What is meant by the term Set?

Personal factors involving the person who is using the drugs can be just as important as the drugs being used. These factors are called the ‘set’.

The drug experience and the expectations of the user are important. Many young people experimenting with drugs for the first time will be unsure about what to do, how much to take, how to take it or what to expect. This ignorance and lack of experience can itself be dangerous.

The effects of drugs and how to get them are learned over time. The first time people use drugs they often find either nothing much happens or they feel sick. This may have happened to you with your first cigarette or drink of alcohol. It is often the same for first use of any drug. Some experimenters decide never to use again but others carry on. Over time they learn how to do it best, what to expect and how to enjoy it most.

The mental and psychological state of the drug user is very important. The mood people are in when they take drugs influences the effects and dangers of drug use. If they are anxious, depressed or unstable, they are more likely to have disturbing experiences when using drugs and less likely to take care. They can become more anxious and disorientated, possibly aggressive, ‘freak out’ and do crazy things or take too much. As a generality, someone who is happy and stable is more likely to use more carefully and not be so badly affected. Other things about the drug user which may affect their experience of drug use are:

Any physical health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, epilepsy, diabetes, asthma or liver problems could make drug use more dangerous. In turn, the drug use could possibly make the health problem worse.

The drug user’s energy levels at the time of consuming drugs can also be important. If they are tired at the time of use then the drug may have a different or more extreme effect than if they are fresh and full of energy.

If the user has a low body weight the same amount of drugs may affect them more than they woul d heavier people. Also people who have eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia can find that drug use makes it even worse. Cigarettes, amphetamine and ecstasy are all appetite suppressants and have been connected with eating disorders, especially in young women.

Males and females can experience drugs in different ways. This is both because of their different physical make-up and the different way people view male and female drug use. On average women are of smaller body weight than men, have smaller livers as a proportion of body weight and a greater proportion of body fat. This means that, generally speaking, the same amount of drugs will have a greater effect on a woman than on a man. (Obviously this will not apply with a much larger than average woman or a much smaller than average man).

The effects and risks of drug use are also influenced by attitudes towards men and women taking drugs. Women are often seen as doubly bad if they take drugs: they are bad for taking drugs because it is often viewed as ‘unlady like’ and, especially if they are mothers, their drug use is seen as a betrayal of this role. Male drug users, even if they are fathers, are not often seen in the same way.

This also spills over to the way pregnant women who use drugs are viewed. Many drugs – including alcohol and nicotine – can cross the placenta and adversely affect an unborn child. This is especially the case with heavy, regular drug use during pregnancy. Possible effects include increased risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, developmental problems and foetal distress.

These problems vary from drug to drug and can also be influenced by many other things including diet, housing conditions, levels of stress and support and medical help. Drug use needs to be kept in perspective.

The media have used sensationalised stories of ‘new-born heroin addicts’ or ‘crack babies’ and the extent to which drug use can affect an unborn child has often been exaggerated. This does not help pregnant women to feel positive about themselves or encourage them to seek medical help.

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