Researchers Say Use of Illegal Drugs is Normal

Share Article

Statistically, clinically and socioculturally, recreational use of the currently illegal drugs is normal behavior. Current drug policies are based on the flawed premise that any use of these drugs is unhealthy and likely to lead to addiction. The facts show that this premise is false.

It is common usage to refer to any consumption of illegal drugs as drug abuse. Anyone who sniffs cocaine or heroin, or who smokes crack or marijuana is commonly called a drug abuser or even a drug addict. But is it the legality of the drug that makes the difference between use and abuse, between being a consumer and an addict? Is everyone who takes an illegal drug an abuser or an addict? Three prominant health researchers argue in a paper published in the Journal of Substance Use that the answer to each of these questions is no. The researchers, who asked “is recreational drug use normal?” are Drs. Thomas Nicholson and John White, both professors in the Department of Public Health at Western Kentucky University, and Dr. David Duncan, the President of Duncan & Associates and an adjunct associate professor at Brown University Medical School.

Nearly 40% of all American adults, majorities of those between the ages of 18 and 25, and a majority of high school seniors have taken one or more of the currently illegal drugs. Can all of them – roughly 87 million persons – be considered drug abusers or addicts? Can a behavior be called abnormal when so much of the population engages in that behavior?

“Recreational use of illegal drugs is not only statistically normal but for most of the users it is clinically normal as well,” asserts Prof. Nicholson. A number of community studies, including ones conducted by researchers funded by the fedeeral government, have repeatedly found that the majority of users of illegal drugs show no signs of any psychiatric problem indicative of addiction or drug abuse. "Just as the majority of drinkers are not alcoholics, the majority of illegal drug users are not addicts or abusers,” he says.

“Whether we are talking about alcohol or cocaine, about marijuana or heroin,” says Dr. Duncan, “only about 15 to 20% of those who continue to use after some initial experimentaion ever experience any sort of problem that would justify labelling their drug consumption as abuse.” The majority suffers no harm from their drug use and causes no harm to others. The greatest risk drug use carries for them is the risk of being caught and punished under our drug laws and zero tolerance policies. “The only exception to this seems to be the legal drug tobacco which proves to be addictive for most smokers.”

“We, ourselves, have surveyed over nine hundred illegal drug users who are happy, successful adults with stable home lives,” says Prof. White. “Using a mental health measure originally developed by the National Center for Health Statistics, we found no difference, on the average, between a population of illegal drug users and the general population, he added. “Not surprising,” commented Dr. Duncan, “when you consider that forty percent of the general population are illegal drug users.”

“The War on Drugs and the entire concept of drug prohibition is founded on the premise that some drugs are so inherently dangerous that no one can use them without suffering serious harm, often including addiction,” according to Dr. Duncan. “That premise is nothing but a prejudice. It is very simply false.”

The paper, “Is recreational drug use normal?” will be found in Journal of Substance Use, volume 7, pages 116-123.

Share article on socal media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

David Duncan