Recreational Drugs

Recreational drugs

A drug is a chemical substance that acts on the brain and nervous system, changing a person's mood, emotion or state of consciousness. Recreational drugs are taken for enjoyment, or leisure purposes, rather than for medical reasons.

Drugs are often classified by the effect they have.

  • Stimulants, such as cocaine, make people feel full of energy.
  • Depressants (or sedatives), such as heroin, make people feel relaxed.
  • Hallucinogens, such as LSD, make people see, feel or hear things that are not real.


If a drug user is showing unusual symptoms or seems to be in distress, they may have had an allergic reaction to a drug or they may have overdosed. Symptoms to look out for include: 

  • dizziness,
  • sickness or nausea,
  • sudden tiredness,
  • headaches,
  • muscle cramps and aches,
  • irregular breathing,
  • heavy slurring of speech,
  • convulsions, and
  • paralysis (muscle weakness).


Call 01 7005 999 for assistance and to direct the ambulance to you.


  • Make sure the person's airways (mouth and nose) are not obstructed. Look out for vomit blocking the airway.
  • Collect evidence of any drugs that have been taken. This is vital to help doctors make a quick diagnosis and provide the correct treatment. 

Drug misuse

Drug misuse is when a person regularly takes one or more drugs to change their mood, emotion or state of consciousness.


One of the biggest risks of drug misuse is that you can develop a drug addiction. There are two main types of drug addiction:

  • Physical addiction, when there are withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting or cramping, if the supply of the drug is suddenly withdrawn.
  • Psychological addiction, when there is a psychological compulsion or need to regularly use a drug. If the drug is withdrawn, there are no physical symptoms but there may be psychological symptoms such as depression, anxiety and irritability.

Legal drugs

Under Irish law, most drugs are illegal. However, some drugs are legal, including: caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes.

If a drug is legal, that does not mean it is harmless. In Ireland each year, cigarettes and alcohol kill more people than all illegal drugs put together.

Prescription medication, such as strong painkillers or tranquillisers, is often misused by people who have no clinical need for it but use it for its mood-altering effects.  In many cases, it is illegal to possess certain types of prescription medication, such as morphine or methadone, without a valid prescription.

Risks to health

As well as the danger of addiction, drug misuse has serious health risks and is associated with a wide range of conditions and complications, both physical and psychological. For example, cocaine can cause heart failure and heroin can cause respiratory failure (loss of normal lung function), both of which can be fatal.

If a person uses a needle to inject drugs, they have a high risk of catching a serious blood-borne infection, such as HIV or hepatitis C.

Seeking Help:

Helping yourself

The first and most difficult step is to recognise you have a problem, and admit you need help to deal with it.

Signs of a drug problem or addiction include:

  • Continually increasing the dose of drugs to get the same effect,
  • A feeling of dependency on drugs or a fear of stopping using drugs,
  • Withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking the drug for a short time,
  • Sudden mood changes,
  • A negative or changed outlook on life,
  • A loss of motivation,
  • Poor performance at work or college,
  • Problems with personal relationships,
  • Borrowing or stealing money from friends and family
  • Being secretive about activities and actions.

What to do next:

In DCU, contact the Student Health Centre or Counselling & Personal Development who provide confidential help and guidance to students who need assistance with their drug misuse. If required, they will work with the student to ensure that the student is referred to external services which may specialise in drug misuse and provide appropriate follow-up support as required. The aim is to support the student to ensure their welfare and educational potential is not detrimentally affected as a result of drug misuse. 

More information

Facts about Drug Misuse

All about Recreational Drugs

On line test to identify the impact of your drug use

DCU policy on drug misuse