en españolLo que necesitas saber sobre las drogas y los medicamentos
Drugs are chemicals that change the way a person's body works. You've probably heard that drugs are bad for you, but what does that mean and why are they bad?
Medicines Are Legal Drugs
If you've ever been sick and had to take medicine, you already know about one kind of drugs. Medicines are legal drugs, meaning doctors are allowed to prescribe them for patients, stores can sell them, and people are allowed to buy them. But it's not legal, or safe, for people to use these medicines any way they want or to buy them from people who are selling them illegally.
Cigarettes and Alcohol
Cigarettes and alcohol are two other kinds of legal drugs. (In the United States, adults 18 and older can buy cigarettes and those 21 and older can buy alcohol.) But smoking and excessive drinking are not healthy for adults and are off limits for kids.
When people talk about a "drug problem," they usually mean abusing legal drugs or using illegal drugs, such as marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, LSD, crystal meth, and heroin. (Marijuana is generally an illegal drug, but some states allow doctors to recommend it to adults for certain illnesses.)
Why Are Illegal Drugs Dangerous?
Illegal drugs aren't good for anyone, but they are particularly bad for a kid or teen whose body is still growing. Illegal drugs can damage the brain, heart, and other important organs. Cocaine, for instance, can cause a heart attack — even in a kid or teen.
While using drugs, people are also less able to do well in school, sports, and other activities. It's often harder to think clearly and make good decisions. People can do dumb or dangerous things that could hurt them — or other people — when they use drugs.
Why Do People Use Illegal Drugs?
Sometimes kids and teens try drugs to fit in with a group of friends. Or they might be curious or just bored. Someone may use illegal drugs for many reasons, but often because they help the person escape from reality for a while. A drug might — temporarily — make someone who is sad or upset feel better or forget about problems. But this escape lasts only until the drug wears off.
Drugs don't solve problems, of course. And using drugs often causes other problems on top of the problems the person had in the first place. Somebody who uses drugs can become dependent on them, or addicted. This means that the person's body becomes so accustomed to having this drug that he or she can't function well without it.
Once someone is addicted, it's very hard to stop taking drugs. Stopping can cause withdrawal symptoms, such as vomiting (throwing up), sweating, and tremors (shaking). These sick feelings continue until the person's body gets adjusted to being drug free again.
Can I Tell If Someone Is Using Drugs?
If someone is using drugs, you might notice changes in how the person looks or acts. Here are some of those signs, but it's important to remember that depression or another problem could be causing these changes. Somebody using drugs might:
- lose interest in school
- change friends (to hang out with kids who use drugs)
- become moody, negative, cranky, or worried all the time
- ask to be left alone a lot
- have trouble concentrating
- sleep a lot (maybe even in class)
- get in fights
- have red or puffy eyes
- lose or gain weight
- cough a lot
- have a runny nose all of the time
What Can I Do to Help?
If you think someone is using drugs, the best thing to do is to tell an adult that you trust. This could be a parent, other relative, teacher, coach, or school counselor. The person might need professional help to stop using drugs. A grownup can help the person find the treatment needed to stop using drugs. Another way kids can help kids is by choosing not to try or use drugs. It's a good way for friends to stick together.
Words to Know
Understanding drugs and why they are dangerous is another good step for a kid to take. Here are some words that may be new to you:
Addiction (say: eh-DIK-shen) — Someone has an addiction when he or she becomes dependent on or craves a drug all of the time.
Depressant (say: dih-PRESS-int) — A depressant is a drug that slows a person down. Doctors prescribe depressants to help people be less angry, anxious, or tense. Depressants relax muscles and make people feel sleepy, less stressed out, or like their head is stuffed. Some people may use these drugs illegally to slow themselves down and help bring on sleep — especially after using various kinds of stimulants. (See below.)
Hallucinogen (say: heh-LOO-seh-neh-jen) — A hallucinogen is a drug, such as LSD, that changes a person's mood and makes him or her see or hear things that aren't really there or think strange thoughts.
High — A high is the feeling that drug users want to get when they take drugs. There are many types of highs, including a very happy or spacey feeling or a feeling that someone has special powers, such as the ability to fly or to see into the future.
Inhalant (say: in-HAY-lent) — An inhalant, such as glue or gasoline, is sniffed or "huffed" to give the user an immediate rush. Inhalants produce a quick feeling of being drunk — followed by sleepiness, staggering, dizziness, and confusion.
