Health effects of drugs
What are drugs
Drugs are substances that change a person’s mental or physical state. They can affect the way your brain works, how you feel and behave, your understanding and your senses. This makes them unpredictable and dangerous, especially for young people.
The effects of drugs are different for each person and drug.
Types of drugs
Drugs can be categorised by the way in which they affect our bodies:
- depressants – slow down the function of the central nervous system
- hallucinogens – affect your senses and change the way you see, hear, taste, smell or feel things
- stimulants – speed up the function of the central nervous system.
Some drugs affect the body in many ways and can fall into more than one category. For example, cannabis appears in all 3 categories.
Drugs and the law
Legal drugs include:
- over-the-counter and prescribed drugs.
Some of these have restrictions related to:
- age – for example, you can’t legally drink under the age of 18
- where you can use them – for example, you can’t drink alcohol or smoke in certain places
- driving – for example, there is a limit on how much you can drink and then drive
- their sale – for example tobacco products must display specific health warnings.
Illegal drugs include:
- cannabis (marijuana)
- ecstasy (MDMA)
They are banned because using them can endanger your health, your life, or the life of others. Because they are not regulated in the way legal drugs are you can never be sure what’s in them or how strong they are.
Illicit drug use includes:
- illegal drugs
- misuse or non-prescribed use of prescription drugs (also called pharmaceuticals)
- inappropriate use of other substances – for example, sniffing glue.
Some drug laws are different depending on the state or territory you’re in.
Anyone can become addicted to alcohol or drugs.
There are many factors involved in drug addiction and it varies between people and drugs.
Using a drug regularly can lead to tolerance – where your body becomes used to the drug and so you need larger amounts each time to achieve the same effect.
Regular use can also lead to dependence – where you need the drug to feel good and function normally. Dependence can be physical, psychological or both.
Being addicted means continuing to use a drug even though you’re aware of the harmful consequences. Addiction can be:
- physical – your body craves the drugs, for example, alcohol, nicotine
- mental – your mind needs the drug in order to forget your problems or relax
- social – you feel you need the drug in order to fit in or enjoy social events.
If you stop taking a drug or try to reduce the amount you’re taking you may experience withdrawal symptoms. These can be physically and mentally unpleasant and may include:
- being irritable
- cravings for the drug.
Learn more on the Australian Department of Health Website
Getting help for addiction
Our Alcohol and Drug Service can help you with drug addiction
There are also other services that you can access for help or support