Drug taking and young people: From festivals to 'Freshers' week

The rise of drug culture in the UK has seeped into youth culture, to the point where popular rites of passage for young people are now laced with the dangers associated with drugs.

NHS estimates suggest almost half of 16-24 year-olds have taken drugs. Whilst the most commonly used drug is Marijuana, these numbers also include Ecstasy, Cocaine, and Ketamine, amongst others. The effects these drugs have on the body can vary vastly, but they can all lead to long-term physical and psychological problems. To find out exactly what each of these drugs can do, click here.

Young people attend music festivals throughout the summer in their droves but can be exposed to drug-taking in an environment that normalises it. In many cases, they then go onto university in the autumn and experience increasing peer pressure alongside added freedom. This has contributed to the number of young people taking drugs soaring.

But what has caused this paradigm shift and what are the dangers?

Festival season

Music festivals present what for many is a first opportunity for a trip away with friends - and no parents in sight. The euphoric rush of freedom young people feel at this time, particularly following the tough exam period, leaves them more open to new experiences.

A number of factors can contribute to the temptation to take drugs. The freedom creates a sense of invincibility, and the atmosphere at festivals lends itself toward prolonged partying. Young people continue to push themselves to dangerous levels to keep going in the hopes of creating what they believe will be the best memories with their friends. This invincibility is worsened by drugs like ecstasy which can cause overconfidence.

Another factor is exams. Many young people will finish their exams and the relief brings a rush of exhilaration - but then the nervous energy comes in waiting for results. All of this creates a state in which young people may lose sight of the consequences of drug-taking. A sequence of tragic deaths over a long period of time show the consequences are both real and severe.

The dangers of taking drugs

The situation people find themselves in at festivals courts risk when mixed with drug-taking. The prolonged lack of sleep, the potential to be out for long stretches of time in the sun, and drinking alcohol, can all contribute to dehydration. Both Ecstasy and Cocaine raise body temperature, further increasing the risk of consumption.

The potency and purity of drugs can be difficult to verify. Street drugs bought cheaply are often cut with hazardous substances. The likes of rat poison can be mixed in to create cheaper strains. Meanwhile, drugs purchased online through the 'dark web' (explained here) are increasing in purity, being up to twice as strong as those a person may have bought and used previously, as the BBC found. The risk of addiction is often overlooked by young people who can see it as something that happens to older people. However, drug addicts may begin their drug taking at a young age. By chasing the first euphoric high during a summer of freedom it can be a slippery slope before a person finds themselves at risk of losing everything.

University challenges

Starting university comes with its own set of challenges. The move to halls offers far greater freedom and independence, which again can see young people more open to new experiences and less considerate of the consequences. Peer pressure can also increase, particularly during the well-renowned 'Freshers' activities. Young people, seeking the approval of their new peers, unwilling to be the 'odd-one-out', are coerced into doing things they don't really want to do. 'Freshers' is a week-long celebration, but can often spill into the next week, meaning the exposure to dangerous habits goes on.

A common perception of one's time at university is how it's a time for experimentation, and this is part of the 'student experience' - and this can lead to drug-taking. However, the idea that what might be viewed as 'experimenting' doesn't have long-term effects is wrong; it can still lead to short or long-term physical and mental issues.

For example, as seen here, the number of people requiring hospital treatment for mental and behavioural issues after using stimulants (in the UK) is rising. In England alone, hospital admissions for this increased by 215% in the last 10 years.

Dr Ian Drever, Consultant Psychiatrist at The Priory Hospital Woking, says: "Often, we see alcohol and drugs used as a means of self-medication, to dull unwanted feelings such as anxiety, which can be particularly prevalent at times such as leaving home and starting university.

"However, there are treatments available, typically talking therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy. These are designed to bring about lasting change by looking at the reasons for the substance use, and then working to resolve the underlying issues."

Young people are vulnerable during this transitory stage of life, but can inform their choices using the wealth of information now available to them. This can also help them to seek appropriate support during difficult times.

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