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 medicine,
you already know about one kind of drugs. Medicines are legal drugs, meaning doctors
can 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 illegally.
Cigarettes, Alcohol, and Marijuana
Cigarettes and alcohol are two other kinds of legal drugs. In the United States,
adults 21 and older can buy cigarettes and alcohol. But smoking and excessive drinking
are not healthy for adults, and they're off limits for kids.
Marijuana is generally an illegal drug. But some states allow doctors to prescribe
it to people for some conditions, and some have passed laws making it legal to sell
marijuana to adults for personal use.
When people talk about a "drug problem," they usually mean abusing legal drugs
or using illegal drugs, such as marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine,
LSD, crystal meth, and heroin to
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, people are 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 them — 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. Someone may use illegal drugs for many reasons, but often
because they help the person escape from reality for a while. A drug might —
temporarily — make someone who is sad or upset feel better or forget about
problems. But this escape lasts only until the drug wears off.
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. Somebody who uses drugs
can become dependent on them, or addicted. This means that the person's
body becomes so accustomed to having this drug that he or she can't function well
Once someone is addicted, it's very hard to stop taking drugs. Stopping can cause
withdrawal symptoms, such as vomiting
(throwing up), sweating, and tremors (shaking). These sick feelings continue until
the person's body gets adjusted to being drug free again.
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. Somebody using drugs might:
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 grownup can help the
person find the treatment needed 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.
Words to Know
Understanding drugs and why they are dangerous is another good step for a kid to
take. Here are some words that may be new to you:
Addiction (say: eh-DIK-shen) — Someone has an addiction
when he or she becomes dependent on (can't stop taking the drug without getting sick)
or craves a drug all of the time.
Depressant (say: dih-PRESS-int) — A depressant
is a drug that slows a person down. Doctors prescribe depressants 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.)
Hallucinogen (say: heh-LOO-seh-neh-jen) — A hallucinogen
is a drug, such as LSD, that changes a person's mood and makes him or her see or hear
things that aren't really there or think strange thoughts.
High — 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 someone has special powers, such as the ability to fly or
to see into the future.
Inhalant (say: in-HALE-ent) — An inhalant, such as glue
or gasoline, is sniffed or "huffed" to give the user an immediate high. Inhalants
produce a quick feeling of being drunk — followed by sleepiness, staggering,
dizziness, and confusion.
Narcotic (say: nar-KAH-tik) — A narcotic dulls the body's
senses (leaving a person less aware and alert and feeling carefree) and relieves pain.
Narcotics can cause someone 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 very addictive.
Stimulant (say: STIM-yeh-lent) — A stimulant speeds up the
body and brain. Stimulants, such as methamphetamines and
cocaine, have the opposite effect of depressants. Usually, stimulants make someone
feel high and energized. When the effects of a stimulant wear off, the person will
feel tired or sick.