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Drugs are chemicals that change the way your brain and body function.

Even though a drug can make you feel really good, the effects it causes on your body can be dangerous and harmful. When drugs are introduced into your body, they find their way into your bloodstream… and eventually to your brain. A drug’s effect on your brain can cause changes in your senses, alertness, and decision making ability.  Many illegal drugs can cause serious damage to your physical body as well. These harmful effects depend on the volume and type of drug you take. The adolescent or teen-age brain is still developing and thus particularly susceptible to many of the negative effects of drugs (some of which can be permanent!).


Alcohol is one of the most widely used drugs in the world. In the United States, you can legally consume alcohol if you are 21 years of age or older. It acts as a depressant and alters emotions, actions, perceptions, and senses.

The short term effects of consuming alcohol include…slurred speech, loss of coordination, vomiting, confusion, short term memory loss, and (if a large amount is consumed) risk for alcohol poisoning.

Teens who use alcohol can become dependent on it to avoid problems, deal with stress, and create a good feeling. This can develop into an addiction as the user eventually needs more and more alcohol each day to function.

The chronic use of alcohol can cause…alcoholism, increased risk for liver disease, cancers, stroke, malnutrition, & depression.

Many times withdrawal from alcohol addiction requires medical treatment and counseling. People who go through alcohol withdrawal can experience shaking, sweating, anxiety, depression, hallucinations, and seizures.


Tobacco can be found in cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and smokeless tobacco. When most people think of cigarettes, they think of nicotine as the primary addictive chemical. This is true, but there are also about 7,000 other chemicals in tobacco, some of which are poisonous. Two of these chemicals are tar and carbon monoxide. Tar can cause lung cancer, emphysema, and other lung diseases with repeated exposure. Carbon monoxide is responsible for causing heart disease and other cardiac problems. By smoking a cigarette, you are actually voluntarily putting these toxic chemicals into your body.

Nicotine is the chemical in tobacco that creates dependency. Nowadays, electronic cigarettes can deliver nicotine without all of the other chemicals in tobacco. This is not necessarily safer, and is just as addictive as smoking a traditional cigarette or chewing smokeless tobacco! Nicotine overdoses from electronic cigarettes are a very real and dangerous problem, and in 2013-14 have become one of the leading causes of poisoning in the United States.

After being inhaled into the lungs, nicotine is then absorbed into the bloodstream. Nicotine causes a substance called dopamine to be released in the brain. Dopamine is responsible for feelings of pleasure, giving the person a temporary happy feeling. This feeling wears off rather quickly, resulting in this person having frequent urges for more, and thus the addiction cycle begins.

Short term effects of tobacco use include:

  • Bad skin…tobacco decreases the oxygen flow to the skin, preventing nutrients from reaching it.
  • Bad smelling clothes and hair.
  • Decreased athletic performance…hindered by increased shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, decreased circulation.
  • Slower healing and increased risk of injury.
  • Increased risk of illness…including more frequent colds, pneumonia, influenza.

Chronic use can cause:

  • Death…*****1 in every 5 deaths in the US is tobacco related.
  • CANCER- 90% of all lung cancer cases are caused by smoking cigarettes.   Tobacco is also associated with cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, cervix, kidney, ureter, and bladder.
  • Tobacco used is also linked to causes of leukemia, cataracts, pneumonia.
  • Smokers can eventually lose their sense of taste and smell, develop brown or discolored teeth, and premature skin aging.
  • Lung function and stamina during exercise is greatly decreased.

Secondhand smoke inhalation happens when a person near or around an active smoker inhales the nicotine and tobacco chemicals that are in the air. Repeated secondhand smoke inhalation can cause decreased lung function, up to 50% risk increase of heart disease, up to 30% risk increase of lung cancer.

Kids who are victims of secondhand smoke are at an increased risk for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), respiratory infections, severe asthma, ear issues.


Marijuana, or “weed”, is the most widely used illegal drug in the United States. It is a mixture of dried leaves, flowers, and seeds from the cannabis plant. The main chemical in marijuana is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), which is a psychoactive (mind altering) ingredient. The amount of THC in each kind of marijuana plant influences the strength of the “high” that users experience.

THC works on the brain, causing dopamine to be released. Dopamine is a chemical that causes the person to feel good for a short amount of time, creating that “high” feeling.

Beware! Marijuana can cause these short term effects…even when used only once!

These short term effects include:

  • Visual perception changes 
  • Loss of coordination
  • Mood changes
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Hunger
  • Memory loss
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Redness of eyes

Teens who use marijuana can develop a dependency on the feeling it brings them. They eventually build up a tolerance and need more and more of the drug each time to achieve this feeling.

