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Recreational Drug Use: Can You Safely Balance Without Abusing?

Some people use drugs only on a recreational basis. They might use them when they are at a party with friends but avoid drugs during other times.

Is this acceptable? Can you safely use drugs for fun from time to time without crossing over the line into abuse?

Can You Use Drugs Recreationally Without Abusing Them?

The short answer is “no.” Any unauthorized use of a prescription medication or illicit drug is considered a form of abuse.

The exception would be alcohol since it is a legal substance. However, people must be careful with how much alcohol they consume because they can quickly slip into abusing this substance as well.

Safe Consumption of Alcohol

When it comes to alcohol, the following are considered the standard sizes of one drink, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Beer: 12 ounces
  • Wine: 5 ounces
  • Malt liquor: 8 ounces
  • Liquor or distilled spirits: 1.5 ounces

Only people of legal drinking age, age 21 and older, should consume alcohol. Women should only have one drink every day, and men should only have two drinks, according to the CDC.

The Problem of Contaminated or Cut Drugs

It is possible to take one small dose of some drugs and not suffer ill effects. However, when it comes to illicit drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, there is no way to be entirely sure about what is in these drugs. Because of this, no amount of illicit drugs is considered to be safe.

Ecstasy may be cut with methamphetamines. There is no way to tell how much or what chemicals make up the amphetamines. Because of this, even a single dose could cause serious side effects, according to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, such as:

  • Coordination loss and physical collapse
  • Behavioral and psychological disorders
  • Pale or flushed skin
  • Dizziness
  • Vitamin deficiency
  • Pounding heartbeat
  • Skin disorders
  • Trouble breathing
  • Mental illness
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness
  • Malnutrition
  • Cardiac arrhythmia
  • Ulcers
  • Coma, death, or convulsions
  • Repetitive motor activity
  • Toxic psychosis

These effects are typically seen when someone uses ecstasy that is cut with amphetamines for a longer period. However, they may also occur if someone is bingeing on this type of ecstasy over a week or two.

It is becoming increasingly common for people to add the potent opioid fentanyl to heroin and cocaine. Fentanyl overdose is possible with a tiny amount. According to the Harm Reduction Coalition, the symptoms of a fentanyl overdose may include:

  • Bluish to purplish black lips and fingernails
  • Limp body
  • Choking sounds
  • Very slow or erratic breathing that can also stop
  • Unresponsiveness when someone tries to wake them
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Pulse that is absent, erratic, or slow
  • Clammy or pale face
  • Vomiting
  • Skin that is ashen or gray for those with a dark complexion
  • Skin that is bluish or purple for those with a light complexion
  • Inability to talk even though awake

If any of these symptoms are present, it is a medical emergency. They can happen within minutes of someone using a drug that has been cut with fentanyl. 

What Are the Most Commonly Used Recreational Drugs?

Marijuana is abused most often in the United States, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). It is estimated that about 30 percent of people who use this drug have a marijuana use disorder to some degree, according to research published in JAMA Psychiatry.

Other commonly used recreational drugs include:

Synthetic cannabinoids: This includes drugs like Spice and K2. These are considered to be psychoactive compounds.

Prescription medications: This includes opioids, CNS depressants, and stimulants.

Alcohol: This includes all forms of alcohol, such as beer, wine, and hard liquor.

Cocaine: This stimulant is usually snorted, but it can also be smoked and injected.

Hallucinogens: Peyote, magic mushrooms, and LSD fall into this category.

Sedatives: This includes Valium, Xanax, Ambien, and phenobarbital. 

Heroin: This is an illicit opioid drug that is usually injected, but it can also be smoked and snorted. 

MDMA: This is a type of synthetic drug that is also referred to as ecstasy.

Methamphetamines: These are homemade drugs that use a variety of household chemicals to produce a sense of alertness and euphoria.

How Fast Can Tolerance Occur for Common Recreational Drugs?

