What happens when you take drugs?

Drug abuse or substance abuse, involves the repeated and excessive use of prescription or street drugs. In one way or another, almost all drugs over stimulate the pleasure center of the brain, flooding it with the neurotransmitter dopamine which produces euphoria. That heightened sense of pleasure can be so compelling that the brain wants that feeling back, again and again.

These drugs cause increased energy, rapid heart rate and elevated blood pressure, but they also produce racing thoughts and make you feel overly-stimulated. Continued use causes rapid breathing, irritability, impulsiveness, aggression, nervousness, insomnia, weight loss, tolerance, addiction, and possible heart failure. These drugs also cause an impairment in cognitive functioning which negatively affects memory and impacts the ability to learn.


How drug use can lead to addiction.

People with conditions such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or mood disorders such as depression and anxiety may find that a street drug makes them feel less jumpy, depressed or anxious.

The line between substance abuse and drug dependence is defined by the role drugs play in your life.  Addiction and drug dependence occurs when drugs become so important that you are willing to sacrifice your work, home and even family. Once your brain and body get used to the substances you are taking, you begin to require increasingly larger and more frequent doses, in order to achieve the same effect.

Drugs such as Heroin, a painkiller, over-stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain producing euphoric effects which cause compulsive drug-seeking behaviors and affect self-control and judgment. These drugs are highly addictive and require a medical detoxification (detox) to cleanse the chemicals from your system. The severity of withdrawal symptoms such as chills, shakes, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and cravings can be reduced in detox with prescribed medications that can be slowly decreased over time. Withdrawal affects you physically and emotionally resulting in sadness, depression and exhaustion.

Effects on society

Drug abuse and addiction have a devastating impact on society costing billions of dollars each year. Heroin use alone is responsible for the epidemic number of new cases of HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, and drug addicted infants born each year. Drug abuse is responsible for decreased job productivity and attendance, increased healthcare costs, and an escalation of domestic violence and violent crimes.

Teenage drug abuse and addiction

For most of us, it’s a no-brainer to avoid misuse of drugs: we see that the dangers and destructive long-term effects outweigh any momentary pleasure drugs afford and act accordingly. But it’s also easy to understand why people use and abuse drugs that pose risks to health and well-being. It’s a matter of brain chemistry.

Drugs are chemicals that enter the brain and mess with the way nerve cells normally send, receive, and process information. Some imitate natural neurotransmitters; for example, narcotic pain relievers mimic the effects of endorphins, the body’s natural “feel-good” chemical. Or they are similar enough to the brain’s natural chemical messengers that they trick brain receptors into activating nerve cells. Stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamines cause the neurons to release too much of the neurotransmitters, causing the sensation users describe as the brain “racing.”

And, in one way or another, almost all drugs overstimulate the pleasure center of the brain, flooding it with the neurotransmitter dopamine. That produces euphoria, and that heightened pleasure can be so compelling that the brain wants that feeling back again and again. Unfortunately, with repeated use of a drug, the brain becomes accustomed to the dopamine surges by producing less of it, so the user has to take more of the drug to feel the same pleasure — the phenomenon known as tolerance.

But what causes people to want to tinker with their brain chemistry in the first place? Some are thrill-seekers, some just curious; some try drugs because their friends use, or they want to be perceived as cool. Even more susceptible, though, are the many people who use drugs in order to cope with unpleasant emotions and the difficulties of life. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that about half of all drug abusers also suffer from a mental illness such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia.

People who are suffering emotionally use drugs not so much for the rush but to escape from their problems. They’re trying to self-medicate themselves out of loneliness, low self-esteem, unhappy relationships, stress, and many other types of problems. Drug use doesn’t solve any of those problems, and it can easily make them worse or create new ones. But even if the user knows that, the short-term escape drugs provide can be so attractive that the dangerous consequences of abuse can seem unimportant.

Drug abuse and addiction in teenagers

Teenagers are especially vulnerable to drug abuse for several reasons:

Although it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between normal adolescent behaviors and drug-related activities, it is possible to get a good picture of what’s going on in your child’s life if you take an active interest in their daily lives. Many parents rely on the three W’s:  


Structure is achieved by defining and modeling acceptable behaviors, by limiting unacceptable behaviors, and by making sure your child clearly understands the difference between the two.



SADA - Students Against Drugs and Alcohol is a non-profit community service organization. SADA believes in educating today's youth about drugs the proper way before they are confronted with substances in their everyday life.