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Learning About Drug Use in Teens

Why do teens use drugs?

Teens may use drugs for many reasons. They may want to:

  • Fit in with friends or certain groups.
  • Feel good.
  • Seem more grown up.
  • Rebel against adults.
  • Escape problems. For example, teens may use drugs to try to:
    • Avoid the symptoms of mental health problems, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or depression.
    • Ease feelings of insecurity.
    • Forget about emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.

What problems can drugs cause?

Drugs can change how well you make decisions, how well you think, and how quickly you can react. They can make it hard for you to control your actions. Drug use can:

  • Make car crashes more likely. If you drive while you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you can easily crash and hurt yourself or others.
  • Lead to unprotected sex and/or sexual assault. This can lead to pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
  • Cause you to do things you wouldn't usually do. You may say things that hurt your friends or do something illegal that could result in paying a large fine, losing your driver's licence, or other legal problems.
  • Cause you to lose interest in school and your future. Poor grades or lack of focus may make it harder to reach your dreams.

Drugs also can change how you feel about your life. Drug use can increase the risk of anxiety, depression, and suicide.

Do not drive while you are impaired, and do not ride in a car (or any type of vehicle) with someone who is impaired.

How do you say no to drugs?

If someone offers you drugs, here are some ways to say "no."

  • Look the person in the eye and say "No thanks." Sometimes that is all you need to do. Say it as many times as you need to. Also ask the person not to ask you again: "I'm cool with my decision, so don't bother me again."
  • Say why you don't want to use drugs. Here are some examples: "I don't like how I act when I'm on drugs," "I like to know what I'm doing," "If my parents find out, they'll take my car away," or "I have to practice with my band tomorrow."
  • Walk out. It's okay to leave a party or group where drugs are being used.
  • Offer another idea. "I'd rather play video games" or "Let's listen to some music." By doing this, you might also prevent your friend from using drugs.
  • Ask for respect. Make it clear that you don't want to use drugs and that continuing to ask you is showing no respect for your opinions. "I don't give you a hard time, so why are you giving me a hard time?"
  • Think ahead. If you think you might go someplace where drugs are used, don't go. But if you do go, think in advance about what you will do if someone offers you drugs.

Do you have substance use disorder?

Substances can include more than illegal drugs like heroin or meth. You also can have problems with alcohol, cannabis, prescription medicines, or medicines you can buy without a prescription.

You may have substance use disorder and need help if you have any of these signs:

  • You use larger amounts of a substance than you ever meant to. Or you've been using it for a longer time than you ever meant to.
  • You can't cut down or control your use. Or you constantly wish you could cut down.
  • You spend a lot of time getting or using the substance or recovering from the effects.
  • You have strong cravings for the substance.
  • You can no longer do your main jobs at school, at work, or at home.
  • You keep using, even though your substance use hurts your relationships.
  • You have stopped doing important activities because of your substance use.
  • You use substances in situations where doing so is dangerous.
  • You keep using the substance even though you know it's causing health problems.
  • You need more and more of the substance to get the same effect, or you get less effect from the same amount over time. This is called tolerance.
  • You have uncomfortable symptoms when you stop using the substance or use less. This is called withdrawal.

If you think you need help:

  • Talk to your parents. That may sound odd, but they love you and were also teens once. They can help you.
  • Talk to your family doctor, school counsellor, adult relative, minister or clergy member, or a friend's parents.
  • Visit Wellness Together Canada online at to learn about treatment programs in your area. Talking to someone about your feelings about substance use can help.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

Enter S971 in the search box to learn more about "Learning About Drug Use in Teens".

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.