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About drugs

drugs; caffeine; alcohol; stimulants; depressants; hallucinogen; psychedelic; uppers; downers; nicotine; alcohol; medicines;


What are drugs?

A drug is any chemical that is not food and that affects your body.

  • Some drugs, like medicines and painkillers are prescribed by a doctor to help you be healthy, or they are available in pharmacies without a prescription. Some drugs are available in health food shops or supermarkets.
  • Other drugs like alcohol and nicotine (in cigarettes) can be bought in lots of places if you are over 18 years old.
  • Caffeine is also a drug, - it is in tea, coffee or some soft drinks - and there are no restrictions on where you can get it.
  • Some drugs are illegal and can not be grown, sold, bought or supplied without breaking laws in nearly every country. These are drugs that affect the mind.

Effects of drugs

This topic looks at 3 types of drugs – there are many other effects of other drugs, but these three types have their main effect on the brain. They are called 'psychotropic' drugs.

  1. Stimulants (uppers) - These speed up the brain and the nervous system, and include legal drugs like caffeine, nicotine (in tobacco), and illegal ones such as amphetamines (speed, dexamphetamine), cocaine and ecstasy.
  2. Depressants (downers) – These slow down the brain and nervous system and include alcohol, marijuana (cannabis), fantasy, heroin, tranquillisers and anti-anxiety drugs.
  3. Hallucinogen (psychedelic) - These alter the way the user sees the world around him/her. These include LSD, ecstasy, magic mushrooms, and marijuana.

Why people use them

The most commonly used psychotropic drugs in Australia and many other countries are alcohol, nicotine (in tobacco), caffeine and prescription drugs.

  • Tobacco and alcohol kill many more people than illegal drugs.
  • Tobacco is still popular with many young people, despite legislation outlawing smoking from public places, banning advertising, increasing taxes on tobacco products, including graphic health warnings on each tobacco product and banning sale of tobacco to people under 18.
  • Many teens see smoking as an adult thing to do, and they may be influenced by friends or movie heroes and heroines.
  • Becoming addicted to nicotine is very easy if you smoke, and very hard to give up.
  • Drinking alcohol is also seen as something you do to show that you are an adult.
  • Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug.

Keeping yourself safe

The best way to keep yourself safe is not to use any drug which has harmful mind or body effects.

For some teens this is not going to happen so, before you try any drug do your research.

Find out;

  • Is this drug addictive? Addictive means that you need to continue to use the drug to feel 'normal'.
  • Is it legal? You could be breaking the law to get some drugs while you are under 18, and some drugs are not permitted to be sold to anyone.
  • What effects will it have on your mind and body in the short term?
  • What are the long term effects?

Once you've done your research then there are things you can do to keep yourself safe.

  • Don't be pressured into trying any drug, drink or smoke. You are in charge of yourself and can make your own choices.
  • Buy or take your own drinks, and never leave your drink where something could be added to it. (Have a look at the topic Spiking drinks.)
  • Never drive or let your friend drive if alcohol or drugs have been taken. We are losing too many teens in driving accidents!
  • Do a first aid course and get your friends to do it too. Then you will know what to look for and what to do if someone becomes ill or unconscious through using drugs.
  • Hang out with people who care about you and whom you care about.
  • Stay away from places where drugs are used.
  • Hang out with friends who are not into drugs.
  • Get into active things to do like running, bike riding, bushwalking, sports, dancing, etc where you can get a natural 'high' from your body feeling good and healthy.
  • Have enough money for a taxi and a phone call to keep yourself safe.
  • Keep to curfews set by your parent or whoever cares for you.
  • Keep parents or carers informed about where you are going, who with and what time you will be home. It's not about them keeping tabs on you it's about helping keep yourself safe.

I'm in charge

Don't tell me what to do!
You make bad choices too!
Don't tell me what to think!
Your own ideas stink!
Don't tell me what to wear!
Look at your clothes and hair!
Don't tell me what to say!
We don't talk like that today!
Don't tell me how to be!
No-one's the boss of me!

So, why do I think it's cool
To let drugs make me a fool?


Helping your friend

If your friend is into drugs or binge drinking then you can't make her stop. She has to make those choices for herself.

You can help by:

  • being supportive of her efforts to quit
  • researching the drug and giving her the facts
  • suggesting other things you both can do with non drug taking friends
  • suggesting that she talk to a counsellor
  • talking about your concerns with an adult whom you trust
  • keeping yourself safe by not joining in and making sure that you can get home safely.
  • reading the Keeping yourself safe part again.

Drugs and the Law

Some forms of drugs are illegal in most countries. Check out the laws where you live.

There are legal consequences for drug use including;

  • Having to pay a fine.
  • Being arrested by the Police.
  • Having to go to Court.
  • Jail - maybe before and after the Court appearance.
  • Community service.
  • Treatment orders, where you are required to undergo treatment or go to jail.
  • A criminal record. It can be difficult to get a job, or travel to some countries if you have a criminal record.
  • If you grow, deal or sell any illegal drug the penalties are very harsh.
  • In some countries the penalties for carrying or dealing drugs can mean long years in jail or even the death penalty.


  • The Youth Health Service 
  • Drug and Alcohol Services South Australia - Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) - 24 hour statewide line 1300 13 13 40
  • Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council (SA) Inc - (08) 8351 9031
  • Your local doctor or hospital.
  • Your school, workplace, college or university counsellor.
  • Australian Drug Information Network


Further reading

Drug Information Clearing House – Drug prevention network

Australian Drug Foundation (ADF).

Nemours Foundation - Teen health - 'Drugs - what you should know'

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor or other health professional.
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