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Drugs and Alcohol


The term "drug" refers to any substance that is taken to change the way the body and/or mind functions (for example: alcohol, Ritalin, Ecstasy and marijuana). Two terms we often hear when talking about drugs are substance abuse and addiction.

When someone uses drugs in a way they are not intended to be used, obtains them from illegitimate sources, uses more than the recommended dosage or when drug usage affects their daily life/activities/ relationships negatively, it's referred to as substance abuse.

However, a drug addiction refers to when someone engages in regular, long-term drug use despite knowing the risks of doing so. The user may have a psychological dependence or physical dependence and experience withdrawal symptoms if they do not consume the drugs within a certain period of time. When someone continues to use drugs over a period of time, they may develop a tolerance to that drug; in other words, their body becomes used to the drug and it requires a larger dose to achieve the same effects.

Most drugs can be broken down into three categories:

  • Stimulants are drugs that make you more hyper and alert.
  • Depressants are drugs that cause the body and mind to slow down.
  • Hallucinogens are drugs that disrupt a person's perception of reality and cause them to imagine experiences and objects that seem real.

Why Do People Use Drugs?

People may use drugs for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • Peer pressure - or looking to 'belong' to a certain group
  • Relaxation or pleasure - to relax or feel more lively and friendly
  • Curiosity - wondering about a drug's effect or a desire to experiment
  • To boost self esteem - attempting to feel stronger or more self-confident
  • As a coping mechanism - to deal with stress or forget about problems
  • As a way to rebel - against parents and/or authorities
  • Mental illness - to (knowingly or unknowingly) deal with symptoms of a mental illness (that has or has not yet been diagnosed)
  • Boredom

Source: National Anti-Drug Strategy - Learn About Drugs


Drugs can be broken down into 4 main types:

Legal Drugs

Legal drugs include drugs that are regulated yet legal to consume, when done so within the limits of the regulations. While these products can be consumed legally, they can still produce undesirable effects on one's health, body and social life. We have also included products that have real-life uses, and were never intended to be consumed to achieve a high. For more information on specific legal drugs, click below:

Prescription Drugs

Prescription drugs are drugs that are regulated by the Federal Government of Canada under the Canadian Food and Drugs Act (the regulation system for pharmaceutical and over the counter products such as cough syrup, pain killers, etc.). For more information on the prescription drugs mentioned below read this fact sheet.

  • Anabolic Steroids
  • Painkillers (Ex: Morhpine, Oxycodone/Oxycontin, Codeine)
  • Stimulants (Ex: Ritalin, Adderall)
  • Tranquilizers/Barbiturates (Ex: Valium and Xanax, Ativan)

Illegal Drugs

Illegal drugs are usually produced (grown or manufactured) for sale on the street and used mainly for recreational purposes. They are often chemical products or other substances that when ingested, produce a mind altering affect. For more information on the illegal drugs mentioned below, read this fact sheet.

  • Cocaine and crack
  • Magic mushrooms
  • Heroin

Illegal Synthetic Drugs

Illegal synthetic drugs refer to drugs that are man-made, often designed to mimic the effects of other illegal drugs. Most are created by mixing common and/or illegal substances in specific doses. For more information on the illegal synthetic drugs, read this fact sheet.

  • Meth (Methamphetamine)
  • Ecstasy (MDMA)
  • Acid (LSD)
  • GHB (Gammahydroxybutyrate)
  • PCP (Phencyclidine)
  • Ketamine
  • Bath Salts (Synthetic Cathinones)
  • Spice (Synthetic Cannabinoids)

What You Can Do

If someone is asking you to try drugs, you can:

  • Respond with humor – say you don't want to end up like "insert the latest celebrity to get arrested for a drug-related offence".
  • Reference a health issue that may worsen (such as asthma or bronchitis).
  • Respond that real friends don't make you do things you don't want to.
  • Make up an excuse that you need to go, or that you have something to do tomorrow, so you don't want to feel like garbage.
  • If you are really being pressured, focus on the things that mean a lot to you. Ask yourself how this decision could impact your life (in terms of getting into the college/university/apprenticeship you want, making the sports team you are trying out for, staying in the school band/other clubs, your relationship with your girlfriend/boyfriend or your parents etc.). Tell them that you would rather focus on those things than drugs.

It's never easy to deal with pressure to try drugs. If your friends won't drop the issue, you may want to consider trying to find a new group; one that has similar interests to you. For more tips on how to deal with the pressure to try drugs, visit the National Anti-Drug Strategy Website.

If you are worried that you or someone you know may be addicted to a drug or are currently abusing substances:

Talk to a school guidance counsellor, doctor, health care professional or a parent. If you do not feel comfortable talking with any of them, call the Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868), a completely free and confidential resource for youth. Or, to find services available in your province/territory, check out: DrugsNot4me.