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Drugs & Health Blog

So... Why Do People Like Drugs?

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Dr. Joe Frascella, Director of NIDA's Division of Clinical Neuroscience and Behavioral Research

Is there something magical about drugs and alcohol with us humans? So what's our fascination and why do some of us like them so much?! Actually, before we try and answer that one, let me just say: we are not alone. Some of the drugs we use, abuse, and become addicted to today were actually "discovered" by animals first.

For example, you know why we have coffee today? Well, the "legend of the dancing goats" says that coffee beans were first discovered in a field in Ethiopia by a goat herder who noticed that his goats were acting weird sometimes, running around and dancing wildly. He couldn't figure out why and so decided to study them.

He saw them eating small red berries on a certain shrub found in the area—turns out those were coffee plants. After eating the berries with the coffee beans inside, the goats started their "dancing." Legend also has it that the goat herder also started eating the berries and dancing with them!

Photo of a cat with a chicken hat on.

Plenty of similar stories and observations have been made of other animals that seem to get "high" from naturally occurring drugs or fermented fruits:

  • Cats are attracted to the valerian plant and to catnip, which seems to give them extreme pleasure.
  • In parts of Africa, the marula fruit ripens, and animals—from monkeys to elephants—are attracted to the overripe and fermenting fruits that make them act "funny."
  • Birds have been seen sitting on smoking tree trunks after bush fires and seem to be intoxicated—they get dizzy and fall off of the smoldering trunk only to get up and do it over and over.

Back to our question…so why do we (or at least some of us) and our animal counterparts like these natural-occurring substances and synthetic or man-made drugs? The answer is simple…blame it on our brains!

We have evolved a brain that allows us to see, hear, taste, move, think, etc., and also to repeat things that feel good. That happens because a part of our brain sends out feel-good signals when we do something we enjoy, like eating good food, playing a video game, kicking a goal in soccer, listening to our favorite music, or going upside-down on a roller coaster. The system that says to us, "Hey, that was good, do it again!" is called the "reward system."

Turns out that alcohol and drugs affect this system really well; they are effective at going right to our brain's "reward system" and putting it into high gear.

This very effective stimulation of the reward system is why many people can become addicted to drugs, since feeling good is what drives much of our behavior. Drugs, in a sense, trick the system that has evolved for helping us in our world and instead can turn our world upside down.

As a scientist and Division Director at NIDA, I'm committed to learning more about how drugs exert their effects in the brain so that we can come up with better ways to prevent young people from getting "tricked" by drugs and sliding into addiction without even realizing it.

Photo of John Frascella: Director of NIDA's Division of Clinical Neuroscience and Behavioral Research.

As Director of NIDA's Division of Clinical Neuroscience and Behavioral Research, Dr. Joe Frascella heads up a program that supports studies in humans to advance our understanding of brain and behavior in drug abuse and addiction. Studies are mainly on neuroscience, adolescent development, and treatment, with a goal of translating research results into real-world use.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


Good post on why we like and use drugs for various reasons.

I'm curious if you have anything written on addiction from the perspective of someone going thru pain?

I have come to the realization myself that drugs are not addicting, the relief of pain is what is addictive.

Does that make sense?

I don't comment much but I enjoy reading your content. Thank You


Shane AKA~ Cominback

@Cominback, here is a link that takes you to a slide showon pain and addiction. Hope this info helps.

wow very informative. thanks

im in peer counceling and we are about to talk to teens who are using drugs.... trying to figure out why they do them and see if there is another why to solve their problems if they have probems in the first place. thank oyu for this forum

i believe all of this is true with all of my jeart i believe good job!! how do you quit doing weed?

@valarey--Wanting to quit is a great first step. The next step may be to talk to an adult you trust about getting help. Also, when you're trying to quit, hanging out with people who still smoke and do other drugs makes it much, much harder--so you might think about avoiding those situations. Thanks for your question.

I was severely addicted to drugs - alcohol and cocaine. I'm free since 2007 and I get over it. Thanks for this article, it reminded me that it's the simplest things what causes us to do what we sometimes do... not complicated, as we might sometimes think.

ive known people that are in to drugs and things like in your stories that you have here. ive seen that it is hard to get over drugs and i think people do them out of curiosity or peer pressure.....i think that before they try something likre this they should think of every consiquence that may happen. and if people do take drugs i hope they are only taking them now from addiction not because they want to!

I think it's funny that animals have their own way of "doing drugs" . I've read books about people that do drugs and they explain what happens , it makes sense why they keep doing it . At school they tell you why its bad to do drugs , but it makes you wonder why people do it if it's so terrible . Well , it actually is the whole thing that happens with the "reward system".
Hahaha to the birds getting high off fire , and then doing it again!

@rw-- what i dont get is that thay tell kids that are at the age that thay do the oppisit of what you tell them.

interesting... very interesting.

