Although recreational drug users are a mixed group, their motivations have a common theme: social networking.
That’s the conclusion from an Australian study which focused on recreational drug use as opposed to habitual drug use and found that for the recreational user, facilitating social connectedness is the usual driver. The results not only point to a little-researched aspect of drug use, say the study’s authors, but could inform harm mitigation and drug use prevention strategies.
People have been imbibing in substances for their effects on the body and brain for millennia, and although in the modern Western world alcohol currently stands as the most — some would say sole — socially accepted recreational intoxicant, that ground is shifting, as witnessed by steps towards legalization of marijuana being pursued in Canada, some states in the US as well as other jurisdictions.
Resting on multiple generations’ belief in the relative harmlessness of cannabis, the relaxing of restrictions against marijuana may not speak directly to today’s casual use of other currently illicit substances such as cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and LSD, but the recreational drug user —as a distinct category from the drug addict or drug abuser— nonetheless exists, say the authors of a new study, who argue that while drug research has been successful at exposing the negative physical, mental and social impacts of illicit drug use, it has been less successful at looking at things from the recreational user’s perspective.
“Social connectedness has been found to have a range of positive effects on both physical and psychological health,” say the authors, whose research is published in the Journal of Substance Use.
“While the literature has associated illicit drug use with antisocial behaviour, this study has revealed that far from being antisocial, recreational drug use was reportedly used to facilitate social connectedness, to replace social inhibitions with a sense of freedom to indulge in fun and adventure, and to strengthen bonds between friends.”
Researchers interviewed adults between the ages of 18 and 65 who self-identified as having knowledge about drug use and found that although recreational drug use occurs in a diversity of settings and involves complex social practices and codes, two common benefits were said to motivate occasional, casual use: improving social connectedness and enhancing performance.
“A common reason is performance enhancement. Not only in the physical sense of giving users greater stamina but also in making them feel more attractive and more sociable,” said study co- author, David Plummer of the College of Public Health at James Cook University, in a press release. “We found recreational users viewed themselves as different from people who are habitual users. The recreational drug users used drugs because they valued the benefits that specific drugs seemed to offer while considering the risks to be manageable, worthwhile and/or minimal,” said Professor Plummer.
The study’s authors say their findings show the potential drawbacks to anti-drug campaigns which focus on the negative social impacts stemming from drug use, since recreational users have a starkly opposing view. “We have to rethink the preoccupation in anti-drug strategies with negative outcomes,” says Plummer, “as recreational users see their risks as different from those of habitual users. Current anti-drug campaigns seem to be disconnected from the actual experience of recreational drug users and this may result in a credibility gap.”