NIDA for Teens: The Science Behind Drug Abuse
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Drug Facts

Real Questions From Real Teens

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Types of Questions:

General Questions:

How Do Drug Tests Work?

Drug tests can find out what drugs are in your body at the time of the test by looking at what’s in your blood or urine. After the drug is metabolized (broken down by your body), so is the evidence of its use. Drug tests can detect longer-term drug use by looking at hair samples, because these chemicals are incorporated into hair. The usefulness of hair testing is limited by the time the person last took the drug.

Can You Become Addicted to a Drug if You Just Take It Once?

If you take a drug one time and one time only, then you will not become addicted. The problem is that there is a lot we still don't know about who becomes addicted and why, and how much drug exposure it takes. We do know that each person is different, so it's a little like playing “Russian Roulette” if you choose to use drugs. But, if you do, the earlier you stop, the more likely you will be to avoid addiction and the harmful brain changes that lead to it.

Why Do Drugs Make People Do Odd Things?

The short answer is that drugs alter your perceptions and your judgment. Different drugs do this in different ways. Some drugs make you overconfident, and some drugs decrease your ability to pay attention to the things going on around you, even when those events are critical to your health and safety (like seeing a red light while driving). Other drugs, like LSD, can change your perceptions so much that you can't recognize people and things in your environment at all.

How Do You Avoid Drugs and Still Be Cool at Parties?

When alcohol and drugs are readily available at parties, you may feel peer pressure to use them as a way to fit in. Here are some tips on staying safe when you party:

  • Find friends who don't need drugs to party.
  • Check out who'll be at a party and what the plans are before you commit to something that may turn out to be an awkward situation for you.
  • Know the facts about drugs.
  • Stop to think before you make decisions that you might regret.

The cool crowds are the people who appreciate you for who you are, not for what you do or don't do.

What Factors Affect a Person’s Likelihood of Becoming Addicted to Drugs?

Although we know what happens to the brain when someone becomes addicted, we can’t predict how many times a person must use a drug before that happens. A person’s unique genetic makeup and his or her environment both play a role. What we do know is that a person who uses drugs (including alcohol) risks becoming addicted, craving the drug despite its terrible consequences. In the end, if addiction occurs, it is extremely painful and difficult to quit regardless of what drug you take—but it can be done.

How Can I Protect Myself From Being Given Drugs Without Knowing It?

Here are some ways that you can protect yourself from being given drugs without your knowledge:

  • Don’t accept beverages from other people.
  • Open your own bottles and cans.
  • Keep your beverage with you at all times, even when you go to the bathroom.
  • Don't share beverages.
  • Don't drink from punch bowls or other common, open containers.
  • If someone offers to get you a refreshment from a bar or at a party, go with the person to order it. Watch it being poured and carry it yourself.
  • Don't drink anything that tastes or smells strange. Sometimes, GHB (date rape drug) tastes salty.
  • If you realize you left your beverage unattended, pour it out and get a new one.
  • If you feel drunk even though you haven’t had any alcohol, or you feel strange in any other way, get help immediately.

For more information, see information on Club Drugs

How Can I Avoid Drugs?

You can do some key things to stay off drugs. Three big ones are:

  1. Avoid situations where there are likely to be drugs, if possible, and instead do activities that are enjoyable and drug free.
  2. Hang out with people that don't use drugs
  3. Say 'no thanks' when offered drugs.

How Can I Deal With the Temptation To Use Drugs if I Am Recovering From a Drug Problem?

If you are in recovery, you know all too well that drugs cause many more problems than they solve, and keeping yourself clean can be a day-to-day or minute-to-minute fight. But it is a fight you can win. It is important to remember that just because you have the urge to use drugs, it doesn’t mean you need to, and that urges do pass. If you or someone you know are having a hard time staying off drugs, it is very important to get help. Remember—treatment works!

Treatment information can be found online or by calling 1-800-662-HELP, where you can find private and confidential help 24/7.

Can My Body Build a Tolerance to Drugs?

Many drugs lose their effectiveness if you keep taking them. A person is becoming tolerant to a drug when they have to take more of it or take the same dose more frequently, to get the same effect as they got at first. For example, if you take a decongestant for a cold over several days, the effective time becomes shorter and shorter. Similarly, if you take opiate medications to control pain, you may need to take more to achieve the same level of pain control. In such a case, developing tolerance does not mean that you are addicted to the drug.

For more information, check out Above the Influence.

What Is “Overdosing” and What Should I Do if I Think Someone Is Overdosing?

