It’s not unusual for people to feel confused about taking drugs. You might be feeling pressure from your friends or classmates, or you might be curious about what using a drug would be like. For more information about types of drugs and their effects on your brain and body, check out the Drugs overview fact sheet.
While movies, music, and T.V. shows can make drug use seem cool, fun, or even glamorous, there are also many negative side effects to drug use. Drugs can negatively impact your relationships, your mental and physical health, and your life in general. Drug use is a choice but it is important to understand the effects of drug use - both immediate and long-term - to your brain, body and life.
Immediate and long-term effects of drug use
You might be thinking about using drugs, and in the short-term, it might seem harmless to experiment with different drugs. Taking drugs can make you feel good and look cool around your friends-especially if they’re all using drugs, too. While you’re high, it might seem like there aren’t any consequences to your drug use. However, there can be negative effects of using that can impact your life. You might even become dependent on the drugs you are taking to function day-to-day. Here are a few examples of how drug use can change your life.
Drugs can have immediate and long-lasting effects on your physical health and well-being.
Physical injuries. When you’re under the influence of drugs, you might do things that you wouldn’t normally do. This can increase your chances of getting hurt or having an accident. Drug-related injuries can be from things like falling and car accidents.
Violence. Some drugs can increase the likelihood of violent behavior. Violence is never an acceptable way to react in a situation, and if you become violent when you use drugs, it’s a good idea to re-evaluate your drug use. Drug-induced violence can lead to serious injury to you and to others.
Internal damage. Use of some drugs can damage your internal organs, like your liver, brain, lungs, throat and stomach. For example, ordinary household glue can be characterized as a drug if sniffed. The chemicals in glue can cause hearing loss and kidney damage if they’re inhaled over a long period of time. And continuous marijuana use can harm the parts of the brain that control memory, attention and learning.
Pregnancy and STDs. While you’re under the influence, you might be less likely to remember to have safe sex. Unprotected sex can lead to pregnancy or the spread of STDs like HIV/AIDS.
Risk of other infectious diseases. Sharing needles from injecting certain types of drugs can put you at major risk for getting diseases like Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B, as well as HIV. These diseases are spread through the transmission of body fluids like blood. You can also contract other infections, like colds and mono, from sharing pipes or bongs.
Addiction. When you take drugs, there’s a chance that you could become dependent on them. This means that you might feel like you can’t operate without drugs in your system or that you spend a lot of your time and energy finding and using the drug. You might also have withdrawal symptoms when you stop using the drug. If you use drugs often, your tolerance to the drug might increase, causing you to need to take a greater amount to get the same effects. If you think you might need help for your drug dependence, check out Getting help for drug use fact sheet.
Your mental and emotional well-being
Drug use can also alter your mood-when you’re high, and even when you’re not. Drug use can make trigger stress or mental illness, or exacerbate already existing issues.
Stress. You might think that using certain drugs will help you relax and forget about the issues that cause stress. But long-term drug use can have a big impact on the way your brain works, and lead to increased anxiety and stress.
Depression. Feeling low after using some drugs-including alcohol-is common. You might feel depressed because of the drug itself, or because of something that happened while you were using. Sometimes people use drugs as a way to cope with their depression, but drug use can often worsen these feelings.
Mental illnesses. Although scientists generally agree that there is a link between drug use and serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia, the National Institute on Drug Abuse says that it’s still unclear whether serious drug use leads to these illnesses, or if having an illness increases a person’s chances to abuse drugs.
Your relationships and your future
Drug use can have an immediate impact on your body and mind but it can also affect your future and your relationship with others.
Legal issues. Making, selling or having illegal drugs in your possession is against the law. It’s also against the law to give prescription drugs to people who don’t have a prescription from a doctor. Punishments for breaking these laws include having to go to court which might result in being sent to jail, having to pay hefty fines, or enter a rehabilitation program.
Your relationships. When drug use becomes a larger part of your life, your relationships suffer. Conflict and breakdowns in communication can become more common.
Your safety. Being under the influence of drugs could increase your chances of being in dangerous situations. The effects of some drugs can cause you to do things you might not usually do. You might also be putting yourself at risk of overdosing. Buying drugs or trying to get the money to buy drugs can also put you at risk.
Your school work. You might not immediately notice the impact that your drug taking is having on your school work, but habitual drug use can prevent you from focusing on your responsibilities, like homework or concentrating in class. Your grades will suffer as a result.
Your job. Drug use can also affect your ability to concentrate at work. The side effects of using drugs-like a hangover, or a “coming down” feeling-can reduce your ability to focus. Poor performance at your job could cause you to lose your job all together.
Financial pressures. Regular drug use can become expensive. In extreme situations, people who are addicted to drugs might try anything-including illegal activities like theft-to secure money to get their next fix.
Homelessness. Spending most of your money on drugs might not leave much money to cover your living expenses, like rent, food, or utility bills. If you can’t pay these necessary costs, you could even get kicked out of your home.
If you’re using drugs and finding it hard to manage life and relationships, help is available. Start by talking with someone you trust, like a friend or family member, about your problem. You might also want to speak with a doctor or counselor or other mental health professional all of whom can help you get professional treatment for your drug problem. Check out the Getting help for drug use fact sheet for more info.
Information in this fact sheet was provided by:
- The U.S. Department of Justice
- The Nemours Foundation, Prescription drug abuse
- The Nemours Foundation, Drugs: What you should know
- The National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIDA for Teens
- The National Institute on Drug Abuse, Co morbid Drug Abuse and Mental Illness
Last reviewed: Feb 27, 2013