Skip to main content

Framing substance use as “recreational” is neither accurate nor helpful for prevention purposes


This debate paper discusses six reasons why the term “recreational substance use” should be avoided. (1) Social norms and beliefs are drivers of behavior; therefore, the normalized use of the term conveys injunctive norms of a fully socially acceptable substance. Injunctive norms are the most important drivers of initiation into substance use. (2) The illusion of being in control, suggesting that if consumed for leisure and recreation it can easily be controlled; (3) Idealized social representations that fuel an idealized image of an alternative glamourous or mindful consumption culture; (4) Downplaying potential harms; (5) The implicit promise of everyday pleasure, the ever-growing potency of cannabis products does not fit the narrative of its use for recreation; (6) Industry as a trojan horse branding discourse of the concept of medical cannabis to normalize the image of non-medical use: to complement “therapeutic” with “recreational”. “Recreational use” is a subjective ill-defined term. This debate paper aims to find a better terminological solution, honestly denominating with a neutral, unbiased, and objective connotation what is now called “recreational use”. Thus, we propose using the term “non-therapeutic” use.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Zila M. Sanchez.

Ethics declarations

Competing Interests

Dr. Sanchez is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Preventions. Dr. Burkhart is a member of the editorial board of the journal and president of the EUSPR – European Society for Prevention Research - the institution responsible for this journal.


The views expressed in this correspondence are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect the position or views of the EMCDDA.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Springer Nature or its licensor (e.g. a society or other partner) holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Sanchez, Z.M., Folgar, M.I., Matias, J.P. et al. Framing substance use as “recreational” is neither accurate nor helpful for prevention purposes. J of Prevention 44, 795–811 (2023).

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: