Drugs—Why Do People Abuse Them?
“I WAS 13 years old, and my best friend’s sister invited us to their apartment one evening. Everyone started smoking marijuana. At first, I refused it, but after it came around a number of times, I eventually tried it.” That was how Michael, from South Africa, explained his introduction to drugs.
“I come from a conservative family professionally involved in classical music. I played in an orchestra, and one of the musicians used to smoke marijuana regularly during the intermissions. He persistently offered it to me over a period of months. I eventually tried it and began using it regularly.” That was how Darren, a Canadian, started using drugs.
Both of these individuals went on to use other drugs, such as LSD, opium, and stimulants. Looking back, now as former drug abusers, they agree that the influence of peers was the prime reason they started abusing drugs. “I never thought that I would ever take drugs,” says Michael, “but those kids were the only friends I had, and naturally you go along with them.”
The Entertainment Scene
Peer pressure certainly plays a major role in starting many on drugs, and the young are especially susceptible. Additionally, they are confronted with the examples of their idols in the entertainment world, who wield a powerful influence over their young fans.
The entertainment industry is particularly plagued with drug abuse. Top performers on the music scene often become involved with heavy drugs at some stage in their career. Many film stars are also habitual drug users.
Entertainers can give drugs a glamour and appeal that youths seem to find irresistible. Newsweek reported in 1996: “The streets of Seattle are cluttered with kids who’ve moved there to do heroin, just because [rock musician] Cobain did.”
The drug scene is glamorized in magazines, films, and television. Likewise, some prominent designers in the fashion world have favored models with the thin, wasted look, in imitation of the addicted.
Why Do Some Get Hooked?
Numerous other factors contribute to increasing drug abuse. Among these are disillusionment, depression, and a lack of purpose in life. Additional reasons are economic problems, unemployment, and poor parental examples.
Some who have difficulty with human relationships use drugs to help them cope in social situations. They believe that drugs boost their confidence, making them feel witty and likable. Others simply find it easier to use drugs than to accept responsibility for taking control of their lives.
Boredom is another reason youths turn to drugs. The book The Romance of Risk—Why Teenagers Do the Things They Do comments on boredom and the lack of parental supervision: “Boys and girls come home after school to empty houses. No surprise, they are lonely and don’t want to be alone. Friends join them, but even together they are often bored. They watch endless television and music videos or cruise the Internet looking for excitement. Smoking, drug use, and drinking can easily become a part of this picture.”
Michael, mentioned earlier, said about his lack of parental supervision at home: “My family life was happy. We were an exceptionally close family. Both my parents worked, though, and there was no supervision during the day. Also, our parents gave us all the latitude in the world. There was no discipline. My parents had no idea I was using drugs.”
Once hooked, many continue to use drugs for a simple reason: They enjoy it. Michael, who used drugs daily, said of their effects: “I was in a dream world. I could escape from any pressures I had. I never felt threatened. Everything was beautiful.”
Another former drug abuser, named Dick, from South Africa, described the effects marijuana had on him when he started using it at the age of 13: “I laughed at any joke. Everything was hilarious.”
Warnings about the harm drugs can do just don’t seem to scare youths. They tend to have an “it won’t happen to me” attitude. The book Talking With Your Teenager notes why teens ignore drug health warnings: “They are so resilient and full of vitality that they don’t believe their health will suffer. This feeling of ‘invulnerability’ is very common in adolescence. Teenagers see lung cancer, alcoholism, heavy drug addiction, as things that happen to people who are older, not to them.” Many are simply unaware of the dangers, as illustrated by the popularity of the drug ecstasy. What is it?
Ecstasy and the Rave Scene
The amphetamine-based drug MDMA, known as ecstasy, is commonly used at all-night dance sessions called raves. The sellers promote the impression that taking ecstasy is a safe way to experience a euphoric feeling plus a bonus of boundless energy to dance the night away. The drug helps dancers to keep going for hours until they finally experience what one writer referred to as “a trance-like state they call ‘getting cabbaged.’” One youth explained the allure of ecstasy: “The buzz begins at your toes, enveloping you in incredible warmth and love as it slowly tingles up to your head.”
Brain scans of regular ecstasy users have provided physical evidence that it is not the harmless drug that sellers claim it to be. Ecstasy evidently damages nerve fibers in the brain and reduces serotonin levels. Such damage is possibly permanent. In time, this may lead to disorders like depression and memory loss. Some deaths have been reported among ecstasy users. Then, too, a number of drug dealers mix ecstasy with heroin in order to hook their clients.
How Easy to Obtain?
In many countries drugs have dropped in price as supplies have increased. This is partially due to political and economic changes. South Africa is a typical example, where political change has resulted in increasing trade and interchange with other countries. This along with limited border controls has given a boost to the drug trade. With increasing unemployment, thousands depend on illicit drug sales for an income. Where drugs abound, violent crime is seldom far away. According to a newspaper report, children in schools in Gauteng, South Africa—some only 13 years old—are under surveillance by police for drug dealing. A number of schools in the area have begun subjecting pupils to drug tests.
What Is the Root Cause?
There are clearly many reasons why people abuse drugs. But these are all symptoms of a deeper problem, a root cause. Writer Ben Whitaker hinted at this: “The contemporary expansion of drug use is a warning signal of weaknesses and faults in our society, besides loneliness and despair: why otherwise should a significant number of talented and privileged people prefer drugs to the reality of the present day?”
This is a good question, which makes us realize that our materialistic, achievement-obsessed society often fails to meet our emotional and spiritual needs. Even most religions have not been able to fill those needs because they have overlooked the root cause of man’s problems.
We must unearth and face up to that root cause before we can find the only permanent solution to the drug problem. This will be dealt with in the following article.
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Drug use is sometimes glamorized by celebrities
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The modern music scene is saturated with drug abuse
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The drug ecstasy is commonly available at raves
AP Photo/Greg Smith
Gerald Nino/U.S. Customs