Note: There is no transcript for CHAT DAY 2018, which was cancelled due to the Government Shutdown initiated on January 20, 2018.

These questions were answered by more than 50 individual scientists and science writers with expertise in addiction. To get as many answered as possible, responses were written quickly based on the personal background and knowledge of each expert. Please note that there was not a secondary review or proofreading of each fact, and if readers have questions or comments about any response, they can ask further questions.

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why do people take drugs if they know it can harm you?

-bhaddchynaa, Illinois

Great question, bhaddchynaa! People take drugs for different reasons, like peer pressure, or because they want to feel different, even though they know drugs are bad for you. Click here to see how anyone can become addicted to drugs and all the different reasons people do drugs.

-Joseph Frascella

Why do people take drugs in the first place?

-ferrellb, Ohio

Hi Ferrellb and The Tolles Career Center, Thanks for your question!  There are many reasons why people initiate drugs. Some of the reasons are that it will help them perform better in schools or sports, they are stressed out about life and want a release, they feel peer pressure and they think it will make them feel good. Drugs aren't going to solve these problems though.  Click here for more information:

-Bethany Deeds

why do people take drugs? if they know it can harm them?

-bhaddchynaa, Illinois

Hi bhaddchynaa.  This is a great question, and one that is among the hardest to answer.   People do so many things that are dangerous and unhealthy:  not wearing seatbelts, driving too fast.  Using drugs is another one.  There are two major reasons that people use drugs:  to feel good or to feel better.  People use drugs for the feelings they produce ("to feel good") like getting high or intoxicated.  And they sometimes use drugs to reduce the anxiety, pain or other discomforts they experience ("to feel better").  But it really doesn't make sense because it doesn't solve problems and causes so much trouble.

-Wilson Compton

Why does alcohol damage your brain

-MauricioC, Texas

Scientists still aren't sure. However, the brain works by forming networks of brain cells that talk to each other. Alcohol interferes with the ability of the brain to form those networks and with the ability of brain cells in those networks to talk to each other. It also appears that alcohol causes the brain to become inflamed sort of like what happens to an ankle that gets sprained. This could ultimately cause damage.

Alcohol is a small molecule and gets into the brain very easily. Neurons, or brain cells, talk to each other using chemicals called 'neurotransmitters.' Alcohol interferes with the ability of neurons to talk to each other using neurotransmitters. Alcohol affects every part of the brain. 

-Aaron White

Why does alcohol have a different effect on developing brains than adults?

-glenelg44, Maryland

The brain works by forming networks of brain cells that talk to each other. During adolescence, brain circuits that are important for survival are formed and nurtured while those that aren't used are discarded. Alcohol interferes with the ability of the brain to form those networks and with the ability of brain cells in those networks to talk to each other. This is bad news for teens because, once of the window of brain development closes in the early 20s, the brain circuits that exist will likely stick around. So, if the opportunity to mold and fine tune brain circuits during adolescence is wasted, it could have a huge impact on future success and quality of life. Similarly, a drinking problem that develops during the teens years can be quite stubborn due to the molding of drinking-related circuits that occurs.

-Aaron White

why does alcohol make you so sleepy/drowsy

-Ashley J., Texas
Alcohol is a sedative, meaning it causes people to feel sleepy. This is because alcohol mimics the effects of the chemical in the brain, called GABA, that helps make us feel sleepy. 
-Aaron White

why does cigarette smoke smell bad?

-Riley K, Texas

Burning stuff doesn't usually smell good....and cigarette smoke is burning tobacco.  For more info:

-Kevin Walton

why does cocaine speed up heart rate

-0566572, Florida

Cocaine is a stimulant and works on the central nervous system.  Heart rate speeds up or slows down according to the signals it gets from the brain.  Just like any drug, including those you take when you are ill, cocaine affects those brain systems that makes the heart go faster. The ways all drugs work on the body is an interesting area for research to help us understand how to treat us when we are sick. It is an interesting career to consider. There is a lot of information about the health effects of drugs on NIDA’s teen site here:

-Harold Gordon

why does coco affect the brain

-mainz4life , California

Cocaine binds to receptors in the brain regions that are involved in how we experience reward. So it makes you feel good and you want to keep feeling that way, so you crave more cocaine. The more you use though the fewer of the receptors your brain makes, so you need more of the drug to get the same feeling. Eventually no matter how much drug you take you can reproduce the feeling but you can't stop the urge to take it. It is a vicious cycle. There is a lot more information here

-Roger Little

Why does crystal meth look like glass?

