Recreational Drug Use Can Lead to Addiction

Recreational drug use is the beginning of an addiction for many people. Apart from addictive drugs used medically, recreational use is a significant introduction to drug problems in the U.S. Since drug problems build over time, progressing to more use and greater complications is a hallmark of advancing toward addiction.

What is Recreational Drug Use?

Recreational drug use is the use of a mind or mood-altering substance for intoxication. The drug may be legal or illegal or obtained by prescription or not. Recreational use is valued for altered moods, cognitions, and sensations that the user considers pleasurable. Typically, people have preferred classes of substances, chosen for their specific intoxication effects. Drugs are used in one or more of the general classes for intoxication: depressants, stimulants, or hallucinogenics. Depressants include any substance that induces sedation and can range from alcohol to opiates. Stimulants induce hyper-focus and energy like caffeine, cocaine, or methamphetamines. Hallucinogens alter one’s sense of reality and include such drugs as LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline. These are just broad categories, and there are many other classes of substances used simply for recreation. Some others are ‘club drugs’, and inhalants.

Recreational Drug Use and Risk Factors

It is true that many people who engage in recreational drug use do not develop an addiction. However, it seems there is no guarantee problems won’t develop for anyone who experiments with drug use. We do know there are certain factors that increase the chances of a substance problem. Some of these include:

  • A family history of addiction
  • Unresolved trauma
  • Anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Use of highly addictive substances
  • A family or social system that supports substance use

Considering the Medical Diagnosis of a Substance Problem

In recent years, the medical diagnosis of an addiction has expanded. Previously, there was a distinction made between substance abuse and substance dependence (addiction). Now, Substance Use Disorders are considered to lie on a continuum from mild, to moderate and severe. Both views help us understand how recreational use can progress into addiction. For example, substance abuse has been defined as the next step after experimental or recreational use of a substance. One’s use crosses over into abuse when there are negative consequences caused by substance use.

It is common in addiction treatment to consider recreational use as non-problematic if there are no identifiable negative effects caused by it. However, recreational drug use is still considered a risk factor for developing problems across many life realms including physical and mental health, family and social relationships, work and school performance, and the ability to carry out daily routines and fulfill responsibilities. In short, in the larger picture of problematic drug use, recreational use of any sort is considered playing with the proverbial fire.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV) describes substance abuse as a maladaptive pattern of substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress within a 12-month period. This suggests that a person with recreational drug use could enter a prolonged period of use in which there are use related problems. This would be the first stage of progression from use without negative life consequences to problematic use.

In the DSM-IV, impairment, or distress significant enough to be considered a substance abuse issue, included one or more of the following negative consequences of drug use:

  • Recurring failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home because of drug use.
  • Recurrently using substances in physically unsafe situations such as driving or operating machinery.
  • Recurring substance-related legal problems
  • Continuing to use despite social or interpersonal problems recurrently caused by use.

These are still considered signs of a drug problem, and herald the increasing risk of serious life effects caused by drug use. In fact, any to these can be seriously consequential. Realistically, none of the above effects of substance use could be considered unimportant in one’s life, or for one’s loved ones. When recreational drug use evolves into such issues, other issues stand in line ready for a domino effect.

In the DSM V, Substance Use Disorders are designated as mild, moderate, or severe. In that view, substance abuse would be considered a mild disorder that can progress to moderate or severe status, just as we have already been discussing. As recreational drug use can advance to drug abuse, a mild problem can advance to a moderate or severe addiction. The criteria for a medical diagnosis of addiction (Substance Use Disorder) in the DSM V is:

  1. Using a drug in larger amounts or for longer than intended
  2. Having a desire to cut down or stop using but being unable to
  3. Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from use of the substance
  4. Having cravings and urges to use the drug
  5. Not managing to do what you should at work, home, or school because of substance use
  6. Continuing to use despite relationship problems because of use
  7. Giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of substance use
  8. Using substances repeatedly despite risk
  9. Continuing to use despite a physical or psychological problem caused or made worse by use
  10. Requiring more of the drug over time to achieve the desired effect
  11. Having withdrawal symptoms when use is stopped or reduced

A substance problem is considered mild if 2-3 of the above symptoms occur; moderate if 4-5 are present, and severe if 6 or more are.

A Chronic and Progressive Disease

If we wonder how recreational drug use can lead to addiction, the mainstream medical disease model of addiction easily answers our questions. Like any other serious illness, there are beginnings that lead to worsening conditions. For drug use to become a more serious issue in one’s life, one need only to continue to use addictive substances.

Addiction has long been considered a chronic and progressive disease. This means that it is considered incurable, but manageable through abstinence. Also, as an incurable and progressive illness, if use continues, the disease will worsen. Worsening disease states are evidenced by more and more of the condition’s possible symptoms manifesting. Consequently, worsening substance problems would lead to more and more of the above symptoms becoming active in one’s life.

Another way of seeing it is that as a substance problem progresses, more negative consequences of using occur. Sinceopioid addiction it is a chronic condition, addiction can go into remission, or be managed by sobriety and the alleviation of symptoms. However, if substance use occurs again, the disease resumes an active state. In this ‘medical model’ view of addiction, it, like other diseases, can progress to life-threatening stages and can be fatal.

Narcotics Anonymous, a 12 Step, self-help group for addicts, describes addiction as a progressive disease in its Basic Text. It says that its worsening may be slow or fast but always leads to worse outcomes as it progresses. More specifically, they state that the progressive condition affects one mentally, physically, and spiritually; obsession with drug use occurs; one feels a physical compulsion to use, and one becomes totally self-centered. Narcotics Anonymous also states that the disease can be fatal if not arrested.

Early Intervention Works

As with many other problems and illnesses, early intervention is beneficial to prevent increasing problems. There are many options for help in the early stages of drug use. Outpatient counseling with mental health and/or addiction professionals help many identify other coping strategies to meet their needs for whatever intoxication gives them. Also, many find that recreational drug use helps self-medicate a problem that would be better addressed otherwise. For example, many substance users have such problems as anxiety or depression and feel some relief from those in drug use. Getting to the core of why recreational drug use is attractive can help resolve underlying issues that need attention, and establish support a healthier lifestyle.

Outpatient help is not the only help available. Many who are just beginning to feel negative effects of their drug use may be in the mild stage of a Substance Use Disorder, but can greatly benefit from a rehab program. Mild, moderate, or severe… all are forms of the same illness, and anyone with any degree of severity can benefit from a rehab program. In fact, early intervention is wise and can save you as well as your loved ones a great deal of pain.

If You or A Loved One Need Help

It can be difficult to acknowledge that recreational drug use has progressed into problematic drug use. None of us want to have a problem, and we are prone to denial about such things. However, a fact-based approach can ease some of the emotionality of identifying a problem.

Becoming educated about the signs and symptoms of a Substance Use Disorder is a good first step. The symptoms listed above in this article are observable enough to help you assess yourself, or a loved one’s drug use. Using such information separates out opinion. It is a list of medical symptoms that one can use rather objectively as an inventory to gain more awareness of how drug use is impacting one’s life at any given time.

If your review of the information here leaves you convinced that it is time for some help, you can call us at Elite Rehab Placement to discuss resources appropriate for you and your family. Our service is free. We will help clarify your needs or the needs of your loved one, and make referral recommendations based on treatment needs and your family’s resources.

Help is available, and there are viable options for anyone who wants a substance-free and healthier life. If you aren’t certain that addiction treatment is what you need at this stage, there’s no harm in discussing it with us, or your healthcare professional. Information is power.