NIDA for Teens: The Science Behind Drug Abuse
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Real Teens Ask About Drugs

Real Teens Ask: Why Research?

Lots of teens have questions about drugs. Each year, NIDA scientists spend a whole day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.

At the last “Drug Facts Chat Day,” “torgo” asked:

What made you guys (girls) want to research drugs?

As one NIDA scientist put it, “I have always been interested in biology and psychology, so I wanted to better understand the connection between the brain and the body. Doing research gives me the chance to unlock some of the mysteries of the brain. Like we now know our brains keep growing until we're in our mid-20’s—that’s a lot longer than what scientists believed before.”

So that research answered one question but opened up many more, like how do drugs affect a brain that isn’t fully developed? That’s what science is all about…asking questions and searching for answers!

And there’s still so much we don’t know. Maybe you will make a breakthrough discovery that will lead to cures for devastating brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or drug addiction.

If you’re interested in a career in science, maybe these tips will help:

  • Start talking. Chat with your science teachers about your options.
  • Do your own research. Visit the NIH website and look at the different kinds of research NIH scientists are doing. What grabs your attention? Why?
  • Think about the future. Look into colleges with the help of a guidance counselor. Tell your counselor about your interests in science and research—they may know of the perfect program.
  • Get experience. Once you’ve narrowed down your interests, try to get involved, volunteer at a science museum or create a science research club at school.
Why Research?

Real Teens Ask: What Are Designer Drugs?

Questions about drugs? Lots of teens are asking. That’s why each year, NIDA scientists spend a day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.

At the last Drug Facts Chat Day, “Boxy” from St. Henry District High School in Kentucky asked:

What are designer drugs?

The term “designer drugs” refers to drugs that are created in a laboratory (typically, an “underground,” or secret, illegal lab). A designer drug is created by changing the properties of a drug that comes from a plant—such as cocaine, morphine, or marijuana—using the tools of chemistry. The resulting “designer” drugs typically have a new, different effect on the brain or behavior.

Examples of Designer Drugs

MDMA (Ecstasy), ketamine, GHB, Rohypnol, LSD (acid), and methamphetamine are some examples of designer drugs. These drugs may also be referred to as “club drugs” because of their use in night clubs.

Since many designer drugs are created in illegal labs, their ingredients and potency (how strong they are) vary a lot, making it nearly impossible to know what is actually in them or what they can do to you. For example, Ecstasy tablets are often contaminated with other things, like ephedrine (used to treat allergies and asthma), ketamine (an injected anesthetic given for minor surgeries), and methamphetamine (another illicit drug).

It is not surprising that these unknown mixtures can cause dangerous side effects, such as seizures, memory loss, coma and even death.

Find out more about club drugs.

Pills and alcohol

Real Teens Ask: How Can I Help?

During NIDA’s 2013 Drug Facts Chat Day, several teens shared touching stories about friends who are struggling with drug abuse and asked how they can help.

Real Teen Stories

A teen from Croatan High School in North Carolina submitted:

Someone I'm close to has been smoking the past year. I haven't told anyone because I don't want it to affect him at home. I'm glad he hasn't done anything around me but I'm not sure what to do about it.

A teen from C.H.Yoe High School in Texas submitted:

I have a friend who is…just out of control. If he finds a pill…no matter what it is he will take it. I am trying to get him to alter his foolish ways. What do you suggest I do to help him?

Another teen from Croatan High School in North Carolina submitted:

My best friend of 7 years has smoked cigarettes, smoked marijuana, and tried other drugs since she was 11. She has dealt with social services, law enforcement, and was sent to a foster home for 3 months. She has been back home for a month and says she's going to change. I love her and don't want her to go back down the same road again, but she doesn't want to hear it when I talk to her about drugs. How can I help her?

Tips for Helping a Friend

It can be really upsetting and scary to have friends who are struggling with drug abuse and addiction. Here are some tips for helping them:

  1. Start by being a good friend, which you likely already are because you’re concerned. As a good friend, you’re someone who can be trusted to provide good advice and listen when your friend needs to talk.
  2. Educate yourself about drugs and alcohol and the problems they can cause. Then, you can give your friend the facts and refer your friend to resources to help him or her learn more. A good place to start is on the NIDA for Teens Web site. This site includes fact sheets about many different drugs and their effects.
  3. Next, encourage your friend to talk to an adult who he or she can trust—maybe a teacher, coach, or a parent of another friend. If your friend doesn't feel comfortable talking to a trusted adult but is ready to seek help, then you can check out treatment resources in your community (some are available just for teens). If your friend feels like he or she is in crisis, then he or she (or you) can call 1-800-273-TALK to talk confidentially to a professional who can help.

Has a friend ever leaned on you for help staying away from drugs or other problems? Tell us in comments what you did to help them, and let us know if you have other questions about dealing with tough stuff.

Teen talking to friend about drug abuse.

Real Teens Ask About Marijuana

In a recent Drug Facts Chat Day, Jiacalone_01 from Cashmere High School in Washington asked: What percentage of 9th graders smoke marijuana?

