These days, drugs can be found everywhere, and it may seem like everyone’s doing them. Lots of people are tempted by the excitement or escape that drugs seem to offer.
But learning the facts about drugs can help you see the risks of chasing this excitement or escape. Here’s what you need to know.
The Deal on Substances
Thanks to medical and drug research, there are thousands of drugs that help people. Antibiotics and vaccines have revolutionized the treatment of infections. Medicines can lower blood pressure, treat diabetes, and reduce the body’s rejection of new organs. Medicines can cure, slow, or prevent disease, helping us to lead healthier and happier lives. But there are also lots of illegal, harmful drugs that people take to help them feel good or have a good time.
How do drugs work? Drugs are chemicals or substances that change the way our bodies work. When you put them into your body (often by swallowing, inhaling, or injecting them), drugs find their way into your bloodstream and are transported to parts of your body, such as your brain. In the brain, drugs may either intensify or dull your senses, alter your sense of alertness, and sometimes decrease physical pain.
A drug may be helpful or harmful. The effects of drugs can vary depending upon the kind of drug taken, how much is taken, how often it is used, how quickly it gets to the brain, and what other drugs, food, or substances are taken at the same time. Effects can also vary based on the differences in body size, shape, and chemistry.
Although substances can feel good at first, they can ultimately do a lot of harm to the body and brain. Drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, taking illegal drugs, and sniffing glue can all cause serious damage to the human body. Some drugs severely impair a person’s ability to make healthy choices and decisions. Teens who drink, for example, are more likely to get involved in dangerous situations, such as driving under the influence or having unprotected sex.
Why People Take Drugs
And just as there are many kinds of drugs available, there are as many reasons for trying them or starting to use them regularly. People take drugs just for the pleasure they believe they can bring. Often it’s because someone tried to convince them that drugs would make them feel good or that they’d have a better time if they took them.
Some teens believe drugs will help them think better, be more popular, stay more active, or become better athletes. Others are simply curious and figure one try won’t hurt. Others want to fit in. A few use drugs to gain attention from their parents.
Many teens use drugs because they’re depressed or think drugs will help them escape their problems. The truth is, drugs don’t solve problems — they simply hide feelings and problems. When a drug wears off, the feelings and problems remain, or become worse. Drugs can ruin every aspect of a person’s life.
Here are the facts on some of the more common drugs.
The oldest and most widely used drug in the world, alcohol is a depressant that alters perceptions, emotions, and senses.
How It’s Used: Alcohol is a liquid that is drunk.
Effects & Dangers:
- Alcohol first acts as a stimulant, and then it makes people feel relaxed and a bit sleepy.
- High doses of alcohol seriously affect judgment and coordination. Drinkers may have slurred speech, confusion, depression, short-term memory loss, and slow reaction times.
- Large volumes of alcohol drunk in a short period of time may cause alcohol poisoning.
Addictiveness: Teens who use alcohol can become psychologically dependent upon it to feel good, deal with life, or handle stress. In addition, their bodies may demand more and more to achieve the same kind of high experienced in the beginning. Some teens are also at risk of becoming physically addicted to alcohol. Withdrawal from alcohol can be painful and even life threatening. Symptoms range from shaking, sweating, nausea, anxiety, and depression to hallucinations, fever, and convulsions.
Amphetamines are stimulants that accelerate functions in the brain and body. They come in pills or tablets. Prescription diet pills also fall into this category of drugs.
Street Names: speed, uppers, dexies, bennies
How They’re Used: Amphetamines are swallowed, inhaled, or injected.
Effects & Dangers:
- Swallowed or snorted, these drugs hit users with a fast high, making them feel powerful, alert, and energized.
- Uppers pump up heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure, and they can also cause sweating, shaking, headaches, sleeplessness, and blurred vision.
- Prolonged use may cause hallucinations and intense paranoia.
Addictiveness: Amphetamines are psychologically addictive. Users who stop report that they experience various mood problems such as aggression, anxiety, and intense cravings for the drugs.
Cocaine and Crack
Cocaine is a white crystalline powder made from the dried leaves of the coca plant. Crack, named for its crackle when heated, is made from cocaine. It looks like white or tan pellets.
Street Names for Cocaine: coke, snow, blow, nose candy, white, big C
Street Names for Crack: freebase, rock
How They’re Used: Cocaine is inhaled through the nose or injected. Crack is smoked.
Effects & Dangers:
- Cocaine is a stimulant that rocks the central nervous system, giving users a quick, intense feeling of power and energy. Snorting highs last between 15 and 30 minutes; smoking highs last between 5 and 10 minutes.
- Cocaine also elevates heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and body temperature.
- Injecting cocaine can give you hepatitis or AIDS if you share needles with other users. Snorting can also put a hole inside the lining of your nose.
- First-time users — even teens — of both cocaine and crack can stop breathing or have fatal heart attacks. Using either of these drugs even one time can kill you.
Addictiveness: These drugs are highly addictive, and as a result, the drug, not the user, calls the shots. Even after one use, cocaine and crack can create both physical and psychological cravings that make it very, very difficult for users to stop.
Cough and Cold Medicines (DXM)
Several over-the-counter cough and cold medicines contain the ingredient dextromethorphan (also called DXM). If taken in large quantities, these over-the-counter medicines can cause hallucinations, loss of motor control, and “out-of-body” (or disassociative) sensations.
Street Names: triple C, candy, C-C-C, dex, DM, drex, red devils, robo, rojo, skittles, tussin, velvet, vitamin D
How They’re Used: Cough and cold medicines, which come in tablets, capsules, gel caps, and lozenges as well as syrups, are swallowed. DXM is often extracted from cough and cold medicines, put into powder form, and snorted.
Effects & Dangers:
- Small doses help suppress coughing, but larger doses can cause fever, confusion, impaired judgment, blurred vision, dizziness, paranoia, excessive sweating, slurred speech, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, headache, lethargy, numbness of fingers and toes, redness of face, dry and itchy skin, loss of consciousness, seizures, brain damage, and even death.
- Sometimes users mistakenly take cough syrups that contain other medications in addition to dextromethorphan. High doses of these other medications can cause serious injury or death.
Addictiveness: People who use cough and cold medicines and DXM regularly to get high can become psychologically dependent upon them (meaning they like the feeling so much they can’t stop, even though they aren’t physically addicted).
to be continued