Tobacco, cannabis, alcohol, cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, magic mushrooms, poppers, amphetamine, steroids… each one is a drug, each one will have a physiological effect on your body, and each one can lead to an addiction.
The most common reason for a teen or young adult to try drugs is peer pressure – it’s difficult to consider the real consequences when all your friends tell you it’s perfectly safe and appear to be using drugs regularly without any issues.
Despite what you might be told in the moment, though, it’s crucial to remember that every drug is life threatening and dangerous, and there isn’t a single drug that doesn’t hold the potential to lead to addiction.
The short-term effects
Anyone who uses drugs is immediately vulnerable to short-term effects, such as an inability to pay attention or a lethal overdose. Drug use can also put you at a higher risk of unprotected sex, a fatal accident, victimization or rape.
The long-term effects
Addiction and how it works
The first time someone uses a drug, it will create a feeling of euphoria or intense pleasure. This will activate the ‘reward’ circuitry in their brain and release dopamine, a chemical which sends a message to their brain that whatever is causing the pleasure is good.
This will in turn drive that person to seek out the drug again. However, the more often they use that drug, the more their brain will begin to change. Their neurons will sense that there is more than enough dopamine production and their body will then make less dopamine or reduce its number of dopamine receptors. The result is a weakening of the dopamine’s ability to activate the circuits that cause pleasure, causing that person to feel flat, lifeless or depressed without the drug. At this point, they have an addiction and will be unable to feel normal or think clearly and rationally without that drug.
The earlier you begin drug use, the more likely you are to develop an addiction and the more likely you are to relapse into drug abuse when trying to quit.
What it can lead to
- Mental health issues – drug use is strongly connected to mental health illnesses such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, paranoia and bipolar disorder. Recent research has found, for example, that using cannabis (weed) in adolescence increases your risk of developing depression in adulthood by 37%, and other research has found that roughly 50% of individuals with severe mental disorders have been affected by substance abuse.
- Poverty – drugs cost money, and the need to maintain the habit can lead drug users to extreme measures such as theft and prostitution in order to fund it. In addition, depending on the level of your addiction, it can be difficult to hold down a job or career with a drug habit, and this can then lead to financial loss.
- Serious illness - Anabolic steroids have been associated with impotence in boys and men and clitoral enlargement in girls and women, as well as baldness, stunted growth, heart attacks, strokes, liver disease, cancer, acne and infections, including HIV/AIDS in both sexes.
- Death - depending on how the body takes in and processes each kind of drug, substances of abuse can affect virtually every one of the body's systems. Examples of this include permanent brain damage associated with inhalants, heart attack or stroke from stimulants, halted breathing from sedatives or liver failure from alcohol. Any of these problems can result in death.
- Other addictions - continued use of cannabis through smoking it with tobacco can lead to an addiction to tobacco and cigarettes in general, which can in turn dramatically increase your risk of developing cancer.
If you think you might be addicted to drugs, try opening up to someone you trust, such as a friend, family member, counsellor or member of staff at school. They will be able to give you support, listen to your experiences or help you to access professional help.
Once you are ready for professional help, your doctor is a very good place to start. They can discuss your problems with you and get you into treatment. They may offer you treatment at the practice or refer you to your local drug service. If you're not comfortable talking to your GP, you can approach your local drug treatment service yourself. If you’re based in the UK, you can visit the Frank website to find local drug treatment services.
Types of treatment
This depends on your personal circumstances and what you're addicted to. Your treatment may include:
Talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), help you to see how your thoughts and feelings affect your behaviour.
Treatment with medicines
If you're dependent on heroin or another opioid drug, you might be offered a substitute drug, such as methadone. This means you can get on with your treatment without having to worry about withdrawing or buying street drugs.
This is for people who want to stop taking opioid drugs like heroin completely. It helps you to cope with the withdrawal symptoms.
Some people find support groups like Narcotics Anonymous helpful. Your keyworker can tell you where your nearest group is.
Your drug workers will help you to reduce the risks associated with your drug-taking. You might be offered testing and treatment for hepatitis or HIV, for example.
- Beating addictions - information about a range of addictive behaviours and treatments.
- Addaction - charity providing a range of services to help transform the lives of people affected by drug and alcohol problems - details of local services are available on the website.
- Alcoholics anonymous - fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.
- The Alliance - user-led organisation that provides information and advocacy for people accessing treatment for drug and alcohol problems.
- Narcotics anonymous - user-led group of men and women who support each other to stop using drugs.
- Release - national charity that gives free and confidential advice about drugs and the law