When people use drugs for their mind-altering effects – such as to get high, have fun with friends, or escape from stress and emotion – it falls under the category of recreational drug use. Recreational drug use is a term that refers to nonmedical substance use, and it can involve a variety of different drugs like marijuana, alcohol, cocaine, and prescription medicine. Typically, those who use drugs recreationally do not think about the long-term consequences of doing so—their goal is to achieve the more immediate benefits: a surge of euphoria, a boost in confidence, a wave of relaxation, or a temporary escape.
However, the problem with recreational drug use is that it the term promotes more positive benefits. It suggests that drugs are safe, fun, and okay to use. In reality, using drugs casually and even moderately can lead to negative effects, both short- and long-term.
Why Do People Use Drugs Recreationally?
Before we delve into the negative effects of recreational drug use, it’s important to understand the appeal of using drugs to begin with. Many people feel drawn to drugs and alcohol due to the temporary, and more positive, advantages they can provide. These include:
- Pleasurable effects: When drugs are used, a chemical called dopamine is often released in the brain. This is the brain’s “feel good” chemical. It causes a surge of euphoric feelings and makes a person feel happy, or on top of the world, for a short period of time. This is also known as a “high.” Many people chase this feeling and it is their primary reason for using drugs at all.
- Calming effects: Some drugs produce calming effects, allowing a person’s body to go numb or to relax. People who struggle to unwind, or even to escape constant stress and emotions, may turn to drugs to experience a sense of relief.
- Numbing effects: Opioid drugs, in particular, are used to relieve pain. Opioids can be prescribed by doctors for chronic pain or pain post-surgery. However, many people misuse these substances for their numbing effects – to escape a physical pain without a doctor’s consent, or to escape deep-seated, emotional distress.
- Social effects: Many people, especially youth, will use drugs to fit in with friends or to feel accepted by social groups. Teenagers especially are in a period of development where peer approval is a top-priority. They may use drugs in the face of peer pressure, or simply to look cool in front of others. Others may drink alcohol and use drugs to gain more confidence in social settings.
While all these effects seem positive on the surface, a person can become dependent on drugs to feel a certain way. Recreational drug use can cause fleeting or falsified feelings of confidence, pain relief, and enjoyment. When these short-term benefits fade, a person is likely to use again, or to use more of the drug, to experience these same effects. If a person is constantly relying on drugs to socialize with others, or simply to feel better, it can establish the start of a long-term drug problem.
Short-Term Effects of Recreational Drug Use
Depending on the type, drugs can affect the brain in different ways. For example, analgesic drugs like opioids can cause short-term effects including drowsiness, slowed breathing, and reduced heart rate, in addition to pain relief. Stimulant drugs, on the other hand, can cause an increased or irregular heart rate, seizures, and paranoia, in addition to alertness and energy.
Below are examples of some of the negative effects of commonly abused drugs, as cited by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Short-term Effects of Recreational Marijuana Use:
Enhanced euphoria and sensations, followed by:
- Slowed reaction times
- Problems with balance and coordination
- Increased heart rate
- Increased appetite
- Problems with learning and memory
- Anxiety and paranoia
Short-term Effects of Recreational Cocaine Use:
A surge in energy and euphoria, which is often accompanied or followed by:
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- (Sometimes dangerously) high body temperature
- Abdominal or head pain
- Insomnia and restlessness
- Erratic and violent behavior
- Seizure or stroke
- Heart attack
- Anxiety or panic attacks
Short-term Effects of Recreational Adderall Use:
Prescription stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin are effective when used as prescribed, but can cause a series of short-term side effects when misused (in a way other than prescribed by a doctor):
- Increased blood pressure and heart rate
- Narrowed blood vessels
- Increased blood sugar
- In high doses, also high body temperature and irregular heartbeat
- Also in high doses, risk of seizures
Short-term Effects of Recreational Painkiller Use:
Painkillers like OxyContin or Percocet can lead to a wave of pain relief, but also pose risk for:
- Drowsiness and lack of coordination
- Nausea or constipation
- Slowing of heart rate (especially when in combination with alcohol)
- Slowed breathing
- Overdose, which displays as respiratory depression
Short-term Effects of Recreational Inhalant Use:
Some people use inhalants like spray paints or cleaning fluids for a temporary high, however this poses immediate and short-term dangers such as:
- Lack of coordination
- Slurred speech
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
- Hallucinations or delusions
- Death due to heart failure (from butane, propane, and other chemicals in aerosols)
- Death from asphyxiation, suffocation, convulsions or seizures, coma, or choking
Short-term Effects of Recreational Acid/LSD Use:
Hallucinogens such as LSD or ketamine can create a temporary escape from reality, but also cause negative effects such as:
- Distortion of one’s ability to recognize reality
- Inability to think rationally or communicate with others
- Increased blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature
- Loss of, or problems with, memory
Short-term Effects of Recreational Molly and MDMA Use:
MDMA drugs like Molly and ecstasy cause enhanced sensory perception and elation, but also lead to:
- Reduced inhibition
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Chills or sweating
- Muscle tension
- Sharp rise in body temperature, which can lead to kidney failure and death
The Long-Term Effects of Recreational Drugs
Much like the immediate effects of recreational drugs, the long-term effects of drug use will also vary by the substance consumed. For example, marijuana can create long-lasting problems with learning and memory, while prescription stimulants like Adderall can lead to issues with psychosis and paranoia.
