Why Do People Use Drugs?

Content reviewed by Karen Rubenstein, LMFT

When people consider drug use, they often think of recreational substance use or the use of illicit drugs. However, not all people who use drugs do so for recreational purposes. Many people also use drugs as medicine. This is especially true of prescription medications and holistic supplements. Although some substances can promote health and wellness, the use of drugs can also result in the development of addiction.

Since there is a wide variety of reasons why people use drugs, it is essential to understand these motivations in order to offer the best possible help to users of drugs if and when that help is needed. In general, there are four main reasons why people use drugs: to feel good, to feel better, to do better, satisfy curiosity and to ease social pressures.

#1. Using Drugs to Feel Good

To no one’s surprise, people mainly use drugs to feel “good” or loosen up. Nearly all drugs share one thing in common: they all interfere with how the brain communicates with itself. Naturally, the brain is wired to seek out and motivate behaviors that produce feelings of pleasure and reward. A healthy brain seeks out those feelings through eating, socializing and having sex. However, once substance use is introduced to the brain, natural rewards seem less pleasurable because drug use produces dopamine surges in the brain that exceed the dopamine achieved from any natural reward.

Once the brain is introduced to substance use, it is only a matter of time before it encourages substance-seeking and substance-using behavior repeatedly to achieve the desired effects. It should also be acknowledged that every drug produces different effects. For example, some people turn to alcohol because they perceive it as a mood-booster. Similarly, some people may turn to marijuana because they perceive it as calming or relaxing.

#2. Using Drugs to Feel Better

Another reason why people use drugs is to feel better. Although many people may first turn to alcohol and other drugs due to curiosity, most people do so because they are looking for an emotional escape. Self-medicating refers to using substances to treat or manage distressing symptoms. Self-medicating can exacerbate existing mental health problems despite substance use producing temporary relief from symptoms. Self-medicating can quickly contribute to the development of addiction or chemical dependency.

It is also essential to understand that many people benefit from prescription medication, which some people may classify as drug use to feel better. However, individuals diagnosed with depression, anxiety, mood and personality disorders or other mental health conditions may need prescription medication to function in their daily life. Mental health disorders contribute to an imbalance of essential neurotransmitters and other chemicals in the brain. Medicines such as anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants and antipsychotics help regulate and balance neurotransmitters in the brains of individuals living with mental health conditions. 

#3. Using Drugs to Work or in Social Situations

Some people may use drugs recreationally because they believe the substances can help them work, perform or behave better. Caffeine, for example, is one drug that many people rely on to help kickstart their day. Similarly, some people may believe that alcohol can help them feel more relaxed and communicative during social situations.

Prescription medicines are also used to help people with mental health or cognitive challenges perform better. For example, stimulant drugs can produce significant benefits to memory, attention and mood. Stimulants are often prescribed to individuals with ADHD/ADD as these individuals often experience a shorter attention span, impulsive behavior and hyperactivity. Stimulants are commonly abused recreationally by both working professionals and college-aged students to increase attention, alertness and energy.

#4. Using Drugs to Satisfy Curiosity and Ease Social Pressures

If for no other reason, many people initially use drugs to satisfy their curiosity or to ease social pressures. Many people’s first experience with drug use may be alcohol or cigarettes, as they are legal, easily obtainable and more societally accepted than illicit substances. However, both alcohol and cigarettes can function as gateway drugs. A gateway drug is any drug that can lead to the use of more addictive substances.

Curious adolescents and teens need to realize that although alcohol and other drug use may seem exciting and provide temporary pleasure, myriad consequences can result from drug use. Consequences can result from using a drug even once, especially if an individual has additional addiction risk factors. If experimentation has already begun, it is vital to connect with preventative resources and other treatment opportunities. Although you may believe that you can manage and control your recreational substance use, the science of addiction reports that recurrent substance use may eventually lead to losing control over substance use. Bring your curiosity and experimentation to a halt before you experience worsening consequences or the development of addiction.

Casa Palmera is a mental health and addiction treatment center that recognizes the different reasons people use drugs. We want to help you reach your most authentic human potential without relying on the use of recreational drugs. We offer several different treatment programs to help individualize our patient care. To learn more about our programs, contact us today.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.