[Skip to Content]

Drugs: What to Know

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD

It's not hard to find drugs, and sometimes it may seem like everyone's doing them — or wanting you to do them. But as with anything that seems too good to be true, there are downsides (and dangers) to taking drugs.

How Drugs Work

Drugs are chemicals or substances that change the way our bodies work. Some are medicines that help people when doctors prescribe them. Many have no medical use or benefits. 

When taken (usually by swallowing, inhaling, or injecting), abused drugs find their way into the bloodstream. From there, they move to the brain and other parts of the body. In the brain, drugs may intensify or dull the senses, change how alert or sleepy people feel, and sometimes decrease physical pain.

Because of the way these drugs work on the brain, they affect the ability to make healthy choices and decisions. Even drinking makes people more likely to get involved in dangerous situations, like driving under the influence or having unprotected sex.

How drugs affect people depends on lots of things:

  • the kind of drug taken
  • how much is taken
  • how often someone uses it
  • how quickly it gets to the brain
  • what other drugs, food, or substances are taken at the same time
  • the person's body size, shape, and chemistry

Although substances can feel good at first, they can do a lot of harm to the body and brain. Drinking alcohol, smoking or using tobacco, taking illegal drugs, even sniffing glue all damage the human body.

Why People Take Drugs

Just as there are many kinds of drugs available, there are as many reasons for trying or using them. People take drugs for the pleasure they believe they can bring. Or maybe someone else talked them into it, making them think they'll have a better time if they take drugs. Often people try to talk friends into taking drugs just because they don't want to be the only ones doing them.

Some people believe drugs will help them think better, be more popular, or become better artists or athletes. Others are curious. And some people want to fit in and take drugs because of peer pressure.

Many people use drugs because they're depressed or think drugs will help them escape their problems. But drugs just mask feelings and problems, they don't solve them. People find that when a drug wears off, the feelings and problems remain and might even be worse. This can put people on the hamster wheel of chasing a high just to feel better.

Commonly abused drugs include:

Getting Help

If you think you — or a friend — may be addicted to drugs, talk to a parent, your doctor, school counselor, or nurse. They can help you get the help you need.

Several kinds of treatment are available for drug addiction. The two main types are behavioral (helping a person change behaviors) and pharmacological (treating a person by using medicine).

Experts in drug treatment teach people how to live without drugs — dealing with cravings, avoiding situations that could lead to drug use, and preventing and handling relapses.

It can be hard to overcome drug addiction without professional help and treatment. It takes time and isn't something that can be done alone — everyone needs support. Experts who help people with addictions are trained to help, not judge. To find a drug treatment center in your area, search online, check out the SAMHSA Treatment Locator, or ask a doctor or counselor for advice.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: October 2016