-DarrellW, Texas

Hey there DarrellW.  It's made into a white pill or a shiny, white or clear rock called a crystal -- hence crystal meth.  There is a lot of information about the health effects of drugs on NIDA’s teen site here:

-Joni Rutter

why does drugs give you or make you stressed out

-ally, Illinois

Ally, thank you for the question! Using drugs affects the chemicals in your brain and makes you feel different. For instance, cocaine changes the way a part of the brain uses a brain chemical (dopamine), which makes you feel really good...but because the reaction isn't the normal way the brain processes that chemical, it also has side effects, like feelings of restlessness, irritability, anxiety, panic, and paranoia in in some cocaine users. Click here to find out more about it:

-Joseph Frascella

Why does marijuana smell so strong

-almighty sosa, Maryland

hi almighty sosa
its a governemnt ploy so we can detect it more easily.
smiley face

-Ruben Baler

why does meth mouth occur

-0566572, Florida

Good question, 0566572/Internat. Studies Prep. Academy!  And gross. Most people think that meth makes the mouth environment very dry. And, meth is a stimulant, which can make you move more -- including grinding your teeth.  On top of this, most people addicted to meth don't eat much or well--and the teeth rot very quickly. It's hard to treat, too.  Here's a photo of what meth can do - Yuck!

-Joni Rutter

Why does popular culture promote drug usage in certain instances?

-franciscoperez, Florida

Hi francicoperez
that's why we call popular culture "popular", its not always that "cultural"
hope you get it.

-Ruben Baler

why does smoking marijuana make you hungry?

-ilovedogs, Maryland

Hi again Ilovedogs: A recent study shows that the psychoactive substance in marijuana, called THC, binds to cells, including ones in the olfactory bulb in the brain.  The olfactory bulb is important for smelling, and activating those cells makes you feel like you need to eat more food.  Science is cool, but smoking marijuana isn't.  

-Joni Rutter

why does smoking weed make everything much more funny than what it really is

-Theycallmedaddy, Maryland

Hi theycallmedady
Great question. THC in MJ makes your brain work in a different way, memory goes down, coordination is impaired, you perceived the world through a different prism. Your inhibitions are down, and this may explain why things that would be funny when your brain has all the critical lights on, suddenly become "funny".
makes sense?


-Ruben Baler

why does steriods makes you get muslce

-guillermo s., Texas

Hi Guillermo, 
Anabolic steroids reduce the time the muscle needs to recover from the tissue destruction that takes place during training. 
good question

-Ruben Baler

Why does the federal government allow states to make Marijuana legal when the supremacy clause of the constitution says that federal law trumps state law?

-nreed20nick, Michigan

Very good and very complicated question.  Marijuana is illegal under federal law, but the current administration has set policy that affects how this is enforced, based on what it considers to be priority areas.  Specifically, they will prosecute (even in states that have legalized marijuana) for the following reasons: selling to minors, bringing marijuana across state lines, criminal activity associated with marijuana use/or distribution, drugged driving and more...  This could change with a new administration that could be either more or less permissive about the state laws.  

-Susan Weiss

why does tobaaco cause skin damage ?

-ChelseaN, Texas

Hi ChelseaN - Chemicals in cigarettes cause skin to sag by damaging collagen and elastin, proteins important for smooth, young-looking skin. Want to learn more, click on this link -  It's a poster on the effects of smoking on the body

-Kevin Walton

why does weed make you high

-rockets1754, Maryland

Hey rockets1754- the compound in weed that makes you high is called THC. It acts on specific molecular targets on brain cells, called cannabinoid receptors. The highest density of cannabinoid receptors is found in parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement. Marijuana overactivates the endocannabinoid system, causing the “high” and other effects that users experience. These effects include altered perceptions and mood, impaired coordination, difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and disrupted learning and memory. Marijuana also affects brain development, and when it is used heavily by young people, its effects on thinking and memory may last a long time or even be permanent. A recent study of marijuana users who began using in adolescence revealed substantially reduced connectivity among brain areas responsible for learning and memory. 

