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Recreational drug use is the use of psychoactive drugs for recreational purposes rather than for work, approved medical or spiritual purposes, although the distinction is not always clear (often spiritual use is considered recreational).

Some forms of "recreational" drug use are in fact self-medication to treat pain, pain-related problems, depression, social phobias and other disorders—so terms such as "unsupervised drug use", "non-, semi-, and sub-therapeutic drug use", and "allotherapeutic drug use" may also sometimes be appropriate.

Psychopharmacologist Ronald K. Siegel refers to intoxication as the "fourth drive," arguing that the human instinct to seek mind-altering substances has so much force and persistence that it functions like the human desire to satisfy hunger, thirst and the need for shelter.


Responsible drug use

The concept of responsible drug use is that a person can use recreational drugs with reduced or eliminated risk of negatively affecting other parts of one's life or other peoples lives. Advocates of this philosophy point to the many well-known artists and intellectuals who have used drugs, experimentally or otherwise, with few detrimental effects on their lives. Critics argue that the drugs are escapist—and dangerous, unpredictable and sometimes addictive, and have negative and profound effects in geographic areas well beyond the location of the user. It should be noted that these criticisms can apply to a number of non drug related addictions and behavioral abuse disorders. According to medical literature, responsible drug use only becomes drug abuse when the use of the substance significantly interferes with the user's daily life.

Drugs popularly used for recreation

Most popular psychoactives

The drugs most popular for recreational use worldwide are:

Other psychoactives

Other substances often used include:



  • Dissociatives
    • Dextromethorphan (DXM; Robitussin, Delsym, etc; "Dex", "Robo", "Cough Syrup", "DXM")
      • "Triple C's, Coricidin" refer to a formulation containing both dextromethorphan and chlorpheniramine.
    • Ketamine (K; Ketalar, Ketaset, Ketanest; "Ket", "Kit Kat", "Special-K", "Vitamin K", "Jet Fuel", "Horse Tranquilizer")
    • Nitrous Oxide (N2O; "Nozz", "Laughing Gas", "Whippets")
    • Phencyclidine (PCP; Sernyl; "Angel Dust", "Rocket Fuel", "Killer Weed", "Super Grass")





A study in the Republic of Irelandmarker found that for teenagers aged 15–19:

  • 86% drink alcohol (the legal alcohol purchase age and public drinking age is 18.)
    • 51% binge drink (defined as five drinks or more at occasion) at least once a month.
    • 19% binge drink once a week.
    • On a typical drinking occasion, the average amount of alcoholic beverages consumed is 5.75 pints.
    • The average age for taking a first alcoholic drink is 13½.
  • 50% have used illegal drugs at least once.
    • 41% have used cannabis at least once.
    • The average age of first illegal drug use is 14½.

Northern Irelandmarker has the highest rate of recreational drug use among teenagers in the European Union .

United States

Drug use has increased in all categories since prohibition. Since 1937, 20% to 37% of the youth in the United States have used marijuana. One in four high school seniors has used the drug in the past month; one in ten 8th graders has done so. Between 1972 and 1988, the use of cocaine increased more than fivefold. The usage patterns of the current two most prevalent drugs, methamphetamine and ecstasy, have shown similar gains.

Recently, new methods for reporting drug use statistics in near real-time have been made possible for over 300 substances in the 3,140 US counties.


There have been many movements, mostly calling for the legalization of recreational drugs (most notably cannabis). Examples of such movements are the Worldwide Marijuana March, Hemp Day, and 420. Several movements which call for the legalization of drugs, not from an argument of their safety, but rather from an argument that this issue should be considered a medical one and not a criminal one, also exist, primarily in North America, one such organization is the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). Impact varies from country to country, depending on its legality. Also, there are many Anti-Drug movements, specifically Straight Edge and The Partnership For A Drug Free America, calling for the continuation of its current illegality.

See also


  1. Lingeman, Drugs from A-Z A Dictionary, Penguin ISBN 0 7139 0136 5
  2. Lingeman, Drugs from A-Z A Dictionary, Penguin ISBN 0 7139 0136 5
  3., Erowid Psychoactive Vaults,
  4. DEA Drug Database,
  5. WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2008
  6. Global Status Report on Alcohol 2004
  7. RTÉ News - Half of young people use drink, drugs
  9. Monitoring The Future
  10. Charles Whitebread: The History of the Non-Medical Use of Drugs in the United States
  11. Controlling Cocaine: Supply Versus Demand Programs
  12. DopeStats

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