us to ignore its health risks.

Read more: History, not harm, dictates why some drugs are legal and others aren't

However, understanding the social nature of drug use reveals why fun-seeking is so compelling. When people describe fun, they are often talking about an experience of social connection and belonging. Fun is not insignificant in human lives.

Understanding this might help to make sense of why “just say no” messages are so often ignored.

Jennifer Power, Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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  • Tony Wright
    A great article and a conversation that is desperately need today.
    I’ve used drugs since my early teens and now in my 50’s and at the last medical I had I was told by the nurse that I was healthier than most she sees half my age.
    I still smoke herb daily and if the situation arises I have no problem taking any drug mentioned here if I felt like it.
    The only negative consequences I’ve encountered which I believe contributes to 95% of all negative consequences people endure from drug taking has been because of prohibition.
    Prohibition doesn’t stop people from using drugs it punishes people for doing something that they feel impelled to do despite the risks of persecution.
    We have brains that are designed by nature with receptors to accept these drugs for a reason why should we not explore every gift that nature has to offer during our experience of the human condition?
    Everyone knows prohibition was initially employed to marginalize and stigmatize ethnic minorities and Hearst, Dupont and others took it to the next level and created the “Evil Weed” campaign of the 20’s to have hemp outlawed world wide so their new petrochemical derivatives nylon and rayon had an established market desperate for something to replace hemp.
    To any rationale thinker/observer it is obvious that the only people who benefit from prohibition are the international drug cartels and other large scale producers.
    There is also a great benefit to drug taking that is never mentioned that I have discovered.
    Exploring mind altering drugs is a great facilitator to explore one’s self and most importantly heal one self.
    I’m living proof of the beneficial aspects one can gain from self medicating in order to heal from trauma and expand ones consciousness.
    Grade 3 primary school was the last complete year of schooling I had before I was place in an enclosed environment where no education was offered with 150 of the most violent criminally minded dysfunctional children the state as my only companions.
    Then decades of drug addiction, prison and living on the streets yet I could have an in-depth discussion on anything from quantum physics to metaphysics or anything in between.
    Honestly my personal narrative would cause ears to bleed yet I love life and everything about it because utilizing a mindful awareness of neurogenesis and brain plasticity combined with the ability to alter my state of consciousness via the use of drugs I’ve redesigned my own brain from a trauma imbued one to one which has centered its hub of awareness on a plane of infinite possibility.
    I would challenge the best educated advocate for the prohibition of drugs to a public debate on the issue and win.
  • Whisper it... Drug use can be fun. Drug use isn't all about addiction and coping with trauma - many people enjoy it! Fun is not a trivial matter. The modern world is lacking in experiences of human connection and social belonging. https://www.drugpolicy.org.au/drug_use_can_be_fun?recruiter_id=2