Really intresting. B ut dont coffee make you more drowsy instead of energetic?

@SJelf--good point. Initially, you do get a burst of "energy" from coffee, because the caffeine it contains is a stimulant, but those effects wear off pretty fast, and when that happens, you can feel suddenly energy-drained.

Because life really sucks sometimes and drugs are an easy way to let yourself forget that. As long as you are a solid personality you won't let it get out of hand. Maybe that's why crack and meth didn't do anything for me

i like it

Wow, i've heard about the goats chewing coffee beans, but the rest of the animals getting high is news for me - I can relate to the feeling, even though you know its stupid (the day after). The [removed commercial link] effect is short and it wears off fast, and takes more and more to be effective.. I almost get sleepy when i drink coffee now (work in a coffee company)

I am surley addiceted to coffee. If I don't have at least two cups in the morning, I get really bad headaches. I should start watering down my morning coffee. Then by lunhc time I really do feel drained. I try and stay away from coffee in the afternoon.

I drink close to a whole pot of coffee every morning and I make it strong using Colombian or Nicaraguan coffee, I know I'm addicted to it but I like it and can not go without it! How bad is this for you and should I try to quit?

We encourage you to talk with your doctor about your caffeine use and its potential effects on your individual health, which can vary based on medical history, general physical health, and other factors.

I am surley addiceted to coffee. If I don't have at least two cups in the morning, I get really bad headaches. I should start watering down my morning coffee. Then by lunhc time I really do feel drained. I try and stay away from coffee in the afternoon.

people does drugs because it helps them relax there mind, but if you do it to long things go wrong because you start to care less about school and sometimes about your family, but its really bad because it makes you forget your family name or who there are...

Nice! So true! Gives information.



i do drugs because i don't like the real world and i like to get away for a little while and escape, theres nothing like it.

@teendruguser: I hate the real world too, but there are other ways to escape, like music, books, shopping crafts,...etc... there is so much out there that you can do to escape. i know i use music, books, and crafts the most... it distracts me from the stupidity off life, and is "addictive" in its own way1
@teendruguser: I hate the real world too, but there are other ways to escape, like music, books, shopping crafts,...etc... there is so much out there that you can do to escape. i know i use music, books, and crafts the most... it distracts me from the stupidity off life, and is "addictive" in its own way1

Why do you infer that it's a trick?

NIDA's Dr. Joe Frascella writes:
Hi firezdog,
All that was meant by the “tricked” notion is that drugs of abuse can affect those brain processes that have evolved to respond to natural rewards in our environments so that we can become addicted without realizing what is going on.

I use drugs because it enhances certain experiences.
I can still do all the things I'd normally do, food becomes more tasty, movies become funnier, music gets you lost in it.
Everything gains an extra 'quality' that isn't there when sober.
And to be honest, my life is pretty boring because i'm so lazy.

Also not talking about crack, meth or heroin. That stuff [removed, per guidelines] you up.

@Right Drugs work by affecting the pleasure centers in your brain. That means, they make you feel good. The problem is, the brain will adapt to the drug and will require more of it to get the same effect. Over time, everyday pleasurable experiences lose out to the compulsive need to use the drug—not to feel high, but just to feel "normal." That is the essence of addiction. It could also at least partly explain why you feel your life is boring – and why you prefer to be high when doing things that are normally pleasurable on their own (eating, watching movies, listening to music, etc.).

Good thing that weed isnt addictive then, or 1/4 of the US might have serious problems. Just please dont spread misinformation like the US government does in relation to drugs, please. We have enough ignorance propagated already.

we should have drugs in sport people have lots of pain people should not banned the drugs anyway

I liked Dr. Andrew Weil's take on the matter; that wanting to seek and explore altered states of consciousness is a very natural human urge. Every culture had socially accepted and endorsed means of doing so; if drugs such as cannabis, alcohol, hallucinogenic mushrooms, tobacco, opium, or ergot wine were available, they were used. When they weren't, cultures would achieve those states through transcendental meditation, spirit quests, fasting, sleep deprivation, dancing around fires to exhaustion by the beat of drums, etc. The only culture truly regarded as drug-free were the Inuit Eskimos, but then the hallucinations brought on by the ganzfeld effect when looking out in featureless expanses of snow probably satisfied that need for them.

As those cultures have given way to the "enlightened" and "civilized" viewpoints that getting high is always wrong and should be condemned in the strongest terms, drug use has become pushed into subcultures who don't know how to use them right, hence finding a lot of wrong ways to use them. Separated from the ritual and the community support, they use drugs for whatever reasons, whenever they feel like, and either alone or with like-minded people who are as irresponsible as themselves. Meanwhile, the profoundly potent but not-as-consciousness-altering substances like alcohol and nicotine are considered acceptable and even celebrated.

