Module 5: young people, society and AOD: learner's workbook

3.1 Reasons why people use drugs

Page last updated: 2004

For most people, using drugs is just another way of altering consciousness that is not so different from many other recreational activities. However, for the relatively small number of people who develop more compulsive drug-using patterns, drug use is not just about having fun, relaxing or for 'partying'. It usually serves a deeper purpose (such as helping enhance identity, acceptance, and reducing psychological distress or a sense of alienation).

Human beings have a long history of using substances to alter their consciousness. Ancient tribes made their own mind-altering substances, some of which are still used today.

When working with young people, it is important to understand that for many, drug use is a fairly normal part of growing up, and that the reasons why many young people use drugs is not too different from the reasons why adults might enjoy drinking alcohol or engaging in other non-drug activities.

It is important to understand why young people might choose to use alcohol and other drugs and to consider this in the context of youth and youth culture. Life can be difficult for many young people as they work to define their identities and deal with many of the pressures of adolescence. While adolescence is a period of discovery, fun and achievement, it can sometimes be a confusing time for some young people. Frustration, anger and trauma can result from environmental and individual circumstances. It is therefore, important to consider that AOD use may be due to certain aspects of a young person's situation, and may be used as a mechanism for coping with such pressures.

Adolescence is also a time of happiness, experimentation, celebration and fun and just as adults derive pleasure from using drugs, so can young people. Sharing an intoxicated time with friends can be a bonding experience. It can heighten a sense of group membership and belonging. Risk-taking is also a normal part of development and experimenting with psycho-active drugs is just one of the many risks that some young people will take during this time of great change.

Comparing adults and young people


Consider the reasons why adults use psycho-active drugs (including caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco) and why young people use psycho-active drugs. Write down the reasons.

Consider your responses. Are they very different?

Now consider the reasons given by a sample of drug users for their use of a particular drug (Zinberg).
  • To enjoy the effect - 85 percent
  • To use for recreation - 57 percent
  • To use for relaxation - 54 percent
  • To socialise - 46 percent