Most teens are not smoking marijuana. We know this from asking teens themselves. How? Through the annual survey of teen drug use called Monitoring the Future, which surveys 8th, 10th, and 12th graders about their drug use and attitudes. The survey found that about 12% of 8th graders reported marijuana use in 2009 compared to about 27% of 10th graders and 22% of 12th graders. The survey also showed that marijuana use has declined steadily since the mid-1990s until about 2002. Since then, it’s kind of leveled off, so the people here at NIDA are trying to figure out why, and how to get things back to a downward trend.

One reason for the leveling off may be something else the survey found—which is a change in attitudes among teens toward marijuana smoking—that they consider it to be less harmful than they did in years past.

The thing is, marijuana is more than just a mix of dried leaves from the cannabis sativa plant. It actually contains a chemical called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, along with about 400 other chemicals. Although many of these can affect your health, THC is the main psychoactive (i.e., mind altering) ingredient. (In fact, marijuana’s strength or potency is related to the amount of THC it contains, which is something people who use marijuana won’t know since it is an illegal substance.)

THC alters the way your brain functions, which can be bad news for teen brains since they’re still developing. For example, THC can disrupt what goes on in your hippocampus, which can lead to problems with learning and memory—since that’s what this brain area gets involved in. Disrupting its normal functioning can lead to problems studying, learning new things, and recalling recent events. You can read more on marijuana here:

PS—Some people argue that marijuana is not addictive. Wrong! In 2007, the majority of youth (age 17 or younger) entering drug abuse treatment reported marijuana as their primary drug abused. We admit that, we still don’t know everything that marijuana use does to teens. But we do know that adolescents’ brains are still growing and changing—so is it really worth the risk?

a boy

Real Teens Ask: Got Alcohol on the Brain?

As many of you know, the brain is still well under way in the development process through the teen years into your 20’s. Your decisions today can affect the way your brain develops. Ever wondered how? “Warda” from Wantagh Middle School in New York asks: How can alcohol affect the development of the brain? The teen years are an important time for brain development. The thinking, memory, and feeling parts are all changing during this time, and alcohol can interfere with these important changes and actually shrink the thinking and memory parts. Research shows that drinking lots of alcohol when you’re a teen can make an area of the brain called the frontal lobes smaller. The frontal lobes help us make decisions, think about things, and pay attention. Teens who drink a lot have problems in these areas. Alcohol also can shrink the hippocampus, the brain area that helps with learning and memory. For weeks and months after a teen stops drinking heavily, these parts of the brain still struggle to work correctly. Drinking at a young age also makes alcoholism more likely later in life. So the decision to drink when you’re still a teen could have lots of negative effects on brain development over time. So be kind to your brain and think before you drink. Alcohol on the Brain

Real Teens Ask: What Are Opioids?

Teens have a lot of questions about drugs, which is why NIDA holds an annual Drug Facts Chat Day to explain the science behind drug abuse. At the last Chat Day, “casa grande” from Casa Grande Union High School in Arizona asked: What are opioids?

Opioids, also known as “opiates,” are a class of drugs with powerful pain-relieving properties. So, some are prescribed by doctors like Percocet, Vicodin, and codeine for people who need them. But then there are also street drugs like heroin that are also opioids—so yeah, Vicodin and heroin are in the same class of drugs!

When prescribed by a doctor, opioids can be used in a responsible way to reduce pain, treat diarrhea, or control coughing. Inside our bodies, opioids link to receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and gut, much like pieces in a puzzle. When they do, they can block the experience of pain. For example, morphine is sometimes given to people before or after surgery. However, opioids can also affect parts of the brain that control feelings of pleasure, producing a sense of euphoria that makes people want to take them again and again even when they’re not in pain. When people keep taking them like that, opioids can actually change the way the brain works, causing strong cravings that are of part of having an addiction.

NIDA scientists have put together a lot of information on opiates – learn more at Mind Over Matter: Opiates, Research Report Series - Prescription Drugs: Abuse and Addiction, NIDA InfoFacts: Heroin.

Here is an image of a girl holding a pill.

Real Teens Ask about Effects of Heroin

At NIDA’s last Chat Day, we got this question from a high school student:

”Why do people scratch a lot when they are high on heroin?"

A NIDA scientist responded that he had done years of research on this topic. He explained: “Heroin activates connections in the brain called opioid receptors. These receptors then activate fibers that transmit itch information (aka ‘pruritus’) to the brain. Thus, heroin users feel itchy. Good question.”

But before heroin can activate opioid receptors, it has to enter the blood stream and reach the brain. So how does this happen?

People usually inject heroin into their blood stream with a syringe. Soon afterwards, the heroin crosses the “blood-brain barrier”—a protective membrane that separates circulating blood from brain fluid in the central nervous system. Once in the brain, heroin is converted to a chemical called morphine and binds rapidly to the opioid receptors already mentioned. These receptors recognize chemicals affecting pain, like morphine.

Various drugs names.

Heroin users typically report feeling a surge of pleasure, or a “rush,” which makes sense because heroin enters the brain so rapidly. This quality also makes it extremely addictive. Along with the rush usually comes a warm flushing of the skin, dry mouth, and a heavy feeling in the arms and legs, which may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and, of course, severe itching. Also, since heroin is a depressant, it clouds your thinking and can slow—or even stop—breathing.

Because heroin is mostly sold on the street, users can’t be sure of the purity (or strength) of the drug they’re taking. Also, because it’s so addictive, they may crave bigger and bigger amounts of the drug to get the same rush they got the first time—which often leads to overdose and death.

