Recreational drug use

This term distinguishes between the experience of the vast majority of people who use substances and those people who develop a substance problem. (See problem drug use)

Objection has been raised on the grounds that all substance use is harmful. Even if it were conceded that all substance use is harmful (which would be contested) this does not mean that all substance use is problematic (see problem substance use). People take risks and experience harms every day – when they cycle, play sports and eat, for example. There are risks and some inevitable harms. There are processes – some of which a person may be unaware of and others of which a person may be conscious of - that mean that a personal and societal risk assessment, harm reduction has been undertaken and that these activities are undertaken in a way that involves ‘acceptable’ risk and harm. Substance use is, for the vast majority of people, the subject of similar risk assessment and harm reduction.

This term may also be contested in that its use may imply there is a distinct line between recreational and problem use. For some people this line is hard to distinguish and ‘recreational’, ‘regular’, ‘heavy’ and dependent use are not as distinct behaviours as is sometimes implied or inferred. This ambiguity can exist even for the person involved. People with a drug problem sometimes use phrases like ‘I woke up with a habit’ to describe the experience of suddenly realising their apparently controlled and ‘recreational’ use had become a dependency which may subsequently become problematic.