10 Questions from Teens on Drugs and Alcohol that are Totally Relevant

The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) received over 118,000 inquiries from teens during National Drug and Alcohol Awareness Week in 2022. National Drug and Alcohol Awareness week is a week-long observance that inspires dialogue about the science of drug use and addiction among youth. While targeted toward youth, this week is valuable for everyone. 

Let’s try to create some dialogue around the 10 most asked questions from teens.

10. Why do people use drugs when they know they might cause problems?

Drug addiction is a severe medical problem that affects millions of people worldwide. On the less severe side of the spectrum millions of other people experience substance use disorders. Both addiction and substance use disorders are most commonly occurring when you use a drug multiple times. People take drugs for various reasons in their life. This could be to escape reality, try to numb the pain, or be a part of a group. However, the repeated use of drugs can create changes in your brain that make it difficult to quit. 

All addictive drugs cause the brain to release dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that reinforces the brain to seek out pleasure. So when using drugs, your brain is flooded with dopamine and when you are no longer using, your brain requires that same amount of dopamine in order to feel pleasure. For many people, this makes it incredibly difficult to quit, leading them to continue using drugs despite knowing the harm it causes.

9. What are the effects of drugs like Xanax and Percocet?

Xanax is the brand name for a drug named alprazolam. It is used to treat anxiety and panic disorders when correctly prescribed by a doctor. It acts on the brain and nervous system to create a calming effect. Percocet is another brand name for a drug called oxycodone/acetaminophen, which helps relieve pain and produces feelings of euphoria. Both are considered high risk for addiction and dependence. 

When taken incorrectly, or without a prescription from a doctor, Xanax and Percocet can lead to severe side effects such as liver damage, overdose, and even death. It is important for anyone taking these medications to maintain consistent communication with your physician and to take them as directed.

8. What are bath salts?

“Bath Salts” are synthetic stimulants that affect the central nervous system in the same way other drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, or MDMA (ecstasy) would. This drug is created in a lab and is different from the Epsom salt you may use in a bath to relax. This drug will cause increased heart rate, wakefulness, and feelings of euphoria. However, the bad effects may include aggression, acute psychosis, confusion, paranoia, sweating, headaches, and many more including overdose. 

Bath salts are usually white or brown crystals and are sometimes sold in stores or online. They will include words such as “not for human consumption”, “plant food”, “research chemicals” or “glass cleaner”.

7. Can you get addicted to ADHD meds?

ADHD meds such as brand names Adderall and Ritalin are often prescribed to teenagers for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. When used as prescribed, these drugs can be beneficial to overall well-being. It is always important to stay in communication with your doctor if you experience any symptoms or side effects of prescribed medication. 

However, there has been an increase in teens abusing ADHD medication. Abusing this medication can cause side effects such as increased heart rate, headaches, nausea, anxiety, and trouble sleeping. When abused over a long period of time, Adderall can diminish creativity functions in the brain. There is almost always the chance for addiction when medication is misused. 

So no and yes - our advice, talk to your doctor. 

6. Is vaping bad for you even when it’s just flavoring?

The answer isn’t as straightforward as vaping with nicotine, but we do know that all vapes even with just flavoring contain chemicals that cause unknown damage to the lungs. These chemicals may include propylene glycol, glycerin, chemical flavorings, and other compounds. In 2020, thousands of people got sick and dozens died from an illness caused by EVALI - “E-Cigarette Associated Lung Injury”. 

It is also much more likely for those who begin vaping without nicotine, to begin using nicotine in the following years. We know cigarette smoking is the leading cause of cancer and other illnesses with 480,000 premature deaths each year.

5. How can I help someone with a problem stop taking drugs? How can I help if they don’t want help?

Helping someone with a substance use disorder or someone experiencing addiction is a difficult task. Sometimes the person whom you want to help does not want help at all. The most important piece of advice is to make sure you have the correct coping skills for yourself. You may not have control over someone’s actions but you can begin with your own. 

Here are some recommendations from NIDA: 

“The Substance Use and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) operates the National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP (4357). This is a free confidential, 24/7,365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish). SAMHSA has resources available online for families coping with mental and substance use disorders and also provides a confidential online treatment locator.”


4. If a pregnant woman takes drugs/smokes/drinks alcohol, what happens to her baby?

While someone is pregnant, their body is not only taking care of themselves but growing another living being. So participating in drugs, smoking, or drinking in the process can cause harm to both the person carrying the baby and the baby itself. The growth and central nervous systems are affected in the process. 

During pregnancy, the presence of certain substances can highly increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and high blood pressure. In the case of after birth, babies can develop conditions such as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and other behavioral problems. So someone pregnant needs to maintain healthy habits and routines. 

3. Can marijuana be used as medicine?

There has been lots of arguing over the last few decades as to whether or not marijuana can be classified as an effective form of medication for certain illnesses and conditions. To start, two components of marijuana need to be considered. THC stands for tetrahydrocannabinol and is the chemical compound found in the plant that causes the high someone may feel and is also associated with addictive components of the drug. Second, is CBD, which stands for cannabidiol, and does not produce a high or have any links to addiction. 

Both THC and CBD have been shown to have positive effects on certain conditions such as seizures, AIDS, and cancer. However, many marijuana products market as a medicine for treatments that have no evidence of the safety or effectiveness of the drug. It’s important to note marijuana can have short-term and long-term effects on the body and mind, especially used over long periods or in large amounts. This could include impaired memory, decreased coordination, altered judgment, brain development functions, and respiratory problems.


2. Which is more habit-forming - smoking cigarettes or vaping nicotine?

Both smoking cigarettes and vaping nicotine are highly addictive. Most commonly someone who uses one will transition to the other. With how addictive nicotine is, the best practice is to not start at all. 

1. What is the worst drug?

It is difficult to note what is the worst drug considering all drugs will affect someone in different ways according to how often they use, who is using it, overlapping drug usage, etc. All drugs have the potential to cause harmful effects on the brain and body. However, we know there are a few drugs that cause fatal overdoses more commonly than others. 

These include: 

  • Fentanyl, this drug is 100x more potent than morphine and 50x more potent than heroin. It is commonly mixed into other drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA (ecstasy) and can be ingested without intention. 
  • Opioids are a class of drugs that include heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and others. Some of these drugs are prescription drugs but due to their large misuse of them more than a million Americans have died from opioids since 1999 - that’s a lot. 

Just as some other drugs include a higher risk of addiction such as tobacco and methamphetamine. Causing long-term damage to the brain and body. While alcohol is the most common substance found to be the cause of deadly car crashes. In 2019, almost 1 person died every 52 minutes due to an alcohol-related car crash. 

There is no saying what is the worst drug just as there is no saying there is the best drug. The more knowledge you have means the more informed decisions you can make about drug and alcohol usage.

Learn more about National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week here

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