NIDA for Teens: The Science Behind Drug Abuse
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Real Teens Ask: Why Take Drugs?

Sara Bellum

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, show 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.

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Are you seriously recommending prescribing pharmaceuticals to lessen/eliminate stress or anxiety?! According to this website, a drug is a drug is a drug, so fight fire with fire, right (sarcasm alert)?!

@pdub Prescription medications literally can be a life saver for some people who have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Whether or not to take any medication is an important decision that needs to be made following discussion with the individual and their doctor. It is also important that the medication be taken as prescribed and that the doctor monitor the medication’s effect to see how well it is working and if there are any bad side effects. Prescription medications can be very dangerous when taken without a prescription; in a way other than as prescribed; or just for the experience or feeling they cause. Pharmaceuticals do not provide a “quick fix” for life’s problems. Check out the Don’t Stress about Stress post at for some suggestions on how to deal with stressful situations.

I do agree with most of what you said. I think that most drug addictions... well the best way to describe it as, is like falling in love with someone and that someone beating you. when you try to quit its like a bad dream, my experiences of withdrawl from k2, or legal weed is that it is extremely harsh, shakes puking headaches, mood swings, clouded mind, sometimes when you look around objects seem to bend, kind of blur together, it is hard to describe. Its like a really bad tripp that lasts for days...

I just say NO Drugs
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@Cheesus <nice name BTW, I really doubt you've ever experienced real herb. I've been smoking for some time now and have taken many periods of 100% sobriety but what everyone needs to learn is, consuming anything in large quantities is a bad thing. He*l if you drink too much water you will die, too much alcohol, cocaine, tobacco, heroin, acid, shrooms, meth, bath salts and you will die; BUT not marijuana! The most extreme bad things that I have seen from marijuana is short periods of paranoia, and couch-lock. My scariest moment so far in life (I'm 28 and currently in a firefighter academy) has been when my brother was like a limp noodle in the emergency room caused by alcohol poisoning. I recommend looking up the facts for your self and using more than 1 biased source your your drug facts.

@pkr8ch Individuals experience different reactions to drugs—related both to drug type and amount and whether it’s combined with something else and to a person’s particular genes, body type, environment, etc. Reactions can change over time as well. You mention that you doubt @Cheesus “ever experienced real herb.” One danger in taking any unregulated substance is that you may not be getting what you expect. Natural products also vary greatly. Learning the facts and understanding the scientific research behind different drugs can help in evaluating choices.

While I agree that prescription medication can be great and very important for those who need it, pharmaceuticals can provide a "quick fix." For example, there is a prescription drug for stage fright. You pop a pill before you preform and you are fine. However, this isn't particularly good for your heart. I also know that prescription drugs don't always work as well as weed does. I know a man with MS, and no other pain medication works as well. Most of them have even worse side effects. As a matter of fact, when used responsibly, and with a vaporizer, weed has virtually no negative side effects for most users.

@KJ It is very important that all medication be taken while under the supervision of your doctor. That way he/she can monitor your reaction to the medication and you’ll have an opportunity to discuss your concerns and mention any side effects you experience.

i think that when teens do drugs its because they either feel cool doing it, it makes all bad things go away, or other people have forced them into it. I think that doing drugs is wrong no matter how it makes you feel, it ruins your body and the actions you do when you do drugs.


I had no idea you could get addicted to prescription drugs! Does that mean I could get addicted to Asprine and other medications??

What an excellent question! The kind of prescription drugs we’re talking about can only be prescribed by a physician or dentist—like Vicodin, for example. Aspirin is generally considered safe – but you should definitely follow the directions and tell your doctor if you take it regularly. Prescription pain medications can be very addictive and should only be taken as prescribed and not shared with friends or others.

say no to drugs!

I just recently read an article on [commercial link removed, per guidelines] about prescription drug abuse. I have a family member that actually deals with prescription drug addiction, at least i suspect it due to his moods and complete lack of responsibility. Do people who deal with this type of thing have any suggestions as to what types of methods I could use to help him receive help or treatment? I know its a broad question, but i just don't know where to begin.

Publication of information by [link removed, per guidelines], about human use of these chemicals is not intended to endorse their non-laboratory use. It is important to remember that reactions to psychoactives vary dramatically from person to person. Extrapolating anything from any single person's experience with a chemical is inappropriate and may result in dangerous and possibly fatal adverse reactions.

Never try drugs because it is the first step to the journey of a thousand miles that would be drug addiction. I can remember this always whenever my friends invite me to parties. This was the wise words of a good man I have known. I have visited [commercial link removed, per guidelines] to also find out why other girls love to have surgery and found out for them it's like drugs too, only beautifying in effect.

this is so true. some times it aint esay to say NO to DRUGS.

my mom had this problem. she started at 16 had me at 17. people shouldn't do drugs while being pregnet

i belive that all this is trure. my mom said that she used drugs when she was a kid becase she felt like no one cared about her, and she didnt seem to care about any thing. but her grandparents (my great grandparents) got her to come to god and he forgives us of our sins no matter how messed up we are. and so she stoped.

just because drugs help you play better you should not take them. they could casue long or short term damage to you body. have a good game is not worth messing up the rest of your life. if you practice and try really hard you can play good without the drugs.

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