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Drugs can change the way your body functions, how you feel and how you act. Find out more about drugs, dealing with peer pressure and how to get help with drugs.
A drug is a chemical that you take. Drugs can change the way your body functions, how you feel and how you act. There are lots of different types of drugs, and they all have the potential to be harmful if used incorrectly.
Drugs can generally be divided into three categories:
The word ‘recreational’ describes something you do for enjoyment in your spare time. In the context of drugs, it means drugs which are taken when you don’t need to take them for your health. Read more below about some of the reasons people take drugs.
You can only get prescription drugs from a pharmacist or hospital with a prescription from your GP.You might be prescribed a drug if you are ill or have a health problem. When this happens, it is important you follow the instructions your GP gives you, and only take prescription drugs that have been prescribed to you and not someone else. This is because prescription drugs can be unsafe in the wrong dose or if taken without your doctor knowing.
You can buy over-the-counter drugs in shops, supermarkets or pharmacies, such as pills to help with aches, pain, cold and flu. If you take more than the recommended amount written on the pack, or mix them with other drugs, this could be unsafe.
All medications can cause side effects, which are unwanted symptoms caused by medical treatment. For some drugs, the side effects can be relatively minor, whereas for others they can be more serious. Your likelihood of having side effects from your medications may be related to your age, weight, sex, and overall health. To find out about possible side effects, you can ask your doctor or pharmacist, read the information contained within the packaging or search for the drug in the NHS medicine database. If your medication is causing severe side effects, it is important you discuss this with a healthcare professional – there might be an alternative option that would suit you better.
There are some drugs which are legal to buy if you are over 18, mainly alcohol and tobacco. These are used for recreational purposes – to alter mood or behaviour. They can be bad for your health in various ways.
There are also drugs called ‘legal highs’, which are substances that are meant to have similar effects as some illegal drugs. They are often easily available and sold as different names. While it isn’t illegal to be in possession of these drugs, it is illegal to sell them. They are made of chemicals that are often unsafe and can be just as dangerous as other illegal drugs. Find out more about legal highs.
Illegal drugs are described in different classes (A, B and C) depending on how unsafe they are. They are especially dangerous because you can never be certain of the strength, the contents of the drug and how it’s ‘cut’, whereas the ingredients of legal drugs can be regulated.
Class A drugs are the most harmful and dangerous. These include:
Class B drugs are harmful and addictive. These include:
Class C can be harmful and unsafe. These include:
The punishment for taking, carrying, sharing or selling (‘dealing’) illegal drugs depends on the type of drug. If the police catch you with any type of illegal drug you could be arrested and sent to prison. You might also not be allowed to travel to certain countries like the USA or Australia.
People take drugs for various reasons, such as:
People will have different opinions on taking illegal drugs. It is fine to have these opinions, but those drugs are still illegal and no one should ever feel under pressure to do something that we don’t want to do.
Some people might feel tempted to take drugs because their friends tell them to, or to carry drugs that their friends ask them to. It is difficult to think a friend might not have your best interests at heart, but real friends should respect your decision to say ‘no’ and not pressure you to do something.
If you are feeling pressured to take drugs, you could try:
If the pressure is becoming too much, think carefully about whether these are people you want to be spending time with. If they won’t respect your decision, it suggests they aren’t prioritising your happiness and safety.
If your friend is being pressured
If you have a friend who is on the receiving end of peer pressure, it is a good idea to talk one-on-one and discuss your feelings about drugs. You may both benefit from some support and may find it easier to stand your ground together.
If you have any questions at all or want to talk anything through in confidence, you can call the Frank helpline 24 hours a day on 0300 123 6600.
It is very important to know the risks that come with drug use, and also that drugs affect people differently, particularly illegal drugs, which may be cut with something you aren’t aware of. This makes it very hard to predict how they will affect you, even if you have done them before, and know how to manage those effects when they happen.
One of the most dangerous side effects of many drugs is their addictive quality.
Addiction is when someone does not have control over taking something, even though it is harming them or they want to stop. Addiction can be chemical or behavioural, and is often a mixture of both.
Drugs are often addictive because they produce an intense high, which disappears quickly and leaves a powerful need to have more. This includes legal drugs, such as alcohol and tobacco (nicotine).