Scratching teen

Real Teens Ask: What Drug is Most Abused by Teens?

At NIDA’s Drug Facts Chat Day, we get great questions from teens all over the country about drugs. Here’s one from “hhentze,” representing Junction City High School in Oregon:

What drug is most often used by teens in the USA?

Every year since 1975, the Monitoring the Future Study has surveyed teens to better understand their drug use rates, attitudes, and beliefs. Looking over the past 10 years, data show that more and more teens are saying no to drugs, period. They are not even trying them once.

Still, to answer the question, statistics from 2009 (PDF, 362.76KB) show that the drug most often abused by teens in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades is alcohol, followed by marijuana. The third most abused drug varies by grade—for 8th graders, it’s inhalants. For 10th and 12th graders, it’s Vicodin (a prescription medication for pain). Here’s a little more info:

  • Alcohol

So, even though alcohol might be the drug most abused by teens, the good news is that the number of teens who report drinking in the last 30 days has gradually declined by as much as 40% over the past 35 years. You go, Gen Y!

  • Marijuana

Seems marijuana use is slowly creeping upwards after a steady decline that lasted almost 10 years. What’s up with that? The answer may have to do with the fact that young people are seeing marijuana as less risky than before and are more accepting of its use in general.

  • Inhalants and Vicodin

With both inhalants and Vicodin, the rates of abuse among teens are about the same as they have been for the past 2-3 years. That’s pretty positive, especially since the study only recently started looking at trends in prescription drugs.

Your Turn

Carry out your own mini-study and see what drugs friends, relatives, or teachers think are most often abused by teens. Feel free to share what you found out with us in the comments. Spread the word, and help set the record straight.

Group of teens

Real Teens Ask: Drugs and Socializing

Being a teen is tricky, and sometimes we all wish for a quick fix when we’re feeling awkward or out of place. At NIDA’s last Chat Day, we got this question from a middle school student in Maryland: Can drugs affect the way you socialize? It’s true that some drugs and alcohol can affect your social skills—in some not-so-positive or safe ways. Some people think that using drugs or alcohol is a good way to relax and be more comfortable in social situations, like at a party. But sometimes after taking drugs or drinking alcohol, people may do or say things they normally wouldn’t. And they regret it later. Drugs can change the way the brain works, disrupting the parts of the brain that allow people use to weigh risks and benefits when making decisions. Impaired decision-making can lead anyone down a dangerous path. NIDA has worked in the past to let teens know how using drugs can lead to poor decisions, which in turn can lead to something as serious as contracting HIV. Take a look at these videos about a girl who uses drugs at a party and gets HIV. The inability to make smart decisions because of drugs or alcohol could also put you at risk of riding with someone who is drunk or high and shouldn’t be behind the wheel. Stay true to you. Long-term drug or alcohol use and addiction also can affect your ability to socialize. Someone who is doing drugs likely has relationships that are suffering because of it, hurting most the people who love them. Addiction means that a person cares more about getting the drug than they do about anything else, including family and friends. People who use drugs a lot may lose interest in things they used to like and even in how they look or how they are doing in school or sports. So tell us: What are some drug- and alcohol-free ways teens can stay confident and have fun in social situations? Teens being social

Real Teens Ask: How Can I Help My Friend?

Lots of teens have questions about drugs. Each year, NIDA scientists spend a whole day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.

At the last “Drug Facts Chat Day,” a teen from Lima Central Catholic High School in Lima, Ohio asked:

What should I do if one of my friends is using drugs... What should I tell him to convince him to stop?

There are many ways to help and support your friend, but in the end, it will need to be your friend’s decision. And just by asking us this question, it’s easy to see you are a good friend. Sometimes our friends won’t appreciate advice they don’t want to hear—especially if they are using drugs—but telling the truth to help someone close to you is part of being a real friend, even when it’s hard to do.

Here’s some ideas of things to say and do to help:

What To Do:

  • Find out if your friend is experimenting with drugs, or if he may be addicted. Neither one is good—but you may need more support if your friend is addicted.
  • Understand that addiction is a brain disease. Just like you wouldn’t expect someone with cancer to be able to heal herself without the help of a doctor, the right treatment, and support from family and friends, you can’t expect your friend to heal herself.
  • Know that it is never easy for anyone to admit that they have a drug problem. You will need to be patient—and not give up easily.
  • Listen, encourage, share, and support. Sounds easy right? But it’s so hard. We provide further tips and resources in a previous post we wrote titled “How to Help a Friend in Need.”
  • BTW, it's tough having a friend with addiction issues. So, if you need some support, visit:

What To Say:

  • Just telling your friend that you’re concerned can be a big help. Your friend may not want to talk about it, and the effects that drugs have on the brain may keep him or her from “hearing” you or acting on your advice.
  • Assure your friend you are there for her and that she is not alone. People with drug problems often have gotten in with the wrong crowd—and they don’t want to turn away from these so-called friends for fear of being alone.
  • Suggest that he or she speak to a trusted adult who will keep it confidential. Maybe there’s a family friend who could help.
  • Turn to a professional for immediate help if the problem looks to be too big for you to handle alone, or if you’re worried your friend may have suicidal thoughts that she could act on.
  • Use SAMHSA’s Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator or call 1–800–662–HELP to tap into a support network where you can find immediate and confidential help 24/7. They will also be able to direct you to local treatment options.

