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.

Attending music festivals throughout the summer, where drug-taking is normalised, and beginning university in the autumn, where there's increased peer pressure alongside added freedom, have seen the number of young people taking drugs soar. The NHS estimates almost half of 16-24 year-olds have taken drugs. Whilst the most commonly used drug is Marijuana, these numbers also include Ecstasy, Cocaine, Ketamine and Speed, amongst others. But what has caused this paradigm shift and what are the dangers?

Festival season

For many young people a music festival represents their first unsupervised trip away with their friends. The sudden rush of freedom young people feel at this time, particularly following the exam season, leaves them more open to new experiences.

However, it is a concoction of factors that can contribute to the temptation to take drugs. The freedom creates a sense of invincibility, and the atmosphere at festivals lends itself toward constant 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.

It's also necessary to factor in exams. Many young people at this time will have finished their exams and will be experiencing the rush of exhilaration this represents, but also have the nervous energy awaiting their results can manifest. All of this creates a state in which young people may feel like taking drugs is acceptable and they will suffer no consequences. This, however, is proven incorrect when considering the many tragic deaths in recent years.

The dangers of taking drugs

The situation in which people find themselves at festivals lends itself to danger when
mixed with drug-taking. The prolonged lack of sleep, the potential to be out for long stretches of time in hot weather, and drinking alcohol, can all contribute to dehydration. Drugs such as Ecstasy raise body temperature, further amplifying the dangers of taking it.

It is also difficult to verify the potency and purity of the drugs people buy. Many drugs bought cheaply on the streets are cut with potentially harmful substances. In some cases things like rat poison can be mixed in to create cheaper varieties. On the other hand, drugs bought online through the 'dark web' (explained here) are becoming increasingly pure, making them up to twice as strong as those a person may ordinarily have purchased, 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 unique challenges. The transition into the far greater freedom and independence it offers can again see young people inclined to feel more willing to try new experiences, without considering the consequences. There is also greater peer pressure, particularly during the well-renowned 'Freshers' activities. Young people, desperate to fit in with their new peers, unwilling to be ostracised for not doing what everyone else is doing, are at risk of doing things they wouldn't ordinarily do. The initial week-long celebration can often spill into the next week, further encouraging dangerous excess.

There is also the perception that university is a time in which a person should experiment, that it is part of the 'student experience', that can convince young people to take drugs. Yet the perception that even what is termed as 'experimenting' can't have long term effects is incorrect, as such consumption can lead to short or long term physical and mental issues.

For example, as seen here, the number of people going to hospital for treatment for mental and behavioural issues after taking stimulants in the UK is rising. In England, the number of hospital admissions for this has increased by 215% in the past 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 to many external factors, but the information highlighting the associated health risks is readily available. By equipping themselves with it young people can make informed choices and seek the best support in the future.

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