Drugs & Substance Use: The Basics

Using drugs and other substances is a personal choice. It's important to have enough information to make an informed decision.

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What is it?

Substances can have some short term positive effects like lifting your mood, relaxing you, or even giving you more energy. But, they can also have negative effects such as increasing anxiety or depression, overdose, or damage to your health.

It is not unusual for young people to experiment with alcohol or other substances. Many people may only try substances once or use them rarely. Most young people who drink or use substances do not go on to develop substance use problems. But, it can become a problem for some.

Substances include:

  • alcohol
  • illegal or street drugs (including marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, heroin or crystal meth)
  • prescription medications used in a way not prescribed by a doctor (including painkillers, antidepressants or Adderall)
  • over-the-counter medications used in a non-medical way (for example to get high or increase energy) and not for their intended purpose

What is problematic substance use?

Substance use becomes a problem when it has a negative impact on your life at school, work, or in your relationships with family or friends. For example, it is a problem if you are:

  • Using substances as a way of dealing with problems.
  • Using more than one substance at the same time.
  • Mixing substances with prescription medications.
  • Driving or performing other activities that require clear thinking, balance and coordination while intoxicated.

People at the greatest risk for harm are those:

  • who start using substances at an early age and use frequently
  • struggling with mental health challenges
  • who use more than one drug at a time

A person may not see how their use of substances is negatively affecting their life. Or they may not be able to stop on their own. It is important to notice how your substance use is affecting your life so you can decide if you need to take action.

You are at increased risk of developing a substance use disorder if you have:

  • family members with problematic substance use or a substance use disorder in the past or present
  • difficulty managing stress and other problems
  • family problems or conflict at home
  • a mental health condition that is not managed
  • problems fitting in at school, at work or with peers
  • to deal with a life change that is stressful
  • experienced trauma

We have created a separate section on alcohol because it is the substance that is most commonly used by young people. Also because alcohol use can result in a number of serious problems.  Read more about Alcohol Use here.

What Next?

If you want to learn more about the early signs or find out if your drug or substance use is becoming a problem.