Drug Abuse

Each year, about one-half million emergency room visits are drug related. Dependency on drugs, whether prescription or illegal, is dangerous because of the long-term physical and psychological effects. Drugs have disruptive effects on family and work and there are risks associated with sudden withdrawal. Illegal drugs are hazardous not only by their nature but also because of the risk of contamination with toxic or infectious substances. There are many common drugs being used and classified as the "Common Drugs of Abuse".


  • Vapors from substances such as glue, solvents, and paints that are used to get high.
  • Inhalants, like hair spray, gasoline, and spray paint can often be identified by their strong smell. People inhale the vapors because they can change the way the brain works and make people feel good for a short time.
  • Inhalant vapors may become lodged in a fatty tissue of neurons called myelin. Myelin is the protective cover that surrounds many of the body's nerve cells. When chemicals from inhalants get into the system, they can break down myelin and prevent nerve cells from transmitting messages.
  • The chemical noradrenaline tells the heart to beat faster when you are stressed. Butane, found in cigarette lighters and refills, makes the heart extra-sensitive to noradrenaline so that a normal jolt of noradrenaline can cause the heart to lose rhythm or stop pumping.
  • Damage from long-term use of inhalants can slow or stop nerve cell activity in some parts of the brain including the frontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that solves complex problems and plans ahead. If the frontal cortex is damaged, you could find yourself continuously stumped in school.


  • The word hallucinate comes from the Latin words meaning to wander in the mind. Some people refer to hallucinating as tripping. Hallucinogens powerfully affect the way our five senses work, and change our impressions of time and reality.
  • Some hallucinogens are natural. However, many hallucinogens are chemicals that don't occur in nature including Lysergic acid (LSD) and phencyclidine (PCP). The effects of these drugs are unpredictable: they can alter your senses, affect your moods, or cause vivid hallucinations.
  • LSD and PCP can change the way neurons communicate, which can cause changes in the way you sense the world around you. Chemical changes are used by neurons to communicate. Chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters, send information from nerve cell to nerve cell in the brain and body. These speedy couriers trudge through wind, hail, sleet, and snow to deliver your nervous system messages on time!
  • MDMA is a synthetic, psychoactive drug with both stimulant (amphetamine-like) and hallucinogenic (LSD-like) properties. Street names for MDMA include Ecstasy, Adam, XTC, hug, beans, and love drug. MDMA is also neurotoxic. In high doses, it can cause a sharp increase in body temperature (malignant hyperthermia) leading to muscle breakdown and kidney and cardiovascular system failure.
  • MDMA and MDA cause neurons to release the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin neurons have a role in many things such as mood and sleep. MDMA and MDA can disrupt the function of these neurons and alter behavior.


  • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC for short) is the main psychoactive chemical ingredient chemical in marijuana.
  • The hippocampus is a brain area for memory. The hippocampus is one of the places in the brain that helps us remember important things such as the information we need to pass an upcoming biology quiz. Because the hippocampus has lots of receptors for tetrahydrocannibinol, the active ingredient in marijuana, marijuana is able to act in the hippocampus to reduce memory.
  • A student who smokes marijuana may do poorly on a test given the next day because of marijuana's effect on the hippocampus where is an important brain area for processing memory.
  • About one in ten users of marijuana become dependent on it.
  • A person who has smoked marijuana may have difficulty keeping his or her balance because of marijuana's effect on the cerebellum. The cerebellum is one of the most important brain areas for balance and coordination.


  • Methamphetamine is able to act in the brain because it has a structure similar to the brain chemical, dopamine. Dopamine, which is sometimes called the pleasure chemical, has a shape and chemical structure that is similar to methamphetamine. This is part of why methamphetamine is able to cause its many effects in the brain.
  • Methamphetamine can change the way neurons communicate. It can cause long- term damage to neurons that contain the neurotransmitter dopamine. Researchers have found that even years after methamphetamine users have stopped using the drug, their dopamine neurons are still damaged.
  • Increased heart rate, difficulty sleeping, and aggressiveness are effects of methamphetamine. It can also cause certain types of hallucinations, loss of appetite, and even strokes.


  • Morphine is an opiate drug that doctors prescribe for the treatment of severe pain, such as following surgery. If it is used as directed by a doctor, it is safe.
  • Opiates are made from opium, which can be found in the poppy plant. Limbic system, brainstem, and spinal cord are the regions of the brain where opiates act.
  • Your body actually produces its own version of opiates. Your body's opiates have lots of functions, including controlling pain and breathing.


  • "Anabolic steroids" is the familiar name for synthetic substances related to the male sex hormones (androgens). They promote the growth of skeletal muscle (anabolic effects) and the development of male sexual characteristics (androgenic effects), and also have some other effects.
  • The word "anabolic" means growing or building. One of the main reasons people give for abusing steroids is to improve their performance in sports. Among competitive bodybuilders, steroid abuse has been estimated to be very high. Another reason people give for taking steroids is to increase their muscle size and/or reduce their body fat. This group includes some people who have a behavioral syndrome (muscle dysmorphia) in which a person has a distorted image of his or her body. Men with this condition think that they look small and weak, even if they are large and muscular. Similarly, women with the syndrome think that they look fat and flabby, even though they are actually lean and muscular.
  • Anabolic steroid abuse has been associated with a wide-range of adverse side effects ranging from some that are physically unattractive, such as acne and breast development in men, to others that are life threatening, such as heart attacks and liver cancer. Most are reversible if the abuser stops taking the drugs, but some are permanent.
  • Anabolic steroids in the brain may trigger behavior known as Roid Rages. This term refers to the aggressive behavior exhibited by those who regularly use steroids. People may also become highly irritable, depressed, and moody.
  • The long-term effects of anabolic steroids on humans are varied but serious. Steroid abuse disrupts the normal production of hormones in the body, causing both reversible and irreversible changes. Rising levels of testosterone and other sex hormones may cause the bones to stop growing. Steroid abuse has been associated with cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and strokes. It has been associated with liver tumors and peliosis hepatitis.
  • A healthy way to gain muscle, that won't leave you feeling all gross and irritated with your friends and family, is lifting weights. Lifting weights is the natural way to gain muscle mass on your body. Not only do muscles make you look more slender, but you also burn more calories per hour even when you are watching television!

Symptoms of drug addictions:

  • You crave the substance. The craving can feel as strong as the need for water.
  • You are often unable to stop using the substance.
  • You get withdrawal symptoms when you stop using the substance. The symptoms vary with the type drug of used. The symptoms go away if you drink alcohol or use the drug.
  • You need more and more alcohol or drugs to get high. This is known as developing a tolerance.

Drug users may require an intervention on the part of family and friends. The drug user may require hospitalization for detoxification. Follow-up outpatient programs (support groups, day care or residential) lasting weeks or months may be necessary to prevent a relapse.

Resource links:

v National Institute on Drug Abuse, Drug Abuse Prevention Quest Site for Children. (
v Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters. (www.al-anon.alateen.org)
v Cocaine Anonymous World Services. (www.ca.org)
v National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD). (www.ncadd.org)
v Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, National Drug Treatment Referral Routing Service. (www.drughelp.org)
v Rational Recovery Network (RR-NET). (www.rationalrecovery.net)
v American Institute for Preventive Medicine. (www.HealthyLife.com)

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