Impact of Party Drugs on the Youth Culture
Adolescence refers to the age group from 14 to 26 years. Ten percent of this age group use party drugs (Bennett, 2003). According to Arnett (2004) , this period of development is distinguished by five characteristics: identity exploration, instability, self-focus, a feeling of in-between and possibilities (Arnett, 2004, pg. 14). It is against these five characteristics that the impact of party drugs on the youth culture will be assessed. This essay will explore how the characteristics of adolescence place teenagers at risk from drug experimentation and how the perception of policy makers will influence the community’s response to the problem.
The exploration of identity involves having a range of experiences that provides the adolescent with the means to assess the possibilities for the purpose of formulating a distinctive self-image. To do this requires that the teenager have a range of experiences that seem distinct from those experienced through their parents. This journey of exploration results in an introverted focus on self and a sense of becoming, of being caught in the middle.
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In the individualised cultures of western societies, this transition involves a separation from parents and the construction of an independent self-sufficient identity (Arnett, 2004).
The instability can often manifest in ‘risky behaviours’. Although adolescence is a time for the construction of a unique self identity, it is also a time when a sense of belonging is engendered through common cultural construction. One subset of this cultural construction is the rave party scene that is a global phenomenon of the youth subculture (Shapiro, 1999). A rave party is often a large gathering of young people in an atmosphere where there is music and laser lights. This sub-culture is linked to the drug culture through party drugs such as ecstasy and ketamine.
The effect of these drugs is to create a sense of wellbeing and a feeling of lightness. The choice to take drugs is an individual one and is part of the desire to escape from the pressures of adolescence. The rave party by its very nature is essentially a form of escape. What then are adolescences escaping from? The very nature of adolescence: the sense of being without identity, the lack of a mental framework to manage the adult world and the pressures of identity construction, create tensions in the person.
This escapism is not confined to adolescences as many adults abuse alcohol and amphetamines as a means of escaping the pressures of the adult world. For many users, taking the drug is part of the risk behaviour of adolescence that has the pay-off of feelings of well-being. They do not se themselves as drug users as they do not view their use of party drugs as being a problem. This normalises drug use and makes it difficult for agencies to intervene (Duff, 2003). It is wrong however to assume that all users are escaping from something.
One of the features of adolescence is the search for identity and self meaning. This search behaviour creates a heightened sense of curiosity in adolescents as they seek to make sense of self. This curiosity can evolve unconsciously to drug abuse through prolonged use as a result of the uplifting effects of the first experience. The need to fund the regular purchase of the drug can lead into dealing. Bad experiences often will not cause a rejection of the drug as these pale against the many pleasures that the individual has experienced.
The chain of events can have dire consequences for the individual as a health problem becomes a criminal problem. The long term destruction that criminalisation of drugs causes to young people is good reason to see drug abuse as a health problem. Within party drug users there are the same segments that are feature of any drug user cross section. Some users abuse the drug and are at risk from overdose and dehydration. Others are more controlled and cautious in their use. This group is at risk from being unable to identify the ingredients of the drug that they are purchasing.
One of the key problems with party drugs is the inability for the buyer to know the ingredients contained in the drug that they are purchasing (VAAD, 2003). Users of party drugs will tend to repeat their use on a regular basis. According to Baxter (2003) users are concerned that there is no means of determining the purity and reducing the level of risk. Males tend to use party drugs more frequently than females. This tends to indicate that there is greater gender difference where males are less risk averse. This trend is declining as more and more females are using party drugs.
This trend reflects the emancipation of women and a stronger sense of independence amongst adolescent women. The traditional delineation of the rite of passage for the male and the female have become blurred in modern society. Women will often use drugs to challenge the traditional perceptions of their role in society. Within the community, there are people that see drug abuse as being criminal while others see it as a social and health problem. The criminal perspective adopts a punishment solution with rehabilitation.
Such a position can have a long term effect on the individual due to problems faced with travel and employment. Community response is to increase policing and to use strategies such as sniffer dogs in public and undercover police at venues to catch the suppliers and users. Police raids will be conducted on rave parties. Such an approach marginalises the rave culture and runs the risk of impairing the social development of the individual. The perspective that sees the issue as a health issue seeks to develop preventative programmes that educate people.
Greater understanding is sought for the motivation of young people for taking drugs through social research. Strategies for assisting at risk people are developed that provides for free, readily available access to health care and treatment. The health professional will often argue for the decriminalisation of the drug so that it can be obtained in a controlled manner and the purity of the product guaranteed. When considered against the characteristics of adolescence as provided by Arnett (2004), this approach appears to be the least detrimental to the social and personal development of the adolescent.
Government programs, such as Ravesafe, adopt this approach. One of the prime reasons that this approach should prevail is that party drugs are seen by the user as being catalysts for self reflection and construction of identity. Their sense of self and social relationships results in a positive self-image which may be in contradiction to how they feel when in the adult world. The party drug tends to alleviate insecurity and doubt. Research has shown that there might be some overflow from the atmosphere of the rave party to real life.
The need for early intervention arises from the research findings that drug abuse is often a precursor for youth suicide, crime and metal illness (VAAD, 2003). Interventionist strategies will view drug use as a problem which immediately places the interventionist in opposition to the youth culture. The clash between the pleasures of the drug and the potential harm of the drug creates a generational clash (Duff, 2003). To deal with the issue it is necessary to accept the reality of use and work on fostering environments that support safe use.
If this is provided then it will reduce the ‘trial and error’ approach that is a feature of the risk behaviour of adolescents. VAAD (2003) found that the problem can be best solved through drug education that must resist seeing the youth culture as a homogeneous group. Adolescents involved in the rave scene come from a wide variety of backgrounds (Shapiro, 1999). Because there is little understanding of the attitudes of youth subgroups within the rave scene it is necessary for more research to be done (Baxter, 2003).
In this way the content and approach of the drug education programme can directly appeal to the target segment. This will help in a more receptive response from the target group. In conclusion, the developmental characteristics of adolescence creates a natural disposition towards drug experimentation amongst some segments of teenagers. Party drugs are often seen as being part of the scene that assist in the integration of the individual with both self and the group that they belong to. Drug use can be used by the female gender to reconstruct identity.
Given these features, the perspective that drug use should be a criminal offence resulting in punishment and long term consequences for the individual seems self defeating. The view that drug abuse has the potential to be a health problem will result in a community response that is more supportive to the individual. The safety of the drug can be established and the social stigma placed on adolescents can be removed. Social policy needs to consider the developmental characteristics of adolescence in its construction.