In general, however, recreational drugs can lead to common effects like overdose, addiction, and other lasting changes in the brain.
- Overdose can happen quickly, but it can lead to long-term damage and potentially death. Overdose happens when a person consumes a toxic amount of a drug. Anyone is at risk for overdose, both first-time users and more experienced ones. A user may take too much at once, without knowing how much their body can handle. Some users overdose due to the ingestion of a laced drug. Many illicitly-manufactured drugs are now laced with fentanyl, which only requires the smallest amount (two milligrams) to be considered lethal.
- Addiction is also a risk, even for those who think they are in control of their casual drug use. When drugs are used for a certain benefit – such as to self-medicate an ailment, or to achieve a feel-good high – a person is likely to keep using drugs for that very reason. Although usage may be sporadic, repeated use can build a dependence on the drug to feel a certain way. For example, a person struggling with depression may cope occasionally by drinking alcohol. However, over time, they may start to rely on alcohol to feel happy. The substance, being used repeatedly, can cause changes to happen within the brain’s chemistry. The brain will then start to demand more of that substance to function and feel good. This begins the addiction cycle. It can happen to anyone.
- Lasting changes in the brain. Drugs are chemicals that change the way the brain is wired and, therefore, how we think and behave. This inherently comes with neurological risks. While specific effects can vary by drug, repeated drug use has the potential to cause long-lasting issues with memory, learning, and behavior. It can trigger the onset or emergence of mental health issues. It can also disrupt a person’s ability to pay attention, motivate themselves, and experience pleasure.
You can learn more about the long-term effects of drug use here. In addition to overdose and addiction, some examples of common effects of recreational drugs are below:
Long-term Effects of Recreational Marijuana Use:
- Mental health problems, such as psychosis
- Issues with memory, learning, and IQ
- Frequent respiratory infections
Long-term Effects of Recreational Cocaine Use:
- Loss of sense of smell
- Nasal damage and trouble swallowing (if snorted)
- Infection and death of bowel tissue, due to decreased blood flow
- Poor nutrition and weight loss
Long-term Effects of Recreational Adderall Use:
- Heart problems
- Long-term issues with anger
Long-term Effects of Recreational Painkiller Use:
- High risk of overdose
- High risk of dependence and addiction
Long-term Effects of Recreational Inhalant Use:
- Liver and kidney damage
- Bone marrow damage
- Nerve damage
- Brain damage (from lack of oxygen)
Long-term Effects of Recreational Acid/LSD Use:
- Frightening flashbacks, called Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD)
- Long-term visual disturbances
- Disorganized thinking
Long-term Effects of Recreational Molly and MDMA Use:
- Long-lasting confusion
- Long-term feelings of depression
- Issues with attention and memory
- Decreased sleep
- Increased anxiety
Avoiding the Dangerous Effects of Recreational Drugs
If you or a loved one is engaging in recreational drug use, it is important to be educated of the dangers and aware of the symptoms of overdose and addiction. Knowing the signs of overdose, or the symptoms of addiction, can help you take action when you need it most.
However, it is important to remember that it is never too early to seek help for a drug problem. Early intervention can be incredible tool in establishing a successful recovery and healthy life ahead.
To learn more, do not hesitate to contact Turnbridge – a leader in mental health and addiction treatment for youth. Call us at 877-581-1793 to learn more.