2.1 Overview

This section of our text will be an exploration of why people use substances.  We will look at substance use within cultures, within age groups and the motivating factors behind substance use.  We will begin to explore why people to continue to use substances and how substance use can develop into a substance use disorder.

What is substance use?  Substance use is the use of a psychoactive substance (substances that impact the brain) by an individual, community, culture, or society.  Why do we use substances?  We use substances for many reasons.  Psychoactive substances have been a part of human history for thousands of years, “as a species, humans have a fascination with any psychoactive agent that alters our basic perception of our environment”.[1]

Historically, psychoactive substances have been used in religious ceremonies, for medicinal purposes, or by the general population in a socially approved way (drinking coffee). [2] According to Csiernik[3], archaeological evidence dating back to 10,000+ years shows evidence of the use of psychoactive substances used for both cultural purposes and recreational purposed.  Betel seeds have been found in archeological sites on the continent of Asia[4] and alcohol was used in ancient Egypt and Rome.[5]  Wine was introduced to European countries through the Roman expansion.  “During the expansion of the Roman Empire, rural areas of west central Europe became Romanized. As a part of this process, indigenous inhabitants adopted some customs from urban Roman culture, including wine drinking with meals”.[6] Tobacco was first introduced to Europeans shortly after Columbus’ landfall in the Americas in 1492[7] and other substances we will explore also have rich histories with many uses and traditions.  As noted, there are several reasons from historical, cultural, and medicinal as to why people use substances.

2.1A Activities

  1. Brainstorm a comprehensive list of why people use substances.
  2. Once your list is complete, arrange the reasons in a continuum from positive to negative based on your beliefs.
  3. Reflect on the positive and negative.  Who decides what is positive and negative?
  4. What is “normal use”?
  5. Research a culture/group that uses substances.

  1. Csiernik, R. (2015). Substance use and abuse: Everything matters (2nd ed). Canadian Scholars Press.
  2. Crocq, M. A. (2007). Historical and cultural aspects of man’s relationship with addictive drugs. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 9(4), 355–361. https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2007.9.4/macrocq
  3. Csiernik, R. (2015). Substance use and abuse: Everything matters (2nd ed). Canadian Scholars Press.
  4. Vetulani J. (2001).  Drug addiction, part I: Psychoactive substances in the past and present.  Polish Journal of Pharmacology, 53, 201–214. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11785921/
  5. Counsell, D. (2009). Egyptian mummies and modern science. Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511499654.014
  6. Engs, R. (1991, April 27). Romanization and drinking norms: A model to explain differences in western society.  Paper presented: Society of American Archaeology Annual Meeting.
  7. Sadik, T. (2014, March 28).  Traditional use of tobacco among Indigenous Peoples of North America: A literature review.  https://cottfn.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/TUT-Literature-Review.pdf


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