The Social Psychology of Drug Abuse

By Steve Sussman; Susan L. Ames | Go to book overview

I
Definitions of drug abuse and
drug abuse consequences

Sometimes it is difficult to draw the line between drug use and abuse. For example, some of us know people who smoke marijuana every day. These individuals appear to be ‘stoned’ all the time, but they also seem to avoid detection by unsuspecting others and always get their jobs done. They may never have been arrested, report no obvious physical problems and seem to be satisfied with their social lives. Are these individuals drug abusers? Their circumstances are very different from those of skid-row drunks who have lost everything, and are near death. We would most likely classify skid-row drunks as drug abusers, but we might debate the case of daily marijuana users. These marijuana users do not appear to have suffered any consequences of their use. Or have they? One may wonder from whom they have been purchasing marijuana. Are they interacting with potentially dangerous people? What has been the effect of use on their lungs, memory and emotional development? Do they use marijuana to cope with life stresses? Do they spend a lot of time searching for marijuana? Do they feel that they cannot live without it? Do their clothes or breath smell of marijuana? Do others tend to avoid these individuals because they are ‘stoned’ much of the time? As the number of potential problems associated with use of a drug is considered, the ‘gate’ of inclusion into the concept of ‘drug abuse’ widens.

Given this introductory caveat of scepticism, experts do provide consensual identification of problem drug users. Individuals become labelled as ‘problem drug users’ by experts through contact with treatment, service and law enforcement agencies. Around the world, approximately 15 per cent of the population over 18 years of age is considered to have serious drug use difficulties (other than nicotine addiction, which itself may involve up to 25 per cent of the world’s population) and this percentage has remained fairly constant since the mid-1970s. Of these drug abusers, about two-thirds abuse alcohol and one-third abuse other drugs. Across the continents, the other major drugs of abuse are marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine and heroin. Approximately 2.5 per cent of the world’s population abuse marijuana, 0.5

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