An overdose is when someone takes too much of a drug or medication, causing serious, harmful symptoms or even death. If someone takes too much of something on purpose to commit suicide, for example, it is called an intentional or deliberate overdose. If the overdose happens by mistake, it is called an accidental overdose. For example, a teenager might try to get high by taking a parent’s prescription opioid painkiller and end up in the emergency room—or worse. More overdose deaths are caused by people abusing prescription opioids than by any other drug, including heroin or cocaine.

If you think you or someone else has overdosed on a drug, you should always call 911 immediately.

If it is not an emergency but you would like information, you can call the National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. It is a free and confidential service. You should call if you have any questions about an overdose, poisoning, or poison prevention. You can call for any reason, 24/7.

How Can I Support a Friend Who’s Gone Through Drug/Alcohol Rehabilitation?

If you are asking this question, it shows that you are a caring friend, and that is probably the most important way you can support your friend. There are lots of other ways that you can support him/her too. One is to help your friend avoid situations where there’s a possibility that he/she could relapse and go back to using. Go with your friend to places that are drug and alcohol free rather than to parties where there are likely to be drugs.

What Are the Signs of Addiction?

The following questions can help you know whether you are addicted to drugs. Do you:

  • Take the drug more often or in larger amounts than intended?
  • Try unsuccessfully to quit or have a constant desire or craving for the drug?
  • Spend excessive time seeking the drug?
  • Give up other things for the drug?
  • Continue to use the drug, despite knowing you’re harming yourself and others?
  • Experience tolerance, or a need to take more and more of the drug to satisfy you?
  • Experience withdrawal symptoms (which may be different for different drugs)?
  • Take the drug to relieve or avoid withdrawal?

If you answer yes to several of the above, then chances are, you are addicted. We don't really know or understand who becomes addicted and why, or how much drug exposure it takes. Each person is different. But the longer someone takes drugs, the more likely it is that he/she will become addicted and suffer long-term, harmful brain changes.


If You Use Drugs at a Young Age, Does It Mess Up Your Life?

Science has shown that the earlier a person starts using drugs, the more likely he/she is to become addicted and suffer serious social and medical consequences. The reasons are complex. First, drugs affect the brain, and the brain is still maturing when a person is young—until early adulthood in fact. Thus, drugs can alter normal brain development. Second, people who use drugs when they are very young often have other problems that led to their drug use in the first place. For example, they may have difficult family situations or problems with depression or anxiety and use drugs to help them cope. Unfortunately, drug abuse just makes things worse in the long run and does not fix these problems. Third, using drugs can interfere with success in school, in sports, and in relationships with friends and family, creating more problems down the road.

Since early drug use can lead to later drug addiction and other problems, the best advice is not to even experiment with drugs. However, if someone is already using a drug, he/she should know that the earlier he/she stops, the more likely he/she is to avoid addiction and the other bad consequences associated with it. For more information, check out The Science of Addiction.

Does Doing One Drug (Like Cigarettes or Marijuana) Lead to Abuse of Other Drugs?

Whether doing one drug will lead to doing another depends on each individual person. For example, some people who use marijuana do not go on to abuse other illicit drugs, but most people who abuse other drugs have previously used marijuana. Basically, being exposed to peers who use drugs, having greater access to drugs, and having problems in the first place that led to the initial drug use could all make other drug use more likely.

Drug-Specific Questions:

What Does Sniffing Cocaine Do to Your Nose?

Cocaine causes blood vessels to constrict. When the cocaine wears off, the vessels dilate again. With repeated use, people who snort cocaine weaken the small blood vessels (capillaries) in their noses, which can lead to nose bleeds and a decreased ability to smell.

What Are the Effects of Acid?

Hallucinogens, such as LSD or “acid,” can cause unpredictable psychological effects, including delusions and visual hallucinations. Physical effects can include dangerously increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. People taking acid can also experience sleeplessness and rapid, intense emotional swings. This experience, as you might expect, can be extremely confusing and frightening to the person taking the drug. LSD is usually created in someone’s home laboratory, so it could contain many other ingredients that could even be deadly. Find more information on acid and LSD.

What Are the Effects of “Shrooms” on the Brain and Body?

Hallucinogenic compounds found in some plants and mushrooms (or their extracts) have been used—mostly during religious rituals—for thousands of years. While the exact ways hallucinogens affect the brain remain unclear, research suggests that these drugs work partly by temporarily interfering with chemical messengers in the brain called neurotransmitters.

Mushrooms containing the chemical psilocybin can produce LSD-like experiences, including hallucinations, an altered perception of time, and an inability to tell fantasy from reality. Panic reactions and psychosis also may occur, particularly if a user takes a large dose. There may also be long-term effects like flashbacks, impaired memory, tolerance to the drug, and risk of psychiatric illness. Find more information on LSD and PCP.