Common side effects of drug abuse on users’ health

What is drugs?

A drug is any substance that causes a change in a users’ physiology or psychology when consumed. Drugs are chemicals that affect the body and brain. Today, more than 7 million people suffer from illicit drug disorder, and one in four deaths results from illicit drug use.

What are the types of drugs?

Drugs generally affect how users’ think, feel and behave. The three main types of drugs are depressants, hallucinogens and stimulants.

Depressants: These category of drug slow or ‘depress’ the function of the central nervous system. They slow the messages going to and from the brain. In small quantities, depressants can cause a person to feel relaxed and less inhibited. In large amounts they may cause vomiting, unconsciousness and death.

Depressants affect users’ concentration and coordination, and generally slow down the ability to respond to situations. It is important to not operate heavy machinery while taking depressants. Examples of depressants include Alcohol, Cannabis, GHB, opiates (heroin, morphine, codeine) and benzodiazepines (minor tranquillizers).

Hallucinogens: These distort the sense of reality. Users may see or hear things that are not really there, or see things in a distorted way. Other effects can include emotional and psychological euphoria, jaw clenching, panic, paranoia, gastric upset and nausea. Ketamine, LSD, PCP, ‘magic mushrooms’ and cannabis are examples of hallucinogens.

Stimulants:  Stimulants speed or ‘stimulate’ the central nervous system. They speed up messaging to and from the brain, and this can cause increased heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature, reduced appetite, agitation and sleeplessness.

In large amounts stimulants may cause anxiety, panic, seizures, stomach cramps and paranoia. Examples of stimulants include caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines (speed and Ice), cocaine and ecstasy (MDMA).

Effects of drugs

Drug use can have a wide range of short- and long-term, direct and indirect effects. These effects often depend on the specific drug or drugs used, how they are taken, how much is taken, the person’s health, and other factors.

Short-term effects: These can range from changes in appetite, wakefulness, heart rate, blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, psychosis, overdose, and even death. These health effects may occur after just one use.

Longer-term effects: Long term effects can include heart or lung disease, cancer, mental illness, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and others. Long-term drug use can also lead to addiction. Drug addiction is a brain disorder. Not everyone who uses drugs will become addicted, but for some, drug use can change how certain brain circuits work. These brain changes interfere with how people experience normal pleasures in life such as food and sex, their ability to control their stress level, their decision-making, their ability to learn and remember, etc. These changes make it much more difficult for someone to stop taking the drug even when it’s having negative effects on their life and they want to quit.

Drug use can also have indirect effects on both the people who are taking drugs and on those around them. This can include affecting a person’s nutrition; sleep; decision-making and impulsivity; and risk for trauma, violence, injury, and communicable diseases. Drug use can also affect babies born to women who use drugs while pregnant. Broader negative outcomes may be seen in education level, employment, housing, relationships, and criminal justice involvement.


All drugs–nicotine, cocaine, marijuana and others–affect the brain’s “reward” circuit. This area of the brain affects instinct and mood. Drugs target this system, which causes large amounts of dopamine—a brain chemical that helps regulate emotions and feelings of pleasure—to flood the brain. This flood of dopamine is what causes a “high.” It’s one of the main causes of drug addiction.

Although initial drug use may be voluntary, drugs can alter brain chemistry. This can actually change how the brain performs and interfere with a person’s ability to make choices. It can lead to intense cravings and compulsive drug use. Over time, this behavior can turn into a substance dependency or drug and alcohol addiction

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