Top of the page
This topic is about drug use in adults. For information about drug use in young people, see the topic Alcohol and Drug Use in Young People.
People tend to try new things and take risks, so they may use drugs because it seems exciting.
Drugs can make you feel good for a while. They may make you feel energetic, self-confident, and powerful. You may take a drug to reduce stress or anxiety or to help you forget a problem. Or you may think drugs help you do better at work or school. You may take a drug because you're curious about it or because your friends use it.
You may begin to use drugs without thinking about how drugs can harm you and those you care about. You may not feel that using drugs can become an issue. Maybe you feel that you are a casual user because you use drugs only now and then. But drug use quickly can become a habit and start to affect your general health, work, behaviour, and relationships.
When you use drugs, it can change how well you make decisions, how well you think, and how quickly you can react. And it can make it hard for you to control your actions.
If you feel you have an issue with drug use, get help. You can visit a doctor or go to a self-help group. If someone you know has an issue with drug use, find a good time to talk with them, and encourage that person to get help.
Even casual use of certain drugs can cause severe health problems, such as an overdose or brain damage. Many illegal drugs today are made in home labs, so they can vary greatly in strength. These drugs also may contain bacteria, dangerous chemicals, and other unsafe substances. There is no quality control for illegal drugs like that required for prescription drugs.
Drugs target a part of your brain that allows you to feel pleasure. This causes your brain to release certain chemicals that make you feel good.
At first, drugs may make you feel happy, energetic, social, self-confident, and powerful. But after the "high" from the drug wears off, you may feel the opposite effects. Depending on the drug you used, you may feel tired, anxious, or depressed after the drug wears off. Or you may be more sensitive to pain, have sleep problems, lose interest in everyday activities, or withdraw from family and friends.
Since the pleasure only lasts a short time, you may crave more of the drug to get the good feeling back. Over time, your brain adjusts to the drug by making less of the "feel good" chemicals. With less of these chemicals, your brain can't function as well, and it becomes harder to feel pleasure. So you use drugs to get the good feeling back.
Drugs also affect the parts of your brain that deal with judgment, decision making, problem solving, emotions, learning, and memory. They change how the cells in your brain send and process information. These changes in your brain make it harder for you to think and make good choices. And you may be less able to control your actions.
The types of drugs that might be an issue include:
Other substances that might cause an issue
When you use drugs, you may be putting your health and safety at risk.
Your risk of harm increases with:
Using drugs can affect your general health, work, behaviour, and relationships. It can also change how well you make decisions, how well you think, and how quickly you can react. And it can make it hard for you to control your actions.
Drug use can:
For some people, using drugs may turn into a drug use issue. This means that you have a strong need, or craving, for drugs. This craving makes it hard for you to control how much of a drug you use and may make it hard for you to stop. So you continue to use drugs even though you know that your use is causing problems in your life.
It can sometimes be hard to know when your drug use becomes an issue. Maybe you feel that you're a casual user because you use drugs only now and then. You may feel that you can cut down on the amount of drugs that you use or that you can stop using drugs at any time.
If you think that you or someone you know might have an issue with drug use, take this short quiz:
The signs of a drug use issue depend on the drug you use and how that drug affects you. Not all drugs affect people the same way.
Some signs that your drug use may be becoming an issue are:
When you have an issue with drug use, you and others may notice some changes in your behaviour and your physical health and appearance.
Behaviour changes that may be signs of an issue with drug use
These signs don't always mean that a person is using drugs or has a drug use issue. The behaviour could be because of work or school stress, or it could be a sign of depression or another medical problem. But behaviour changes like these are common in people who use drugs.
Physical changes that may be signs of a drug use issue
Signs in older adults
Drug problems in older adults may go unnoticed, since the signs may be similar to those of aging. Older adults often take more medicines, such as sleep medicines and painkillers, that can lead to an issue with drug use.
Keep in mind that most people who use drugs don't develop an issue with drug use. Some people who want to cut back on or stop using drugs are able to do so on their own. But others may need help.
If you are worried about your health and want to cut back on or stop using drugs, ask your family, friends, or doctor for help. Or you could join a support group such as LifeRing or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Your family members might want to attend a support group such as Nar-Anon.
In some provinces, there are telephone helplines you can call for support and to find out what resources are available in your area that can help you manage your drug use.
If you are still finding it hard to cut back on or stop using drugs on your own, or if these support services don't help, you may need medical help. This is especially important if you have withdrawal symptoms when you try to cut back on or stop using drugs. Symptoms of withdrawal may include sweating and feeling sick to your stomach, feeling shaky, and feeling anxious.
Talk to your doctor about whether you need treatment for your drug use. In many cases, treatment may focus on helping you reduce your drug use to levels that are less harmful rather than stopping completely. You and your doctor can decide what treatment approach is best for you.
Some treatment approaches may involve:
People who use drugs also may have mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you have a drug use issue and a mental health issue, it's important that you get help for both.
If you feel that you have a drug use issue, get help. The earlier you get help, the easier it will be to cut back on or stop using drugs. If someone you know has a drug use issue, find a good time to talk with them and encourage that person to get help.
If you realize that you have a drug use issue, you may decide you want to stop using drugs. If so, it's a good idea to plan for a relapse. Getting control of drug use is very hard. It's normal to have setbacks where you start using drugs again, even years later. Your doctor, family, and friends can help you develop a plan. Someone who has been in recovery for a long time (called a sponsor) can also help.
It's important to remember that using drugs isn't risk-free. Your risk of harm increases with each drug that you use, how often and for how long you use drugs, the type and strength of the drug you use, and the method of use. To learn more, see Health Risks of Drug Use.
It's also important to know that it's illegal to purchase, sell, and use illegal drugs.
Although there is no amount of drug use that is safe, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk of serious health problems and injuries caused by drug use.
If you know someone who puts himself or herself in situations where drug use is going to occur (such as at a bar or party), here are some things you can do to help reduce that person's risk of harm. You can:
Don't be afraid to call for help if you or someone you know needs medical care. The reason for seeking medical care won't be reported to the police.
Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if:
When you use drugs, you often get away from some of the basics of good health. Here are some things you can do to stay healthy:
Adaptation Date: 5/5/2021
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2021 Healthwise, Incorporated. All rights reserved. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.