Sociology 3321F/G Lecture Notes - Chemical Substance, Caffeine, Aspirin
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A drug is any chemical substance – other than food or water – that affects the mind or body.
• How people view a particular drug varies from society to society. For example, Europeans have
enjoyed drinking alcohol for thousands of years. When Native Americans were introduced to wine and
liquor by European colonists, they had no customs to guide its use. As a result, many native peoples fell
into drunken stupors, causing tribal leaders to declare alcohol a serious problem. Conversely, the Native
American peoples used peyote—which alters human consciousness—as part of their religious rituals.
When this drug was shared with European settlers, many became terrified of the hallucinations it
produced and soon pronounced peyote a dangerous drug.
The Extent of Drug Use
• If we define drugs in a broad way – to include substances like aspirin and caffeine – then almost
everyone is a “user.” Most people in the United States use drugs to go to sleep, to wake up, to relax, or
to ease pain.
• With such a widespread reliance on chemicals, we might well describe our way of life as a “drug
culture.” However, most people do not define this kind of drug use as a problem because it is so routine;
instead, people define the drug problem as the use of illegal drugs.
• A government survey in 1998 revealed that nearly 14 million people (6% of the population aged twelve
and older) had used some illegal drug at least once in the past thirty days. The trend in illegal drug use
(as well as alcohol and cigarettes) is downward.
Why Do People Use Drugs?
• There are a number of reasons that people use drugs:
1) Recreation - certain drugs (e.g., beer and wine) taste good and make the user feel better
2) Therapy - some drugs offer medical benefits such as controlling seizures or depression
3) Escape – many people whose lives are troubled turn to alcohol or other drugs (especially in large
doses) in order to free themselves of undesirable situations
4) Spirituality – some people use drugs to alter their consciousness for the purpose of religious rituals
(e.g. the use of peyote in Native American societies)
5) Social Conformity – people use drugs to “fit in” (e.g., peer pressure may lead young people to start
smoking cigarettes or to try an illegal drug)