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The Science of Drug Use: Discussion Points

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Why do people use drugs?

People use drugs for many reasons: they want to feel good, stop feeling bad, or perform better in school or at work, or they are curious because others are doing it and they want to fit in. The last reason is very common among teens.

Drugs excite the parts of the brain that make you feel good. But after you take a drug for a while, the feel-good parts of your brain get used to it. Then you need to take more of the drug to get the same good feeling. Soon, your brain and body must have the drug just to feel normal. You feel sick, awful, anxious, and irritable without the drug. You no longer have the good feelings that you had when you first used the drug. This is true if you use illegal drugs or if you misuse prescription drugs. Misuse includes taking a drug differently than how your doctor tells you to (taking more or crushing pills to “shoot up” or snort), taking someone else’s prescription, or taking it just to get “high.”

Drug use can start as a way to escape—but it can quickly make your life worse. Besides just not feeling well, different drugs can affect your brain and body in many different ways. Here are a few:

  • Alcohol: You might have trouble making decisions, solving problems, remembering,
    and learning.
  • Marijuana: You might forget things you just learned or have trouble focusing.
  • Prescription pain relievers (opioids) or sedatives: Your heart rate and breathing
    may slow to dangerous levels, leading to coma or death.
  • Heroin: Similar to opioid pain relievers, your heart rate and breathing may slow
    to dangerous levels, leading to coma or death.

    • Prescription stimulants (e.g., ADHD medications): Your body temperature could
      get dangerously high, or you may have an irregular heartbeat, heart failure, or seizures.
    • Cocaine and methamphetamine: You may get violent, have panic attacks or feel
      paranoid, or have a heart attack.
    • MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly): You may feel confused for a long time after you take it
      and have problems with attention, memory, and sleep.
    • LSD: Your emotions may change quickly, and you might not be able to recognize
      reality; frightening flashbacks can happen long after use.
    • Inhalants: Your heart, kidneys, lungs, and brain may get damaged; even a healthy
      person can suffer heart failure and death within minutes of sniffing a lot of an inhalant.

    Many drugs can also make driving a car unsafe. Marijuana can slow reaction time, make you judge time and distance poorly, and decrease coordination (how you move your body). Cocaine and methamphetamine can make a driver aggressive and reckless. Certain kinds of sedatives, called benzodiazepines, can make you dizzy or drowsy. These effects can lead to crashes that can cause injuries and even death.

    What is drug addiction?

    Drug addiction is when you can’t stop taking the drug even if you want to. The urge is too strong to control, even if you know the drug is causing harm. The addiction can become more important than the need to eat or sleep. The urge to get and use the drug can fill every moment of your life. The addiction replaces all the things you used to enjoy.

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