Drugs are chemicals that change the way a person's body
works. You've probably heard that drugs are bad for you, but
what does that mean and why are they bad?
Medicines Are Legal Drugs
If you've ever been sick and had to take
, you already know about one kind of drugs. Medicines are legal
drugs, meaning doctors are allowed to prescribe them for patients,
stores can sell them, and people are allowed to buy them. But
it's not legal, or safe, for people to use these medicines any
way they want or to buy them from people who are selling them
Cigarettes and Alcohol
Cigarettes and alcohol are two other kinds of legal drugs. (In
the United States, adults 18 and over can buy cigarettes and those
21 and over can buy alcohol.) But smoking and excessive drinking
are not healthy for adults and off limits for kids.
When people talk about the "drug problem," they
usually mean abusing legal drugs or using illegal drugs, such as
, crystal meth and
. (Marijuana is generally an illegal drug, but some states allow
doctors to prescribe it to adults for certain illnesses.)
Why Are Illegal Drugs Dangerous?
Illegal drugs aren't good for anyone, but they are
particularly bad for a kid or teen whose body is still growing.
Illegal drugs can damage the brain, heart, and other important
organs. Cocaine, for instance, can cause a heart attack - even in a
kid or teen.
While using drugs, a person is also less able to do well in
school, sports, and other activities. It's often harder to
think clearly and make good decisions. People can do dumb or
dangerous things that could hurt themselves - or other people -
when they use drugs.
Why Do People Use Illegal Drugs?
Sometimes kids and teens try drugs to fit in with a group of
friends. Or they might be curious or just bored. A person may use
illegal drugs for many reasons, but often because they help the
person escape from reality for a while. If a person is sad or
upset, a drug can - temporarily - make the person feel better or
forget about problems. But this escape lasts only until the drug
Drugs don't solve problems, of course. And using drugs often
causes other problems on top of the problems the person had in the
first place. A person who uses drugs can become dependent on them,
. This means that the person's body becomes so accustomed to
having this drug that he or she can't function well without
Once a person is addicted, it's very hard to stop taking
drugs. Stopping can cause withdrawal symptoms, such as
(throwing up), sweating, and tremors (shaking). These sick feelings
continue until the person's body gets adjusted to being drug
Can I Tell If Someone Is Using Drugs?
If someone is using drugs, you might notice changes in how the
person looks or acts. Here are some of those signs, but it's
important to remember that depression or another problem could be
causing these changes. A person using drugs may:
- lose interest in school
- change friends (to hang out with kids who use drugs)
- become moody, negative, cranky, or worried all the time
- ask to be left alone a lot
- have trouble concentrating
- sleep a lot (maybe even in class)
- get in fights
- have red or puffy eyes
- lose or gain weight
- cough a lot
- have a runny nose all of the time
What Can I Do to Help?
If you think someone is using drugs, the best thing to do is to
tell an adult that you trust. This could be a parent, other
relative, teacher, coach, or school counselor. The person might
need professional help to stop using drugs. A grown-up can help the
person find the treatment he or she needs to stop using drugs.
Another way kids can help kids is by choosing not to try or use
drugs. It's a good way for friends to stick together.
Understanding drugs and why they are dangerous is another good
step for a kid to take. Below, we've listed some words that may
be new to you.
Words to Know
-shun) - A person has an addiction when he or she becomes dependent
on or craves a drug all of the time.
-sunt) - A depressant is a drug that slows a person down. Doctors
to help people be less angry, anxious, or tense. Depressants relax
muscles and make people feel sleepy, less stressed out, or like
their head is stuffed. Some people may use these drugs illegally to
slow themselves down and help bring on sleep - especially after
using various kinds of stimulants. (See below.)
-sun-uh-jun) - A hallucinogen is a drug, such as LSD, that changes
a person's mood and makes him or her see, hear, or think things
that aren't really there.
- A high is the feeling that drug users want to get when they take
drugs. There are many types of highs, including a very happy or
spacey feeling or a feeling that a person has special powers, such
as the ability to fly or to see into the future.
-lunt) - An inhalant, such as glue or gasoline, is sniffed or
"huffed" to give the user an immediate rush. Inhalants
produce a quick feeling of being drunk - followed by sleepiness,
staggering, dizziness, and confusion.
-tik) - A narcotic dulls the body's senses (leaving a person
less aware and alert and feeling carefree) and relieves pain.
Narcotics can cause a person to sleep, fall into a stupor, have
convulsions, and even slip into a coma. Certain narcotics - such as
codeine - are legal if given by doctors to treat pain. Heroin is an
illegal narcotic because it is has dangerous side effects and is
-yuh-lunt) - A stimulant speeds up a person's body and brain.
Stimulants, such as
and cocaine, have the opposite effect of depressants. Usually,
stimulants make a person feel high and energized. When the effects
of a stimulant wear off, the person will feel tired or sick.
Updated and reviewed by:
Ryan L. Redman, MD
Date reviewed: August 2007
Originally reviewed by:
Robert B. Lembersky, MD
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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