When the people we care about and have lots in common with make bad choices, it can be frustrating, confusing, and a little depressing. Still, we should be there for our friends, and also try to be a good role models for them by making smart choices ourselves.

Two teens

Real Teens Ask: Why Take Drugs?

During NIDA’s Drug Facts Chat Day 2010, young people asked a lot of great questions. One really basic question came from a student in Pennsylvania: Why do people take drugs?

While the specific answer may differ from person to person, some common reasons are that people think they will feel good, forget their problems, perform better, or fit in.

Drugs may have these effects at first, but they do not last, at least not like the long-term negative consequences can. Here are some “reality checks” on common reasons people have for doing drugs:  

“Drugs help me feel good.” Most abused drugs produce intense feelings of pleasure. This initial sensation of euphoria is followed by other effects, which differ with the type of drug used. For example, with stimulants such as cocaine, the “high” is followed by feelings of power, self-confidence, and increased energy. In contrast, the euphoria caused by opiates such as heroin is followed by feelings of relaxation and satisfaction.

Reality check: While a drug-induced high may temporarily boost your mood, the effect doesn’t last long. Before you know it, the same old worries return, and, in fact, the after-effects of the drug may leave you with additional physical or emotional symptoms. Headaches, nausea, and feeling “down” are common side effects for many people. Withdrawal can be quite painful—physically and mentally.

Drugs help me feel better. Some people who suffer from social anxiety, stress-related disorders, and depression start abusing drugs in an attempt to lessen feelings of distress. Stress can play a major role in beginning drug use, continuing drug abuse, or in relapsing to drug use for people recovering from addiction.

Reality check: Some prescription medications can help lessen anxiety- or stress-related problems for a person suffering from a mental health problem that has been diagnosed by a doctor. These medications should only be taken as prescribed by a doctor and used under a doctor’s care. The “high” caused by illicit drugs like marijuana or cocaine may be just a temporary mask over your problems and will not make you feel better in the long run. In fact, illicit drugs may cause you even more stress, anxiety, and problems.

"Drugs help me perform better.” The increasing pressure that some people feel to chemically enhance or improve their athletic abilities or performance in school can prompt them to start or continue drug abuse.

Reality check: So-called “performance enhancing” drugs, like steroids, actually have serious side effects. Men may develop breasts, and women may acquire some male characteristics like a deeper voice and increased body hair. Some people may abuse stimulants to increase their alertness, but dangerous side effects like irregular heartbeat, high body temperatures, and the potential for heart failure or seizures make this a bad bargain.

“Everyone’s doing it.” Teens are particularly vulnerable to trying drugs because of the strong influence of peer pressure; they are more likely, for example, to take part in risky behaviors because they assume that their peers are also doing it.

Reality check: The annual Monitoring the Future survey, which measures drug abuse by 8th, 10th, and 12th graders and their attitudes towards drugs, shows that nowhere close to a majority of teens are abusing drugs (PDF, 317 KB).

The bottom line?— knowing more about the specific negative effects of drugs on your brain and body can help you think twice before you act.

Teens talking about drugs

Real Teens Ask: Can Your Brain Size Change From Drug Use?

At NIDA's last Drug Facts Chat Day, mendythepenty asked this question:

"is it possible that you do so much drugs, that your brain can change into the size of a pea?"

When you do drugs, your brain changes. According to NIDA scientists, the brain weighs about three pounds and doing drugs, even for the first time, can change how our brain looks and works. Assuming you're serious, does this literally mean it can shrink to the size of a pea? Probably not, but the fact that drugs can change your brain, never mind damage or kill brain cells, is enough for me! I want to be smart. To me, smart means cool, and it means healthy. And healthy means being able to live the life you choose, whether that's trying out for the basketball team, skateboarding with friends, or going to the school dance.

Discover more about how drugs affect the brain. And pass it on! You can read more real questions from kids in our NIDA Drug Facts Chat Day transcripts.

Three teens sitting and one is holding a skateboard

Real Teens Ask: Which Drug Is Most Addictive?

On Drug Facts Chat Day, we get thousands of questions about drugs from high school students all over the country. Today, we’re taking one from Casa Grande Union High School in Arizona:

Which drug is most addictive?

Let’s start with this basic truth—although some drugs are stronger or more powerful than others, all drugs are potentially dangerous. Each has a way of tapping into your brain’s pleasure circuitry and altering your physical or emotional state. And this means—Any of them can lead to abuse and addiction.

But what makes one drug more addictive than another has to do with a person’s environment (like stress, or friends who use drugs), the type of drug, and how much it’s used—even genes have a role in whether or not someone becomes addicted. Scientists have already identified a particular gene that makes some people more likely to become addicted to nicotine, the drug found in cigarettes and other tobacco products. All these factors affect the individual person in different ways, which is why everyone’s experience with drug addiction is unique.

Even so, some of the most intoxicating drugs out there will take fewer doses over a shorter period of time for many people to become addicted. This includes cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin. And a high dose of a weaker drug taken more often over the same period of time could lead to addiction for some people as well. It’s a hard call to make in advance.

Visit our Web site for more information on drugs of abuse and addiction.

Magic eightball

Why Does the Government Study Drug Abuse?