After a period of regular use or addiction to marijuana, it can cause some long term effects on your body as well.

Long term use can cause:

  • Increased susceptibility to coughs/bronchitis/chest colds
  • Increased chance of using ‘hard drugs’
  • Increase in risky behaviors like unprotected sex (which can lead to diseases like HIV and STD’s)
  • Decreased IQ/ decreased learning ability (even when not high)
  • Increased risk of developing psychosis later in life

Additional marijuana information

What about medicinal marijuana?

The use of marijuana for medical purposes has been a controversial issue for a while. Some people support the use of this drug because of its beneficial effects for people with certain diseases. However, we have to remember that these beneficial effects come with unpleasant side effects as well. Currently, federal law has deemed marijuana illegal, but certain states allow medicinal use to treat certain medical conditions. Most marijuana is not yet approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), as there are no studies proving benefits but several showing the risks. Only two types of cannabinoids (active chemicals in marijuana) are approved by the FDA. These are used to alleviate nausea in patients who are treated with chemotherapy. According to the National Cancer Institute, the use of cannabis to treat certain symptoms continues to be studied.

The national conversation on marijuana has changed quite a bit over the last several years because several states have legalized medical marijuana and some have even decriminalized recreational marijuana use. Many teens read these headlines and ask, ‘how bad can it be?’ Unfortunately, for all of the reasons listed above it can be harmful to your health. The most convincing studies showing harm from marijuana highlight it’s adverse effects and how they are most prominent on teen-age brains (that are still developing)! We do not recommend marijuana use, even if obtained legally.


Cocaine is classified as a “stimulant” drug. This type of drug elevates a person’s mood and increases feelings of well being, energy, and alertness while under the influence. Cocaine usually comes in one of two forms, either a powder (which is snorted) or in a more solid form which is smoked.

Short Term effects of cocaine use include:

  • decreased appetite, feelings of heightened joy, energetic mood, anxiety, high blood pressure and heartrate, increased body temperature, blurred vision, nausea, confusion, muscle spasms, and in some instances death

Repeated and chronic use of cocaine and other stimulants can cause addiction and dependence. Remember, dependence on a drug can result in a tolerance build up to the drug. This increases the volume and frequency of use in order to get that desired “high”.

Effects from chronic cocaine use include:

  • aggressive behavior, anorexia, anxiety, hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, dental problems, psychosis, loss of smell, nose bleeds, in some instances death
  • More information on cocaine


Anabolic androgenic steroids are synthetic substances similar to the hormone testosterone. This type of steroid helps the body build muscle. This drug can be ingested in pill form or injected into the body in the form of a liquid.

The risks and side effects of using steroids tend to outweigh the benefits of use. Here are some examples of what can happen to you…

For males:

  • testicle shrinkage, reduced sperm count, infertility, baldness, increased prostate cancer risk, development of breast tissue

For females:

  • facial hair development, male pattern baldness, changes/disruption of menstrual cycle, enlargement of the clitoris, deepened voice

For both males and females:

  • Stunted growth in teens, kidney and liver damage, high cholesterol/blood pressure, cardiac problems, increased risk for stroke and heart attack, weakened immune system, mood swings, aggression, violence, depression, delusions, paranoia
  • FATALITY! Many of the above effects from steroid use can even result in death!
  • Heart attacks and strokes can be fatal
  • Depression can lead to suicide
  • Weak immune system can make you susceptible to disease
  • Misuse of needles or using non sterile needles can introduce infection and life threatening diseases into your body

Do you have a drug problem?

If you or someone you know uses drugs on a regular basis, you are in danger of developing an addiction to these substances. An addiction means that you rely on these substances to feel good and to get through your day.

If you or a friend exhibits any of these signs, you may need to get help:

  • depends on drugs or alcohol to have fun, relax, avoid problems
  • experience blackouts
  • drink or use drugs while you are alone
  • isolates self from family or friends and keep secrets
  • loses interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • ignore schoolwork or going to class and grades plummet
  • have an increased tolerance to drugs or alcohol (each time you use, you gradually need more and more to get the same feeling)
  • lie, steal, and or sell things to get money for substances

Usually, it is hard for someone to recognize that he/she has a problem. If a friend or family member notices these behaviors, it is time for him/her to step in. Family and friends can provide support with recovery and putting an end to addiction. If any of these signs apply to you, ask for help! Go to someone you trust (parent, friend, teacher, doctor) and talk about what to do next. Lots of resources are available for people with substance abuse problems.

Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous offer information and recovery programs for teens. The Alcohol and Drug Information hotline is (800) 729-6686.

More information about drug abuse