So, why do people use drugs?

There is no one reason why a person will use a drug as the reasons will vary from one person to another. It can be for relaxation, enjoyment, excitement, peer pressure, rebellion, boredom and curiosity. 

For other people, drugs can be used to avoid or reduce physical or psychological pain. The majority of people who use drugs wish to feel better or be different and commonly want to change something about their lives. 

Common statements from young people on why they use drugs include: 

Someone had some and I just thought I would try it. 

All my friends were doing it so I thought why not? 

It made me feel really good. 

All my problems from school, at home and in life just went away. 

Using drugs is not a question of individual choice or morality but there are various reasons that put some individuals at risk of drug use and it’s negative consequences. These are outside the individual’s control and include factors like detrimental childhood experience, lack of warm and safe parenting, availability of substances, living in a high stress environment and lack of access to sufficient health care, social support, education and employment etc. 

Some drugs such as cough mixtures are sold over the counter to treat medical conditions and some drugs are prescribed by medical practitioners. These drugs are classified as legal drugs but can also be used in a way in which it was not intended.

“Some people who use legal or illegal drugs do become dependent on the substances.”

In Nigeria, the most common illegal drugs include cannabis, cocaine, heroin, amphetamine-type stimulants, benzodiazepine. Inhalants and solvents sometimes referred to as volatile substances (such as glue) are found among street children and sometimes by children in school.


Categories of Drug Use

It is possible for some people to move between various categories of drug use and become dependent or develop serious problems as a result of using them. But know that one stage will not inevitably lead to another such as graduating (shifting) from social use to drug dependence, or causing serious problems. 

Drug use categories are as follows: 

  1. Experimental Use: A person tries a drug once or twice out of curiosity but does not use it again. 
  2. Recreational and Social Use: A person chooses to use a drug for enjoyment, particularly to improve a mood or for a social occasion. The majority of people that use drugs for these reasons never develop drug dependency problems as a result.
  3. Situational Use: A person may use a drug to cope with the demands of a particular situation such as responding to peer group pressure, overcoming shyness in a social situation or coping with some form of stress either personal or work related. 
  4. Intensive Use: A person  may intentionally use a large amount of a drug over a short period of time, which may last for hours, days or sometimes weeks.
  5. Dependent Use: A person is more likely to become dependent on drugs after prolonged or heavy use. Under these circumstances, the person needs to take the drug consistently in order to feel normal and/or to avoid uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. 
  6. Therapeutic use: A person takes a drug such as a prescribed pharmaceutical drug for medical purposes. For example, to help increase appetite during sickness so as to eat more food. 


Why do people choose certain drugs? 

Majority of people choose to use specific drug/s as they enjoy particular feelings that come from using them. For example, people can use cannabis or drink alcohol to relax and relieve stress while other people like to use cocaine to increase their energy and boost their confidence. 

There is evidence to show that using one drug does not necessarily lead people to try other drugs. For example, many people use cannabis but do not use heroin or cocaine. However, the type of drugs used by a person may be influenced by the availability, price and purity of specific drugs. A combination of these factors may determine which drug a person uses. For example, if law enforcement efforts reduce the availability of a specific drug, which leads to an increase in price, research has shown that a drug user may commonly switch to an alternative drug that is available and at an affordable price to satisfy their needs. 

In summary, the following factors influence drug use: 


  • Effects
  • Availability
  • Price


  • Purity (strength/grade/quality). Among those using a drug with decreased purity, over time, these same drug users start seeking other substitutes (replacing one drug with another) with higher purity to match their needs and tolerance.

Conclusively, there’s also multiple drug use or poly drug use. Globally, a growing number of drug users combine a variety of drugs to increase the intensity of their drug experience. Combining substances such as cannabis, alcohol and prescription medications without thinking about side effects and how different drugs interact with each other has given rise to an increasing number of harmful side effects and can be extremely dangerous. The more drugs a person takes at a time, the more chance there is of something going wrong. 

(This excerpt was originally published as a response to drugs and related organised crime in Nigeria, developed in collaboration with UNODC and Nigerian stakeholders and funded by the European Union). 

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