Why have a government agency to regulate the food we eat (the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) and an agency to help protect our health (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)? These agencies are important in helping make rules, spread messages, and monitor things that affect Americans to make sure that we all stay healthy. The Government continues to add agencies that help to regulate and monitor health. In 1974, it created the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to study, fund research, and spread the word about the science behind drug abuse and addiction.

As SBB has explained in many past posts, addiction is complicated. Like other mental disorders—such as depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia—addiction is a chronic disease that can last a lifetime without proper treatment. And, addiction not only affects the addicted person, but also their family members and friends.

NIDA's Goal

The goal of having a national agency that supports drug abuse research is to help prevent drug abuse and addiction. The more research we have to prove that addiction is a dangerous and lifelong brain disease, the more able we are to reduce the devastating effects that drug abuse has on individuals, their families and communities, and society as a whole.

NIDA logo.

NIDA's goal is to give people scientific knowledge about the dangers of drug abuse. Therefore, NIDA continues to explore how drugs work in the brain and body, and to develop and test new approaches to treatment and prevention. The first step is taken by researchers; the next step is up to you. How will you use this knowledge?

Over the years, NIDA has made its research available to many different audiences. In 2003, NIDA launched the NIDA for Teens Web site, which now hosts the Sara Bellum Blog (uh-hum), and other great tools, including Choose Your Path, which is an interactive video that asks you to make choices about prescription drug abuse, then see where those choices lead. Check out some other great resources that NIDA provides for students and young adults.

Money and Drugs

Real Teens Ask: What Types of Drugs are High School Students Using?

ots of teens have questions about drugs. That’s why each year, NIDA scientists spend a day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.

At NIDA’s last Drug Facts Chat Day, ham223 asked this question:

“What types of drugs are most used by high school students?”

According to NIDA’s Monitoring the Future Surveywhich looks at the different drugs that teens are using—alcohol is number one (yes, it’s a drug), followed by tobacco and marijuana, which are pretty equal. Turns out, though, that not many teens are using most illegal drugs. The survey shows that in 2008, fewer than 1 in 6 10th graders reported that they used any illegal drug in the past month. And the numbers are still going down.

Two teens sitting on a desk at school

Real Teens Ask: Will Drugs Hurt an Unborn Baby?

Lots of teens have questions about drugs. Each year, NIDA scientists spend a whole day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.

At the last Drug Facts Chat Day, “hbishop” asked:

Can a baby die from drugs that a pregnant mom is using?

To answer your question, it is possible. As one NIDA scientist put it, “We know that drugs of abuse can cross the placenta and reach the fetus. So, drugs used by the mother definitely can affect the baby’s health and can even cause long-term harm many years later. That is why doctors recommend that pregnant mothers not smoke or use alcohol or other illicit drugs.”

Anything a pregnant mother puts in her body the baby also takes in. Exposure to different drugs can harm the baby in many different ways. Like—

Smoking during pregnancy can cause slowed fetal growth, decreased birth weights, and even behavioral problems.

Drinking alcohol while pregnant can cause fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Children with FAS may be born small; have problems eating, sleeping, seeing, and hearing; and have trouble learning and getting along with others. NO amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy.

Using cocaine and marijuana during pregnancy can lead to children having attention, language, and learning problems, as well as behavioral issues. Mothers who use alcohol, tobacco, or any illicit drug are setting their children up for potential lifelong problems or even death. The best thing a pregnant mom can do is talk to her doctor about which foods to eat and vitamins to take to make sure her child gets a healthy start.

Sources: For alcohol:

Image of pregnant woman

Real Teens Ask: Is Propofol a Drug?

Since the death of Michael Jackson in 2009, “propofol” has been mentioned often in the news. The substance was found to be the cause of his death and was the center of the highly publicized trial of his doctor.

So, it’s no surprise there is a lot of curiosity about propofol. NIDA received questions about it during last year’s Drug Facts Chat Day.

During Chat Day, Cam from California asked about the basics—

Is propofol a drug?

Yes. Propofol is a common type of anesthetic—a drug that doctors use to “put people to sleep” for surgery. It is given to patients through an “intravenous drip,” (called an “IV” for short) that goes through a special needle into a patient’s vein, so the medicine goes directly into the bloodstream.

Doctors who give patients propofol are generally known as “anesthesiologists” and have special training. These experts set up the IV, make sure the patient is “sleeping” comfortably, and then carefully monitor vital signs (like heart rate, breathing, etc.) while the patient has surgery.

Doctors like using propofol because it leaves the body very quickly, which allows the patient to wake up after surgery more rapidly, without bad side effects. Propofol can be a useful drug when it’s given by people who are properly trained. But like many prescription drugs, it can be very harmful if used inappropriately. Propofol should be given only in a hospital setting where the patient can be closely monitored.

A Lost Legend

Michael Jackson died of acute propofol intoxication. Additional drugs found in Michael’s system were the depressants midazolam and diazepam, the painkiller Lidocaine, and the stimulant ephedrine. His doctor, Conrad Murray, was convicted of causing the singer’s death by giving Michael the propofol that caused him to stop breathing. By helping Michael abuse drugs—even if it was to “help him sleep”—he contributed to the loss of a legend. Michael’s untimely death was mourned by millions of people.