Anyone may choose to take drugs and anyone can be a drug user or an addict. Addiction isn’t always obvious, and doesn’t necessarily relate to the amount of drugs someone is taking or the interest in taking drugs so much as the feeling of needing to take them, in whatever context or amount.
Read more about addiction here.
Drugs impact on someone’s decision making. They often cause people to feel less inhibited, which results in them engaging in more risky behaviours than if they were sober. This includes risky sexual behaviour.
Drugs and consent
The sexual offenses act is very clear about the impact of alcohol & drugs on someone’s ability to consent: “If they are drunk or high, then they may not have the capacity to consent to sex and this includes any kind of sexual activity, like kissing or fondling”. Someone should be fully coordinated and responsive before you engage in any kind of sexual activity with them. If you are unsure if they are drunk or high, be cautious and wait until they have sobered up to check for consent. Read more about giving and getting consent.If someone forces you to do something you do not want to do of a sexual nature, it is never your fault and it is not OK. You should speak to someone you trust so that you can get help and support.
Drugs can have a big impact on how you feel physically and emotionally. There are physical health risks of taking drugs.
Short term risks can include:
Long-term health issues can include:
An overdose is when someone takes more than their body can cope with. It can be very hard to judge how much you can take of any drug without overdosing, and even if you’ve used a drug before you have no way of judging its strength or knowing what other substances it has been mixed or ‘cut’ with.
A ‘bad trip’ is when someone has a bad experience from what they have taken.
Remember that emergencies are very rare, but sometimes people can have a bad reaction to drugs. They could have a bad experience and get anxious and panic. Or become overheated and dehydrated. For immediate help call 999 for an ambulance. For more info about what to do in an emergency visit Talk to Frank.
Most drugs will affect your appearance to some degree and it could mean more than just a few spots.
There are wider consequences of drug use on relationships with family, friends and partners. Drugs can change the way someone thinks, feels and behaves, and therefore alter the way they interact with others. This can cause friction and arguments, as well as trauma if the changes escalate to abusive behaviours. Read more about abuse here.
There are wider risks of drugs on someone’s future. Getting a criminal record could affect future job prospects and make it more difficult to travel abroad. Drugs can also cause financial problems, as frequent use of drugs and addiction can lead people into debt.
Substances are not safe and can cause long-term harm. The safest option is not to use drugs.
Anyone who does take drugs should:
Spiking is when someone puts alcohol or drugs in a person’s drink without their knowledge. It is a serious crime, and can be very harmful for a variety of reasons including making a person vulnerable to theft, sexual assault and severe inebriation. It can be a scary experience and it’s important to be able to recognise the signs your drink has been spiked or how to help someone you suspect has been a victim. You can read about drink spiking in detail here.
Different types of drugs affect people differently. If you have a drug problem, you might:
While some drugs are illegal, you should never be afraid to seek medical help, either while you are taking drugs or in general. In the UK, healthcare professionals have a duty of care and their priority is to make sure we are okay.
Staff at Brook services can help you access help with drugs, alcohol and smoking if you ask them to. All of our staff are friendly and non-judgemental, and will do their best to help you find the support that’s right for you.
There is a lot of support available if you, or someone you know, needs advice and support on unhealthy behaviours around illegal substance use, addiction and quitting. With the right help and support, it’s possible for someone to get drug free and stay that way. If you need treatment for drug addiction, you’re entitled to NHS care in the same way as anyone else who has a health problem.
A GP is a good place to start. They can discuss your problems with you and get you into treatment. They may offer you treatment at the practice or refer you to your local drug service.
If you’re not comfortable talking to a GP, you can approach your local drug treatment service yourself. Visit the Frank website to find local drug treatment services.
As well as the NHS, there are charities and private drug and alcohol treatment organisations that can help you. Private drug treatment can be very expensive, but sometimes people get referrals through their local NHS.
If you’re having trouble finding the right sort of help, you can:
If you are worried about someone
It can be difficult to know what to do if you are worried about someone’s drug use. Aside from speaking to a trusted adult, you could start by letting the person know that you’re worried about them. They may not realise they have a drug problem, and they might not know how their behaviour is affecting you. If they don’t want to talk to you about it, you could suggest they talk to someone else. Read Childline’s advice about helping a friend.
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