Drugs: What You Should Know

Drugs: What You Should Know


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 and take drugs due to peer pressure. 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.

Alcohol

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:

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

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:

Addictiveness: Amphetamines are very 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. They are both dangerous stimulants.

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 into the bloodstream. Crack is heated, then the vapors are smoked.

Effects & Dangers:

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:

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).

Depressants

Depressants, such as tranquilizers and barbiturates, calm nerves and relax muscles. Many are legally available by prescription (such as Valium and Xanax) and are bright-colored capsules or tablets.

Street Names: downers, goof balls, barbs, ludes

How They're Used: Depressants are swallowed.

Effects & Dangers:

Addictiveness: Depressants can cause both psychological and physical dependence.

Ecstasy (MDMA)

This is a designer drug created by underground chemists. It comes in powder, tablet, or capsule form. Ecstasy is a popular club drug among teens because it is widely available at raves, dance clubs, and concerts.

Street Names: XTC, X, Adam, E, Roll

How It's Used: Ecstasy is swallowed or sometimes snorted.

Effects & Dangers:

Addictiveness: Although the physical addictiveness of Ecstasy is unknown, teens who use it can become psychologically dependent upon it to feel good, deal with life, or handle stress.

GHB

GHB, which stands for gamma hydroxybutyrate, is often made in home basement labs, usually in the form of a liquid with no odor or color. It has gained popularity at dance clubs and raves and is a popular alternative to Ecstasy for some teens and young adults. The number of people brought to emergency departments because of GHB side effects is quickly rising in the United States. And according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), since 1995 GHB has killed more users than Ecstasy.

Street Names: Liquid Ecstasy, G, Georgia Home Boy

How It's Used: When in liquid or powder form (mixed in water), GHB is drunk; in tablet form it is swallowed.

Effects & Dangers:

Addictiveness: When users come off GHB they may have withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia and anxiety. Teens may also become dependent upon it to feel good, deal with life, or handle stress.

Heroin

Heroin comes from the dried milk of the opium poppy, which is also used to create the class of painkillers called narcotics — medicines like codeine and morphine. Heroin can range from a white to dark brown powder to a sticky, tar-like substance.

Street Names: horse, smack, Big H, junk

How It's Used: Heroin is injected, smoked, or inhaled (if it is pure).

Effects & Dangers:

Addictiveness: Heroin is extremely addictive and easy to overdose on (which can cause death). Withdrawal is intense and symptoms include insomnia, vomiting, and muscle pain.

Inhalants

Inhalants are substances that are sniffed or "huffed" to give the user an immediate rush or high. They include household products like glues, paint thinners, dry cleaning fluids, gasoline, felt-tip marker fluid, correction fluid, hair spray, aerosol deodorants, and spray paint.

How It's Used: Inhalants are breathed in directly from the original container (sniffing or snorting), from a plastic bag (bagging), or by holding an inhalant-soaked rag in the mouth (huffing).

Effects & Dangers:

Addictiveness: Inhalants can be very addictive. Teens who use inhalants can become psychologically dependent upon them to feel good, deal with life, or handle stress.

Ketamine

Ketamine hydrochloride is a quick-acting anesthetic that is legally used in both humans (as a sedative for minor surgery) and animals (as a tranquilizer). At high doses, it causes intoxication and hallucinations similar to LSD.

Street Names: K, Special K, vitamin K, bump, cat Valium

How It's Used: Ketamine usually comes in powder that users snort. Users often do it along with other drugs such as Ecstasy (called kitty flipping) or cocaine or sprinkle it on marijuana blunts.

Effects & Dangers:

Addictiveness: Teens who use it can become psychologically dependent upon it to feel good, deal with life, or handle stress.

LSD

LSD (which stands for lysergic acid diethylamide) is a lab-brewed hallucinogen and mood-changing chemical. LSD is odorless, colorless, and tasteless.

Street Names: acid, blotter, doses, microdots

How It's Used: LSD is licked or sucked off small squares of blotting paper. Capsules and liquid forms are swallowed. Paper squares containing acid may be decorated with cute cartoon characters or colorful designs.

Effects & Dangers:

Addictiveness: Teens who use it can become psychologically dependent upon it to feel good, deal with life, or handle stress.

Marijuana

The most widely used illegal drug in the United States, marijuana resembles green, brown, or gray dried parsley with stems or seeds. A stronger form of marijuana called hashish (hash) looks like brown or black cakes or balls. Marijuana is often called a gateway drug because frequent use can lead to the use of stronger drugs.

Street Names: pot, weed, blunts, chronic, grass, reefer, herb, ganja

How It's Used: Marijuana is usually smoked — rolled in papers like a cigarette (joints), or in hollowed-out cigars (blunts), pipes (bowls), or water pipes (bongs). Some people mix it into foods or brew it as a tea.

Effects & Dangers:

Addictiveness: Teens who use marijuana can become psychologically dependent upon it to feel good, deal with life, or handle stress. In addition, their bodies may demand more and more marijuana to achieve the same kind of high experienced in the beginning.

Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant.

Street Names: crank, meth, speed, crystal, chalk, fire, glass, crypto, ice

How It's Used: It can be swallowed, snorted, injected, or smoked.

Effects & Dangers:

Addictiveness: Methamphetamine is highly addictive.

Nicotine

Nicotine is a highly addictive stimulant found in tobacco. This drug is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream when smoked.

How It's Used: Nicotine is typically smoked in cigarettes or cigars. Some people put a pinch of tobacco (called chewing or smokeless tobacco) into their mouths and absorb nicotine through the lining of their mouths.

Effects & Dangers:

Addictiveness: Nicotine is as addictive as heroin or cocaine, which makes it extremely difficult to quit. Those who start smoking before the age of 21 have the hardest time breaking the habit.

Rohypnol

Rohypnol (pronounced: ro-hip-nol) is a low-cost, increasingly popular drug. Because it often comes in pre-sealed bubble packs, many teens think that the drug is safe.

Street Names: roofies, roach, forget-me pill, date rape drug

How It's Used: This drug is swallowed, sometimes with alcohol or other drugs.

Effects & Dangers:

Addictiveness: Users can become physically addicted to rohypnol, so it can cause extreme withdrawal symptoms when users stop.

Getting Help

If you think you — or a friend — may be addicted to drugs, talk to your doctor, school counselor, or nurse. They can help you get the help you need.

Several kinds of treatment are available for drug addiction. The two main categories are behavioral (helping a person change behaviors) and pharmacological (treating a person with medication).

In behavioral treatments, an expert in drug treatment teaches people how to function without drugs — handling cravings, avoiding situations that could lead to inhalant use, and preventing and handling relapses.

As with any addiction, it can be difficult to stop without professional help and treatment. Overcoming an addiction is not something that can be done alone — everyone needs support. The experts who help people with addictions are trained to help, not judge. To find a drug treatment center in your area, check online, check out the yellow pages, or ask a counselor for advice.

Reviewed by: Yamini Durani, MD
Date reviewed: January 2012
Originally reviewed by: Michele Van Vranken, MD



NemoursNote: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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