Syringe full of Propofol.

Real Teens Ask: Can drugs give you viruses?

At NIDA's last Drug Facts Chat Day, Razorfang asked this question:

"can you get viruses from drugs?"

The answer to this might surprise you. Although you can't get viruses directly from drugs, using drugs can increase your chances of catching a virus like HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). In fact, behaviors associated with drug abuse are one of the biggest factors in the spread of HIV across the US.

That's because drugs can mess up your judgment and lead to bad decisions—bad decisions like unsafe sex. And risky sex can lead to more than pregnancy. It can also lead to becoming infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted viruses.

The bottom line is that avoiding drugs and alcohol can help keep teens safe from HIV. Learn more about the link between drug abuse and HIV. You can also find out more about youth and HIV at

A girl and a boy sitting on a couch. The girl is holding a red cup.

Real Teens Ask: What are stimulants?

In a recent Drug Facts Chat Day, freeman-jones of Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School, Maryland asked:

Can taking Ritalin help you if you have not been prescribed Ritalin?

Ritalin is a drug used in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and is classified as a stimulant. The term stimulants can be used to refer to any number of drugs, including prescription drugs like methylphenidate (Ritalin’s scientific name) and dextroamphetamine (Adderall).

People diagnosed (by a doctor) with ADHD can benefit from these drug when they’re used as prescribed. However, teens with an ADHD prescription are sometimes pressured by friends to share some of their pills because they think the pills will help them focus or stay alert or ace an exam.

Trouble is, when you take a pill that’s been prescribed for someone else’s weight, symptoms and body chemistry, or take more than the right dose for your own body, it can bring on more harm than good. Like changing your mood in ways that you can’t control, or raising your blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature. And when the effects wear off, you might feel extreme fatigue and maybe even depression.

Better than borrowing someone’s prescription pills is GETTING SLEEP. It’s safe and easy and will help you learn and stay mentally and physically alert. Maybe that’s why sleep is such a major part of our lives. Get it for free now (ok, wait ‘til bedtime).

Text - Got Speed?

Why Does Peer Pressure Influence Teens To Try Drugs?

During NIDA’s most recent Drug Facts Chat Day,“Kid” from Totino-Grace High School in Minnesota, asked: “Why is peer pressure such a huge factor in teens’ temptations [to experiment with] drugs and alcohol?”

Risk Versus Reward

New research shows that, when making a decision, teens think about both the risks and rewards of their actions and behaviors—but, unlike adults, teens are more likely to ignore the risk in favor of the reward.

In a NIDA-funded study, teens driving with their friends in the car were more likely to take risks—like speeding through yellow lights—if they knew that two or more of their friends were watching. Teens were also significantly more likely to act this way than adults in the same experiment.

Researchers monitored the brain activity of all the teen drivers in the study. Results showed that just knowing friends were watching activated brain regions linked with reward, especially when the teen drivers made risky decisions.

So, be aware: The desire to impress your friends may override your fear of taking risks. This could also apply to deciding whether to try drugs or alcohol—your decision might be influenced by who is around and if you think they’d be impressed.

Tell us: When you already know the risks, yet you want to impress your friends, do you run the light or slow down and stop? Do you accept a drink or turn it down? Do you go with the crowd or be your own person and impress others with your individuality? What are some ways you could put the brakes on long enough to think twice before making a decision to do something you know is risky?

Orange traffic light

Real Teens Ask: Do Many Kids in High School Do Drugs?

Questions about drugs? Lots of teens are asking. That's why each year NIDA scientists spend a day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.

At our last Drug Facts Chat Day, Livelaughlove94 asked:

"Do many kids in high school do drugs?"

The best way to find out if high school kids do drugs is to ask them. That's exactly what NIDA does every year in its annual Monitoring the Future Study. This survey of more than 46,000 teens—8th, 10th, and 12th graders to be exact—showed that only about 3 percent, or 3 in 100 teens have used cocaine or Ecstasy in the last year, and only about 1 in 100 used methamphetamine. That's not a lot. Teens also said they were smoking a lot less now than teens used to smoke in the '90s—like 3x less if you're a 10th grader. So, what is the most commonly used illegal drug?—Marijuana. About a quarter of 10th graders say they have tried it in the past year. You can see the numbers for each major drug type in this report (PDF, 971.57KB).

So, to answer your question, not that many kids in high school do drugs, although marijuana is the most common. So even though it may seem like "everyone's doing it," know that not everyone really is.

For more details on specific results from the Monitoring the Future Study, feel free to browse an overview of the results.


group of teens sitting around

Real Teens Ask: Why Do Teens Who Smoke Think They Are So Cool?

Many teens have questions about drugs. On Drug Facts Chat Day, NIDA scientists get to listen in and answer these questions from students all across the country.

Here’s one fromzippy do dafrom Kingswood Middle School in New Hampshire:

Why do teens who smoke think they are so cool?

There could be many reasons why teens who smoke think they’re cool—maybe their friends smoke, maybe their parents told them not to smoke, maybe they think it gives them an edgy look, or a temporary high. But the truth is, as far as your health goes—smoking is so not cool.

And who defines cool anyway? What’s cool to one person may not be cool to another. Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, coolness is an individual decision. Not everyone thinks that doing something illegal or unhealthy because your friends are doing it is cool. Lots of teens would say it's cooler to hold a pen, paintbrush, or drum stick between your fingers, instead of a cigarette.

