Effects of Underage Substance Abuse

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What do drugs make you feel like?

Depending on the drug, some people might say they feel pleasant or relaxed. However, in many cases, these feelings may be followed by even more powerful sensations, such as depression, anxiety, nausea, confusion, lack of control, paranoia, guilt, embarrassment, hangovers, loneliness, and cravings for more drugs. People who use drugs to have fun or to forget their problems may never really learn how to find things in their lives that truly make them fulfilled or find ways to cope with difficulties, and they may keep returning to drugs because they haven't learned other ways to be happy.


What are the short-term effects of drug use

Drugs are chemicals. Every drug is different, but generally, drugs interfere with your nervous system's basic functions. They work by tapping into the brain's communication system and interfering with the way nerve cells normally send, receive, and process information. Some drugs, such as marijuana and heroin, can activate brain neurons because their chemical structures act like natural neurotransmitters that are found in the brain. This similarity in structure "fools" receptors and allows the drugs to lock onto and activate the nerve cells.

Other drugs, such as amphetamines or cocaine, can cause the nerve cells to release abnormally large amounts of natural neurotransmitters or prevent the normal recycling of these brain chemicals, which is needed to shut off the signal between neurons. This disruption produces a greatly amplified message, ultimately disrupting communication channels. The difference in effect can be described as the difference between someone whispering into your ear and someone shouting into a microphone.

— From the National Institute on Drug Abuse's "Drugs and the Brain."


This is what causes the user to feel different — the signals coming and going from the brain have been altered from the way that they naturally function, leading people to have unfamiliar sensations. This can cause temporary euphoria. But it can also cause hallucinations, anxiety, paranoia, and uncontrolled behavior. It can also affect your muscles and how they function because the signals from your brain that control your movements can be altered. This can cause your respiratory (lungs) and cardiovascular (heart) systems to malfunction or fail.

Some abused substances, such as glue or butane, can cause immediate death. Cocaine, ecstasy, and methamphetamine can give even healthy people a heart attack on the spot.

In addition to these mental, behavioral, and health-related effects, drugs also have social consequences. These can include lying to and losing the trust of friends and family; performing poorly in school; quitting academic, athletic, or social activities; losing self control, making bad decisions like drugged or drunk driving; getting pregnant; becoming violent or placing yourself at risk to be a victim of violence; and abandoning old friendships in order to be around people who also use drugs.


What are the long-term effects of drug use?

It depends on the drug, but all drugs can cause negative health effects and can lead to addiction.

Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain - they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting, and can lead to the harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs.

Individuals who suffer from addiction often have one or more accompanying medical issues, including lung and cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, mental disorders, and obesity; and drug use can also make them susceptible to contracting HIV, hepatitis, and other diseases. Imaging scans, chest x-rays, and blood tests show the damaging effects of drug abuse throughout the body. In addition, some drugs are toxic to nerve cells and may damage or destroy them either in the brain or the peripheral nervous system.

Some of these effects occur when drugs are used at high doses or for prolonged periods of time. However, some may occur after just one use.

In addition to health effects like those described above, drugs can also have negative social consequences that can really hurt people - being unreliable, forgetting things, telling lies, stealing money for drugs, sometimes even getting violent with people they love. Their biggest ambition becomes getting high.

 While addiction may result from any drug use, there are unique health effects for each drug. Learn more about a specific drug and how they affect your body here.

Can you get addicted even though you only do it once in a while?

No one wakes up in the morning and says, "I'm going to be an addict." Addiction is a process - not an event. Most people who start using drugs do so with the intention of only using once or occasionally. However, drugs affect the brain; even with only occasional use, changes are happening and you could get addicted. The "occasional" use of drugs can quickly change to frequent use and then to constant use. No one knows when the "chemical switch" goes off in your brain or who will get addicted. It's a lot like playing Russian Roulette - you just never know. The only thing we do know is that if you don't do drugs, you definitely won't get addicted. 

(Credit - Above the Influence)