And worse, the drugs themselves are quite altered from their natural versions; cocoa leaves have become cocaine and crack, opium has become heroin, beer and wine have become distilled liquors, etc. so they're stronger than evolution could ever have prepared us for.

So why people use drugs is a very complicated matter indeed, but ultimately it is all about the consciousness. Drugs are the easiest way to alter it, but considering that it's been demonstrated that hypnosis can (in those who are able to enter hypnotic states) remove pain from surgical procedures at least as well as morphine can, then it's clear that drugs aren't a requirement. But the urge to do so is mainstream, while the drug-free techniques are lesser known and require study and practice and work to achieve. Most people would prefer the convenience of taking the pill or breathing the smoke to do it.

@Donnie Diethylamide Thanks for your comment. You may want to also check out our “So…Why Do People Like Drugs?” post--

Hey there, You've done an excellent job. I’ll certainly digg it and personally suggest to my friends. I'm sure they will be benefited from this site. [commercial link removed, per guidelines]

Here's why. Happiness is the point of life, but all of the BS that society shoves down our throats (wealth, children, etc.) turns out to be actually useless. We're trapped in the hedonic treadmill. Drugs help escape that treadmill for a short period of time. Personally, the best option to maximize life for me would be to do a bunch of drugs for say a few months and then commit suicide before the crash. Then it might have a chance of having been worth it. Life sucks.


@Duelix, you’re certainly entitled to your opinion. Life is about change, right? Things get better. Things get worse. Then they get better again.  Living in that tension can be hard, but it helps you grow, learning how to manage the ups and downs.  Drugs don’t generally help—in fact, they tend to make things worse, not better. Please talk with a trusted adult or call the anonymous National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or the Treatment Referral Helpline (1-800-662-4357).

i hate drugs and i dont want to see it in real life i will fraek. i have to hang out with nerds to stay away from the wrong crowd but people make fun of me. Im very curious about it but i dont want to do it. how can i stay away from them

@ drug hater: It is hard to stay away when you feel pushed to do something, but just remember, by staying away from drugs, you dont become just another person in the crowd. YOU STAND OUT, your unique, and smart. By staying away from drugs, you have more time to concentrait on the important things in life, such as family, friends, and school. And if your really having a hard time staying away from drugs, chew gum... it is proven to help stop addictions from continuing or happening.
In starting they so for to make impression or by their friends group habits. Then after some time they are addicted to them. To avoid the drug habit start doing meditation [commercial link removed, per guidelines]
A young boy and his father went out fishing one fine morning. After a few quiet hours out in the boat, the boy became curious about the world around him. He looked up at his dad and asked "How do fish breath under water?" His dad thought about it for a moment, then answered "I really don't know, son." The boy sat quietly from another moment, then asked his dad again, "How does our boat float on the water?" Once again his father answered, "Don’t know, son." Pondering his thoughts again, a little while later, the boy asks "Why is the sky blue?" Again, his dad replied, "Don’t know, son." The curious boy, worried he was disturbing his father, asks this time "Dad, do you mind that I'm asking you all of these questions?" "Of course not son", replied his dad, "How else are you ever going to learn anything?" Don't you feel that many posts and whole blogs are much alike this story?
It's a coping mechanism people use to "escape" their perceived unsatisfactory life , it takes the edge off, makes them temporarily "feel" better, it gives them something they can control until the lose control. The fact is our society is broken, our economy is broken, our nation is broken (and broke). Our education tries to teach kids what to think, not how to think. We built this, well not me. More them than me, I'm only 30, I don't know anything yet. Wanna cure the abuse of drugs and alcohol? Well it can't be cured unless it's eliminated, but it can be greatly reduced. Make life for the average person worth living. By living I mean living, not slaving away 50-60+ hours a week working jobs we hate to produce products and services we also hate, or love but they are terrible for us health-wise.. As individuals our decision making skills vary greatly. Some make mostly good ones, some mostly bad, we all make at least some of each at some point. However, as a society we make terrible decisions, horrible decisions. How we made it this far for this long is a miracle, and we have no one to blame except ourselves and everyone else. Divide and conquer, excellent execution I must say. How long ago did that begin, hundreds of years, thousands? Talk about forward thinking.
Hello. Great job. I did not expect this. This is a great story. Thanks!
Drug addiction cause more illness. A person who is addicted for drug or alcohol. He must be totally upset by physically or mentally.
I broke up with someone whom I thought I loved over pot. He wouldn't always have to leave to go smoke while we were spending quality time together. It made me sad. So I dumped him but I still love him :/. He wouldn't stop doing it around me, it was easier for him that I left him.
its bad dont try it because later on you will regret trying it
some people like drugs because of the feeling they have also because of the superstars . so yeah think about this okay:)