When our parents were younger, many of them thought “the Fonz” from the hit TV show "Happy Days" was the epitome of cool. Pretty dorky now.

A button image of "The Fonz."

Image Courtesy of FCharlton

Today it seems like a lot of teen smokers are figuring out that smoking is not very cool at all. According to a 2007 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 50% of all high school smokers are actively trying to quit. And, according to the recent NIDA-funded Monitoring the Future study of 8th, 10th and 12th graders, smoking among American teens is at an all time low.

Coolness is a funny thing. Some things are cool one year (or one minute!), and not the next. Other things are cool no matter how much time has passed. What’s cool is also influenced by your gender, age, where you live, and, most of all, by who you are. Check out how one high school student examined the cool factor as a science fair project—it even won her a cool prize. But don’t take our word for it—you decide.

Neon sign reading Cool

Real Teens Ask: How Many Teens Use Drugs?

This post, which originally appeared on SBB in October 2009, answers one of the most common questions NIDA hears from teens. The stats here come from the 2012 Monitoring the Future study.

Lots of teens are asking questions about drugs. That's why each year NIDA scientists spend a day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.

During one Drug Facts Chat Day, ims604cb asked:

“How many teens are on drugs?"

The best way to find out if high school kids do drugs is to ask them. That's exactly what NIDA does every year in its annual Monitoring the Future study. This survey of more than 46,000 teens—8th, 10th, and 12th graders to be exact—showed that 13% of 8th graders, 30% of 10th graders, and 40% of 12th graders say they have used a drug at least once in the past year.

So, what is the most commonly used illegal drug?—Marijuana. More than a quarter of 10th graders say they have tried it in the past year. You can see the numbers for each major drug type in this report (PDF‒2.25 MB).

But, to answer the question, not that many kids in high school do drugs, although marijuana is the most common. Even though it may sometimes seem like "everyone's doing it," know that not everyone really is.

For more details on specific results from the Monitoring the Future study, browse an overview of the results.

Teens sitting and relaxing

Real Teens Ask: How Old Are Kids Who Start Using Drugs?

Lots of teens have questions about drugs. Each year, NIDA scientists spend a day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.

At the last Drug Facts Chat Day, soccerstar0 asked:

“On average how old are kids who start using drugs?”

Research shows that drug use often starts in the teen years. You might have heard that, but here’s something you may not know—the science shows that the younger you are when you start using drugs, the more likely you are to get addicted later on. Doing drugs can also cause problems with friends, in sports, and in school.

Let’s face it—when someone tells us not to do something, that sometimes makes it seem more exciting. But drugs can really do some not-so-exciting things to your body. NIDA researchers discovered that drugs can literally change the way your brain works. And since your own brain won’t finish growing until you’re 25, you probably don’t want to mess with that process by doing drugs.

three teen boys

Real Teens Ask: What Is a Drug?

Every year on NIDA’s Drug Facts Chat Day, scientists chat with teens across the country to answer their questions about the science behind drug abuse and addiction.

Carmen asked a really important question, which shows that sometimes the simplest questions are the most intriguing: What is a drug?

There are many different types of drugs—from cough medicine to aspirin to prescription pain medications to street drugs like cocaine. In this post, SBB is dealing with illicit “drugs of abuse” like marijuana, heroin, and cocaine.

Put simply, drugs of abuse are chemicals that can deliver a destructive blow to the brains collection of neurons, circuits, and systems, all designed to work in harmony.

Drugs can actually reprogram the brain, so that every time a person takes the drug, the effect is a little weaker, which requires taking more and more of it to get the same feeling. Eventually, a person becomes dependent on the drug and compulsively uses it not so much to feel good but to keep from feeling bad. That is the “sneaky” part of addiction.

Someone addicted to drugs will feel nauseated when too much time passes before they can get the drug into their bodies. Eventually, so many additional brain systems become disrupted by repeated use that obtaining and using that drug becomes the sole focus of a user’s life, despite devastating consequences—and that’s the real nature of addiction.

So, next time somebody offers you a joint, a drink of alcohol, or even a cigarette, think of an army of molecules quietly sneaking into the deepest crevices of your brain and beginning to wreak havoc on the very essence of “you.”

"Drugs?" written on paper

Real Teens Ask About Speedballs

This past Drug Facts Chat Day, teens from across the country submitted questions about drug abuse to NIDA scientists.

A teen from Kingswood Regional Middle School in New Hampshire asked, “Can you tell me what speedballs are and why they are so dangerous?”


A speedball is a combination of heroin and cocaine. Cocaine acts as a stimulant and heroin acts as a depressant, so taking them together creates a sort of “push-pull” reaction in the body and brain.

People use cocaine and heroin at the same time to get an intense rush with a high that is supposed to combine the effects of both drugs, while hoping to reduce the negative effects. However, the combination of cocaine and heroin can have fatal consequences. Negative effects of stimulants include anxiety, high blood pressure, and strong or irregular heartbeat, while the negative effects of depressants include drowsiness and suppression of breathing.

