Drug abuse: drawing the line between use and abuse

By Tim Nagle

What is drug abuse? Pulling an all-nighter with the help of six cans of monster and 20 cigarettes to write an essay you’ve had three months to complete? Drinking the best part of a week’s alcohol consumption as ‘pre-drinks’ before heading to Glam? Smoking a few joints with friends? Taking a few extra co-codamol to ease that headache? Where do you draw the line between use and abuse?

Students are more likely to smoke, drink and take other drugs while at university than other groups within the general population. This does not mean that we are any different to previous generations of students before us or that it is worthwhile to tell students not to do these things. Most people never smoke or try drugs. Some who do try do not develop problems or become addicted but some do. It is also important to realise however, that any use of any drug can have serious consequences to your health, result in trouble with the police or cause relationship problems.

Last week Maria Sharapova admitted she had failed a drugs test at the Australian Open. Taking a medication that has supposedly been prescribed for ten years would not normally be considered drug abuse. However, if that drug is banned by sporting governing bodies and could potentially impact on performance, does that mean there is abuse involved? If she had been injecting steroids or using other drugs she would certainly be viewed differently in the media.

If you enjoy a glass of wine with housemates at dinner or have a few pints watching the rugby that seems to be OK right? If you always end up blacking out, drinking alone, drinking daily or being secretive about it, that’s completely different. If you use alcohol to socialise with friends and I use alcohol to forget my problems and escape, then would we say that my use is ‘mis-use’ or ‘abuse’? It’s hard to draw the line when so many drugs are so socially accepted (legal or otherwise).

So much also depends on the drug. How big a problem would you consider if a group of friends started sharing a joint at a party? Personally, I hate the smell and the twice I smoked it I had panic attacks but many students smoke weed and think nothing of it. Imagine if the same group of friends started taking class A drugs. I assume you would find this far less acceptable and would immediately assume these people have a problem and need support.

Interestingly though, they may not think they have a problem. Many who are dependent on drugs function normally and you would not know anything untoward is happening in their life.

Some people think experimenting is a normal part of being at university but this does not mean there should ever be situations where you feel pressured to do anything. It also does not mean that you need to hide away if you’ve had bad experiences or any drug has become a problem. What may be fine for me may be a problem for you and this is why the use/abuse line is difficult to draw.

If you need support, there is so much available. Student support and the counselling services are available. On the first Tuesday of each month there is a drop in between five and seven pm with Taith Cymru, who can support anyone with accessing services or harm reduction strategies. If you do not want to use university services, then speak with your GP.

Finally, whatever you may or may not use remember to be safe. Most drugs that you wouldn’t be able to get in Tesco are going to contain ingredients you are unaware of and can’t predict how you will react. The best nights out end with you waking up the next morning in your own bed, or someone else’s but never a hospital bed!

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