According to a recent report the last few years have seen an unexpected increase in the prevalence of recreational drug use, particularly amongst young people, with substances such as ecstasy and ketamine making a comeback. And, although the continued use of these substances may have clear physical affects, very little is understood about the psychological affects recreational drug use can have on an individual. This is an especially important concern, especially when we consider that one of the main reasons people list for trying these substances is a desire to lift their mood (e.g. when feeling down or depressed).
Generally, recreational drugs fall into three categories: depressants, stimulants and hallucinogens. Depressants tend to make the user feel more relaxed, stimulants induce a sense of alertness and energy and hallucinogens induce perceptual distortions. Most have some effect of the dopaminergic (reward) system, such that they induce feelings of pleasure, however stimulating drugs (such as ecstasy) are also preceded by a comedown; a sudden deterioration of mood caused by a decrease of certain neurotransmitters. Symptoms during a comedown have been likened to those witnessed during a mild episode of bipolar disorder, and mood swings often follow similar patterns. This can happen to anyone, and is very common, even if it is your first time using these kinds of drugs. And, as drug use increases, so do the length and intensity of comedowns.
So, at least in short term there are some psychological effects of recreational drug use – but what about long term? We already know that comedowns can get worse with increased regular drug use, where this is partly due to a need for more of a substance after initial use. This is because the body gets used to a certain dosage, and as such needs more in order to obtain the same reaction. According to Mind, the psychological effects of drug use can be complex, and dependent on a mixture of things – such as age of use, the amount you take, your mental state at the time, and whether the drug has been mixed with other substances, and what these other substances are. However, they also point out that the effects of drugs can be unpleasant, similar to those experienced as part of a mental health problem, and most importantly do not always fully wear off. If someone experiences feelings of anxiety while taking a particular drug for example, this can continue even after the drug is out of their system.
Why this happens is not clear, however psychologists put forward many arguments as to why drugs may cause detrimental psychological effects. One reason is that the body begins to expect a constant supply of these substances, and as such produces less of chemicals such as dopamine, meaning a constantly lower mood when drugs are not present in the system. This can lead to depression, suicidal thoughts and what many people describe as a feeling of “general emptiness”, as the brain lacks the chemicals needed for motivation and enjoyment.
Those who frequently use recreational drugs also often report feelings of anxiety and/or paranoia; whereby they find it difficult to relax, and may find even informal environments to be highly uncomfortable or scary. In more severe conditions such as schizophrenia, substances may mimic the effects of these conditions (e.g. hallucinogens causing hallucinations) which may not only heighten the negative effects of schizophrenia in patients, but also induce these effects in those without a diagnosis. In other words, taking certain drugs may make you appear to have schizophrenia, and these symptoms may not disappear when the substance has left your body.
While we are fairly confident about the areas of the brain that certain substances affect, it is difficult to conclusively say for certain what the long term affects are. This is because in many cases, and especially where drugs are illegal, it is difficult to be sure about the quality and combination of drugs that are used. However it is clear that not all of the effects of recreational drugs are enjoyable, with many experiencing “bad-trips” which can continue even when drugs are no longer present. It seems the case that the more often drugs are used, the more likely an individual will experience some kind of negative symptoms or comedowns – which can present much like mental health issues. At least in some cases these symptoms do not go away, and therefore the individual may require therapy or counselling to re-establish feeling themselves again. Clearly, it is worth thinking about your mental health before engaging in recreational drug use.

Source: Dr Julian Existing Website feed

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