Taking stimulants with depressants can cause negative side effects typically associated with the abuse of either one individually, such as a state of general confusion, incoherence, blurred vision, stupor, drowsiness, paranoia, and mental impairment because of lack of sleep. The combination can also result in uncontrolled and uncoordinated motor skills, and also the risk of death from stroke, heart attack, aneurysm, or respiratory failure.

Respiratory failure is particularly likely with speedballs because the effects of cocaine wear off far more quickly than the effects of heroin. Fatal slowing of the breathing can occur when the stimulating cocaine wears off and the full effects of the heroin are felt on their own.

What other questions about drugs do you have?

Blurred view of a dance club

NIDA's DRUG FACTS CHAT DAY 2009—Transcript Is Now Online

What do kids want to know about drugs if no one is watching them write the questions? See for yourself! NIDA's DRUG FACTS CHAT DAY transcript is now online. NIDA scientists and staff answered hundreds of questions from teens all over the country. You can read some sample questions below. (For the answers…click on this link to find the transcript).

casa grande mb - Casa Grande Union High School, Arizona: is it possible for someone to get in trouble if they just want to have fun?????????????

music - Dixie High School, Utah: How do you convince someone you love not to smoke without hurting their feelings?

annarules - Kingswood Middle School, New Hampshire: are drugs also associated with car accidents as much as alcohol is cause i would have thought drugs would have as much in the blame of it as alcohol? DO THEY PLAY AN EQUAL PART????????????????

tyelisha - Theodore Roosevelt High School, Ohio: Why do some people get addicted to drugs the first time they try them and other people are more resilient?

babylala - Einstein High School, Maryland: why do employers ask if you do drugs or not?

MUHS - Middlebury Union High School, Vermont: IS MARIJUANA REALLY A GATEWAY DRUG?


freeman-j - Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School, Maryland: How can taking ritalin affect you if you have not been prescribed ritalin?

banger92 - Port Chester High School, New York: Is it better to smoke "light" cigarettes or regular cigarettes?

mooky - Benjamin Franklin Academics Plus, Pennsylvania: if you use drugs about 3 times a week does that necessarily mean your addicted to it?

By the way, if you participated in CHAT DAY, you can see if your questions got answered by doing a word search—look for your user name or your school's name.

NIDA’s DRUG FACTS CHAT DAY 2009 Transcript Is Now Online; Image Courtesy of ICF Macro

Real Teens Ask: Is Addiction Hereditary?

On NIDA’s Drug Facts Chat Day 2010, scientists answered a lot of your great questions. This one is from “I AM MIKE” from Jefferson Township High School in Trenton, New Jersey: Are you more likely to do drugs if someone in your family does? The short answer is yes, because the risk of developing drug and alcohol problems is higher in children whose parents abuse alcohol or drugs—but it is NOT a guarantee. Research shows that children with parents who abuse alcohol or drugs are more likely to try alcohol or drugs and develop alcoholism or drug addiction. Why?

  • Children whose parents abuse alcohol and drugs are more likely to have behavioral problems, which increases the risk of trying alcohol or drugs. They are also exposed to more opportunities to try these substances.
  • Plus, children of parents who abuse drugs may inherit a genetic predisposition (or greater likelihood) for addiction—having an “addictive personality,” so to speak.

Of course, most children of parents who abuse alcohol or drugs do not develop alcoholism or addiction themselves, so your genes do not write your destiny to become addicted to drugs. BUT—to avoid that risk entirely, it’s best not to start, and if you’ve already tried drugs or alcohol, stop now. Help Is Out There When someone has a drug problem, it's not always easy to know what to do. If someone you know is using drugs, encourage him or her to talk to a parent, school guidance counselor, or other trusted adult. Confidential resources are out there, like the Treatment Referral Helpline (1-800-662-HELP) offered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which refers callers to particular treatment facilities, support groups, and other local organizations. You can also locate substance abuse treatment centers in your state by going to


Real Teens Ask: What Are the Different Types of Opioids?

This past Drug Facts Chat Day, teens from across the country submitted their questions about drug abuse to NIDA scientists.

A teen from Walter Johnson High School in Maryland asked, “What types of opioids are there?”

In general, opioids are psychoactive chemicals that work by binding to opioid receptors in the body. These receptors are found principally in the central and peripheral nervous system as well as the gastrointestinal tract and can produce both the good and bad effects of opioid use.

Many teens don’t know that there are illegal opioids (like heroin) as well as legal opioids that are prescribed for pain relief (like hydrocodone, which has the brand name of Vicodin). This is why common painkillers like Vicodin are so often abused—because they provide a “high” while relieving pain.

Here are the main types of opioids:

  • Natural opiates are alkaloids, nitrogen-containing base chemical compounds that occur in plants such as in the resin of the opium poppy. Natural opiates include morphine, codeine, and thebaine.
  • Semi-synthetic opioids are opioids created in labs from natural opiates. Semi-synthetic opioids include hydromorphone, hydrocodone, and oxycodone (the prescription drug OxyContin), as well as heroin, which is made from morphine.
  • Fully synthetic opioids are opioids that are completely manmade, including fentanyl, pethidine, levorphanol, methadone, tramadol, and dextropropoxyphene.

Some opioids (e.g., morphine, codeine, OxyContin) are used by doctors to treat various things, such as pain after surgery. But opioids also have addictive properties and negative health effects that make them dangerous when abused.

Do you have other questions about types of drugs? Tell us in comments.

poppy plants