Tolerance is a state in which a person has to increase the dose of their chosen substance to experience the same effects. For example, if someone is experiencing euphoria from 5 milligrams of oxycodone, once the euphoria stops happening, that person may need to increase their dose to between 10 to 15 milligrams to experience the desired euphoria again.

With regular use, a person can develop a tolerance to most drugs within a few weeks.

Once someone develops a tolerance, they can become dependent on the drug. This means that when they stop using the drug, they can experience withdrawal symptoms.

From here, addiction is possible.
Once someone is addicted to a drug, there are brain changes that have occurred that make it difficult to resist the urge to keep using the drug, according to the NIDA.

These brain changes can alter several functions, including:

White Pills next to a glass of Whiskey

  • Judgment
  • Stress
  • Behavior
  • Learning
  • Decision-making
  • Memory

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Which Common Recreational Drugs Are the Most Addictive?

Alcohol, opioids (heroin and prescription opioids), cocaine, and methamphetamines are among the most addictive recreational drugs. The following statistics show the potential dangers of common recreational drugs:

  • It is estimated that about 11,406 people visited an emergency room due to synthetic cannabinoids in 2010, according to NIDA. About 75 percent of these people were ages 12 to 29.
  • In 2012, there were 41,502 cases of drug overdose in the U.S., and roughly 53 percent of these were associated with pharmaceutical drugs, according to the CDC.
  • Every year in the U.S., roughly 88,000 people die due to causes where alcohol is involved, according to NIDA.
  • In the U.S. in 2006, it was reported that about 35.3 million people ages 12 and older had stated that they have used cocaine, according to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World.
  • A survey in 2013 reported that in the U.S., among people ages 12 and older, about 229,000 people said they used LSD in the last month, according to the NIDA. This same survey said that about 33,000 people in this same age group said they used PCP in the past month.
  • Throughout the world, it is estimated that about 9.2 million people use heroin, according to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World.
  • Information collected in 2015 revealed that about 154,000 people in the United States had a sedative use disorder, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  • Among people ages 12 and older in the U.S., about 6.8 percent have used MDMA (ecstasy, Molly), according to the Drug Policy Alliance.
  • In the U.S., it is estimated that about 1.2 million people have used methamphetamines in the past year, according to 2012 statistics published by the NIDA

It is easy to see that the best choice is not to use illicit substances at all. There will always be a risk of abuse, addiction, overdose, and even death.

This is especially true for people who have a history of a substance or alcohol use disorder. Even one use of a recreational drug can trigger a return to active addiction.



Sources

Alcohol and Public Health: Frequently Asked Questions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm

Alcohol and Public Health: Moderate Drinking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/moderate-drinking.htm

Amphetamines. Center for Substance Abuse Research. Retrieved January 2019 from http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/amphetamines.asp

Most Commonly Used Addictive Drugs. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide/most-commonly-used-addictive-drugs

(2016) Prevalence of Marijuana Use Disorders in the United States Between 2001-2002 and 2012-2013. JAMA Psychiatry. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5037576/

(2018) Understanding Drug Use and Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-use-addiction

Synthetic Marijuana Lands Thousands of Young People in the ER, Especially Young Males. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/synthetic-marijuana-lands-thousands-young-people-in-er-especially-young-males

Prescription Drug Overdose in the United States: Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.mayorsinnovation.org/images/uploads/pdf/1_-_Prescription_Drug_Overdose_in_the_United_States.pdf

Alcohol Facts and Statistics. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics

International Statistics. Foundation for a Drug-Free World. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/cocaine/international-statistics.html

How Widespread is the Abuse of Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/hallucinogens-dissociative-drugs/why-do-people-take-hallucinogens

International Statistics. Foundation for a Drug-Free World. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/heroin/international-statistics.html

Prescription Drug Use and Misuse in the United States. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved January 2019 from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR2-2015/NSDUH-FFR2-2015.htm

How Many People Use MDMA? Drug Policy Alliance. Retrieved January 2019 from http://www.drugpolicy.org/drug-facts/how-many-people-use-mdma

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