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What Are Recreational Drugs: Definition & Examples

Written By:

Alex Kudisch

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The term “substance abuse” is often thrown around whenever the discussion surrounding drug use comes up.

However, abuse speaks to an addiction, which is a potential result of using prescription medications, club drugs, or other categories recreationally.

Here’s a look at what recreational drugs are, the dangers of using them, and examples of the common ones.

Defining a Recreational Drug

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The Drug Enforcement Administration provides a categorization of potentially addictive chemical substances that are often recreational drugs.

However, using this reference point wouldn’t adequately define the term.

Whether it be prescription drugs or illicit drugs, the recreational category speaks to those that people, often young adults, will take for a sense of enjoyment.

Many drugs are on the market for medical use. When prescribed by a doctor, there’s often a need.

However, a recreational drug user will typically seek a sense of pleasure, release, etc. from using the substances.

What Kind of Dangers Come Using Drugs Recreationally?

Common recreational drugs can have a host of effects on those who take them. Among them, these are some of the most concerning.


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While there are exceptions, both legal and illicit drug types can become addictive over time.

This often leads to a state of decline, which may only be addressed with a course of addiction treatment.

Unfortunately, even with the best programs employed, people who get to the addictive state of drug abuse often return to the substances post-treatment.


Medical and other drugs often don’t come cheap. Since the extremely addictive nature of drug use and abuse highlighted above is often a factor, it creates the perfect storm for an expensive habit.

Drug taking often leads people to be willing to do anything to feed the habit. That may mean using funds meant for more important tasks or it may even mean turning to crime.

Mental Health Concerns

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Drugs such as crack cocaine are notorious for the mental health challenges that they tend to create for those who take them.

Depression and anxiety are often linked to both legal and illegal drug use.

Additionally, hospitals see thousands of patients each year because of behavioral and mental challenges associated with drugs.

Lack of Presence of Mind

Unlike the previous point, this speaks to the temporary hampering of sound decision-making capability.

For example, someone may follow a stranger home while under the influence of illegal drugs. The same person would likely not do so in a sober state,


Needles are often used to take illegal drugs. When shared, conditions such as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) can be transmitted among those sharing the said needles.

Social Challenges

With the behavioral changes that drug use can cause, both the forming and maintenance of healthy relationships can be a problem.

Death Risk

Substance misuse is sometimes a precursor to an overdose. Even prescribed medications can be dangerous and sometimes fatal when taken in too high quantities.

What Are Some of the Most Common Substances Associated with Recreational Drug Use?

While recreational drug use is associated with a slew of different substances, it would be impractical to speak to them all here. Therefore, the decision was taken to look at some of the typical names.


There is arguably no more widely used drug under this category. People may not view it as a drug because of its prevalence, however, it is considered a drug of dependence. It’s not uncommon to find that those who have developed a life or identity around it experience alcohol withdrawal when access becomes restricted.

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Some of the withdrawal symptoms are:

  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Cramps
  • Irritation

Cannabis Sativa

This is another of the more popular examples of recreational drugs. Thanks to an active component, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it induces a feeling of relaxation in those who use it. Typically, users will smoke it though some will make it a part of food items.

On the harmful side of the spectrum, cannabis can lead to high levels of anxiety and the development of illnesses such as schizophrenia.


Apart from the crack variation, there is freebase and powder. The most common usage method is tube inhalation. Note, however, that it can be smoked or injected in a liquid form.

Cocaine users are often after the high level of confidence associated with using drugs. Additionally, there’s a noticeable reduction in hunger pangs.

Unfortunately, the inhibition removal often leads to people doing dangerous things. On the medical side, since cocaine accelerates the heartbeat, users are at risk of heart attacks or hypertension.

Ecstasy Pills

Ecstasy lies on the psychoactive drug side of the spectrum as it alters the way people feel. Pleasure, empathy, and love are typically associated with the substance, which is taken in pill form. Additionally, it grants increased energy.

Unfortunately, there are many negative potential side effects, which include:

  • Memory problems
  • Insomnia
  • Blurred vision
  • Immune system compromise
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

To make matters worse, since there’s no immediate measure of the potency of each pill or capsule, ecstasy in recreational drug use has led to numerous deaths.


Diamorphine is the medical version of this substance, and it’s used for pain killing. While this form is often a part of recreational drug use, the more common route for illicit use is an injection of the liquid form.

Users seek the calm, relaxed, and joyful feeling that it brings. Since needles are used, infection transmission becomes a serious problem. Additionally, overdose, which is not as uncommon as you may think, tends to lead to unconsciousness and death.

Note that while most recreational drugs can lead to an addiction, heroin is one of the most addictive.


LSD is an abbreviation of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, which is the chemical name of the substance. Users tend to take it in a liquid drop or tablet form.

It’s unique as taking it is akin to roulette. Good trips are possible, which lead to happiness and relaxation. On the flip side, bad trips can lead to panic, hallucinations, and a feeling of fright. These are likely to lead to spells of self-harm.


Stimulants such as amphetamines are known for the energy that they provide, which allows people to do activities for longer than they would be able to otherwise.

The powder is often:

  • Mixed with drinks
  • Snorted
  • Injected
  • Rubbed into the gums
  • Swallowing

The jitters and anxiety that can result are bad enough, but things get even worse when psychosis occurs, which means the drug takers lose their grasp on reality.

The Bottom Line

Recreational drugs come in many forms and speak to those that people take for leisure-based reasons instead of medical ones. While they are often illegal, they are sometimes prescription medications.

Unfortunately, they have many potentially negative consequences and come in just as many forms.

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Alex Kudisch
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