Narcotic (say: nar-KAH-tik) — A narcotic dulls the body's senses (leaving a person less aware and alert and feeling carefree) and relieves pain. Narcotics can cause someone to sleep, fall into a stupor, have convulsions, and even slip into a coma. Certain narcotics — such as codeine — are legal if given by doctors to treat pain. Heroin is an illegal narcotic because it is has dangerous side effects and is very addictive.
Stimulant (say: STIM-yeh-lent) — A stimulant speeds up the body and brain. Stimulants, such as methamphetamines and cocaine, have the opposite effect of depressants. Usually, stimulants make someone feel high and energized. When the effects of a stimulant wear off, the person will feel tired or sick.
There is no single reason why teenagers use drugs or alcohol. But here are some of the core issues and influences behind the behavior of teenage drug and alcohol use.
It’s important that you, as a parent, understand these reasons and talk to your kids about the dangers of drinking and doing drugs.
1. Other People. Teenagers see lots of people consuming various substances. They see their parents and other adults drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and, sometimes, trying other substances. Also, a teenager’s social scene often revolves around drinking and smoking marijuana. Sometimes friends urge one another to have a drink or smoke pot, but it’s just as common for teens to start trying a substance because it’s readily available and they see all their friends enjoying it. In their minds, they see drug use as a part of the normal teenage experience.
2. Popular Media. Forty-five percent of teens agree with the statement: “The music that teens listen to makes marijuana seem cool.” And 45 percent of teens agree with the statement “Movies and TV shows make drugs seem like an ok thing to do.” (PATS 2012) So be aware of the media that your son or daughter is consuming and talk to them about it.
3. Escape and Self-Medication. When teens are unhappy and can’t find a healthy outlet for their frustration or a trusted confidant, they may turn to chemicals for solace. Depending on what substance they’re trying, they may feel blissfully oblivious, wonderfully happy or energized and confident. The often rough teenage years can take an emotional toll on children, sometimes even causing depression, so when teens are given a chance to take something to make them feel better, many can’t resist. For example, some teens abuse prescription medicine to manage stress or regulate their lives. Sometimes they abuse prescription stimulants (used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) to provide additional energy and the ability to focus when they’re studying or taking tests. Others are abusing prescription pain relievers and tranquilizers to cope with academic, social or emotional stress.
4. Boredom. Teens who can’t tolerate being alone, have trouble keeping themselves occupied or crave excitement are prime candidates for substance use. Not only do alcohol and marijuana give them something to do, but those substances help fill the internal void they feel. Further, they provide a common ground for interacting with like-minded teens, a way to instantly bond with a group of kids.
5. Rebellion. Different rebellious teens choose different substances to use based on their personalities. Alcohol is the drug of choice for the angry teenager because it frees him to behave aggressively. Methamphetamine, or meth, also encourages aggressive, violent behavior, and can be far more dangerous and potent than alcohol. Marijuana, on the other hand, often seems to reduce aggression and is more of an avoidance drug. Some teens abuse prescription medicine to party and get high. LSD and hallucinogens are also escape drugs, often used by young people who feel misunderstood and may long to escape to a more idealistic, kind world. Smoking cigarettes can be a form of rebellion to flaunt their independence and make their parents angry. The reasons for teenage drug-use are as complex as teenagers themselves.
6. Instant Gratification. Drugs and alcohol work quickly. The initial effects feel really good. Teenagers turn to drug use because they see it as a short-term shortcut to happiness.
7. Lack of Confidence. Many shy teenagers who lack confidence report that they’ll do things under the influence of alcohol or drugs that they might not otherwise. This is part of the appeal of drugs and alcohol even for relatively self-confident teens; you have the courage to dance if you’re a bad dancer, or sing at the top of your lungs even if you have a terrible voice, or kiss the girl you’re attracted to. And alcohol and other drugs tend not only to loosen your inhibitions but to alleviate social anxiety. Not only do you have something in common with the other people around you, but there’s the mentality that if you do anything or say anything stupid, everyone will just think you had too many drinks or smoked too much weed.
8. Misinformation. Perhaps the most avoidable cause of substance use is inaccurate information about drugs and alcohol. Nearly every teenager has friends who claim to be experts on various recreational substances, and they’re happy to assure her that the risks are minimal. Educate your teenagers about drug use, so they get the real facts about the dangers of drug use.