Why Society Use Drugs

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Pharmacologists refer to substances that have an impact on thinking, feeling, mood, and perception as psychoactive. Humans have always ingested psy- choactive substances. Higher organisms are neurologically hardwired to derive pleasure from the action of certain chemical substances. Psychoactive drugs, some powerfully so, activate pleasure centers of the brain, thereby potenti- ating continuing drug-taking behavior. People take drugs to experience the effects that come with their mind-active properties.
The neurological/pharmacological factor addresses how and why drug-taking behavior got started, but it does not address the most sociologically relevant issues: differences in drug-taking behavior between and among societies, social categories, and individuals in the population, as well as among drug types. In addition, the predisposition to use is a necessary but not sufficient explanation of use. Use also presupposes the availability or supply of, or opportu- nity to take, a given drug. Without a predisposition to use, drug use will not take place; without availability, it cannot take place. ubstances are defined as “drugs” in a vari- ety of ways. Indeed, most substances referred to as drugs do not influence the mind at all—that is, they are not psychoactive. Many have medicinal or therapeutic value: Antibiotics, antacids, and antitussives offer ready examples. Why people take such drugs can be answered by addressing medical motives. Other drugs influence perception, mood, cognitive processes, and emotion. Alcohol clearly qualifies in this respect, as do methamphetamine and PCP. Hence, the recreational motive—getting high—factors into the explanatory equation. Still other substances, such as LSD, marijuana, and heroin, are illegal or illicit—their possession and sale are controlled by law. Hence, their legal status is implicated in why—or, more accurately, why not—some people use them. The medical, psychoactive, and illegal categories overlap: LSD is both

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