Why do young people take drugs?

DrugWise infographic on why people take drugs (PDF)

There are many reasons people will take drugs.


Although there are clearly risks involved in using drugs and negative side effects can be experienced, the evidence of drug use within youth culture suggests it is often a pleasurable experience. People who use drugs may like the feelings of excitement, confidence and connection with others which some drugs can elicit. Drugs may also help relieve feelings of boredom.


Many young people live in communities which suffer from deprivation, with high unemployment, low quality housing and where the infra-structure of local services is poorly resourced. In such communities drug supply and use often thrive as an alternative economy. As well as any use that might be associated with the stress and boredom of living in such communities, young people with poor job prospects may recognise the financial advantages and status achievable through the business of small scale drug supply.

However, drug use is certainly not restricted to areas of urban deprivation. As the press stories of expulsions from private schools and drug use in rural areas show, illicit drug use is an aspect of our society from top to bottom and in all regions.


Humans are naturally curious and want to experiment with different experiences. For some, drugs are a good conversation point.

The defence mechanism / self medicating

Some people will use drugs to help them forget about their problems including any traumatic experiences they may have had. Drugs may also be seen as a way to help people relax and deal with stress, or to help deal with anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.

Natural rebellion

With young people in particular, taking drugs can be part of natural rebellion. Drug use may act as a means of defiance or may be associated with belonging to an alternative culture.

Promotion, availability and medical use

Drugs are all around us and people are often seen smoking and using alcohol on television.

People may be prescribed drugs for medical reasons, such as tranquillisers or opioid painkillers, which they then become dependent upon.

People can purchase drugs off the dark web which can be sent to their homes in the post.

Peer pressure

There is considerable pressure to use legal substances. Being around others who are using drugs can make people feel like they have to follow suit to fit in. For example, it may be hard to abstain from alcohol in a pub where everyone else is drinking.


Value for money is often a factor as to which drug to use. Cannabis sufficient for a few joints would cost about £5. In terms of how long the effects last, this compares favourably with an average price for a pint of lager of around £4-5. By the same token, ecstasy of highly variable quality is expensive and many drug users turn  to cheaper drugs.

Updated December 2022