-Joni Rutter

Why don't they have more regulations on what goes into store bought drugs so they are not so addictive to users who buy them and so they don't cause as many medical problems?

-rhoten13, Maryland

Hi Rhoten 13
In the vast majority of cases, prescription drugs are very safe if used as prescribed. The problem is with education, adherence, and diversion. This is why these questions are so important.
thanks and good luck.


-Ruben Baler

why dont people stop doing drugs as soon as they start revealing the effects of the drugs

-aaliyar, Texas

Hi there! 
Good question!   People do not always make good descisions.  And once they realize that the drugs are harmful they are often already addicted.  Once addicted, it is hard to stop doing drugs, even if they want too.  And most addicts want to stop, they just can't.

-Dave Thomas

Why dont people understand that caffine is a serious drug?

-me123wj, Maryland

WJ...what's up?!  I'm not sure why people don't understand that caffeine is harmful, however, if you drink a lot of it--and some of the energy drinks contain a lot of caffeine, it can definitely be harmful.  It can make your heart race, can make you anxious or panicky, and can mess up your natural sleep patterns.  In moderation--it’s probably not harmful.

-Albert Avila

Why hasn't USA legalized weed?

-SCARface, Michigan

Because it can be dangerous, especially for young people whose brains are still developing.  You can become addicted to it, and it affects the way you learn and remember.  

-Susan Weiss

Why is "moonshine" illigal. Can people make it with a permit, or is it something in the moonshine that shouldn't be sold?

-HDraper, New Hampshire

Several times per year, there are news stories about people dying from homemade alcohol. Typically, this is in other countries. It is possible for small amounts of methanol, a toxic form of alcohol that can cause blindness and death, to find their way into moonshine. For this and other reasons, there are safety concerns regarding the manufacturer and sale of moonshine. It is possible to obtain a license in most states to legally make and sell moonshine. 


-Aaron White

Why is acid bad?

-LeslieG, Texas

Well, it's not basic LeslieG --  Acid (e.g. LSD, PCP) disrupts the interaction of nerve cells and the neurotransmitter serotonin. Distributed throughout the brain and spinal cord, the serotonin system is involved in the control of behavioral, perceptual, and regulatory systems, including mood, hunger, body temperature, sexual behavior, muscle control, and sensory perception. On the other hand, PCP acts mainly through a type of glutamate receptor in the brain that is important for the perception of pain, responses to the environment, and learning and memory. The short answer: high doses can cause panic, paranoia, feelings of despair, fear of insanity and death. Click here for more information:

-Joni Rutter

why is alcohol consider a drug, but still available to be purchased?

-jjones, Georgia

Alcohol has been a part of American culture since the colonists arrived, and every generation since then has been raised in a culture in which lots of adults consume alcohol. Many people still do not consider it a drug at all. But things are changing. The number of teenagers who drink alcohol in the United States has decreased almost in half over the last 20 years. 

-Aaron White

why is alcohol so addicting?


Alcohol activates the brain's reward system, which produces pleasure and makes some people want to repeat the behavior. It also can reduce feelings of anxiety, which some people like. Collectively, those effects can make a person come back to alcohol over and over. In time, the brain becomes tolerant to alcohol, meaning that the same dose of alcohol loses some of its effects on pleasure and anxiety, leading the drinkers to drink more to try to get the desired effect.  Now, when they try to stop, they feel bad, which makes them go back to the alcohol and keeps them stuck in an unhealthy cycle. 

-Aaron White

Why is caffeine considered a drug?

-tollestudent15, Ohio

hi tolle

Because it targets specific receptors in the brain, it can affect your physiology (the way your brain works), and it can then influence your behavior, mood and performance.
thanks for the question

-Ruben Baler


-Elmer Garcia, Texas

Cannabis is addictive for a number of reasons. When a drug like marijuana is smoked, there are chemicals that travel through the lungs and into your bloodstream, which then carries those same chemicals to your brain and other parts of the body. Cannabis causes dopamine to be released in reward centers in the brain, an effect that is common among all addictive drugs. After more and more cannabis use, people often times use more to experience the same effect.   

-Will Aklin