Drugs

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A drug is any chemical substance that can change the way your body works and the way you feel. There are lots of different kinds of drugs, some legal and some illegal, each with a different effect. Some drugs are taken for medical reasons, and some drugs are taken for recreational reasons.

No drug is completely safe. Every drug - legal or illegal - can have a negative effect on your health. This is particularly true when it comes to illegal drugs. The manufacture of legal drugs is closely monitored, but there are no controls over what goes into illegal drugs. You never really know what you're taking.

This page contains information about:

> Getting help
> Types of drugs and their effects
> Other risks with drugs
> Addiction
> Withdrawal
> Overdoses
> Drugs and the law
> Links to more information

Getting help

If you think someone has had a drug overdose, you should immediately call triple zero (000). 000 is a free call from anywhere in Australia, including mobiles.  If your mobile phone is out of range from your normal network then you can dial 112.

Paramedics are not obliged to involve the police, and the sooner you get help for someone the more likely it is that they will make it.

If you think you have a problem with drugs or know someone that you think may have a problem, the first step to getting help is talking to a counsellor or health professional. Counsellors work with lots of young people and can be trusted to be completely confidential.

If you have a friend or family member with a drug problem and you are unsure of how to help them you can talk to counsellors, doctors and health professionals about the issue. Counsellors and health professionals provide confidential advice and can refer you to a drug service that is right for you or your friend or family member.

You can find a counsellor by:

Check out our Links section at the bottom of the page for more places that can provide information or help with drugs.

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Types of drugs and their effects

Drugs generally fall into three categories:

  • Depressants - These drugs slow down messages to and from your brain. Depressants include heroin, morphine, valium, marijuana and alcohol. Large amounts of depressants can make you pass out, vomit or even stop breathing.
     
  • Stimulants - These drugs speed up the messages going to and from your brain. Stimulants include caffiene, nicotine, speed, ice, ecstasy and cocaine. Using stimulants can increase your body temperature, reduce your appetite, make you anxious and paranoid, and can put a strain on your heart.
     
  • Hallucinogens - These drugs change your perception of reality. Hallucinogens include LSD, magic mushrooms, mescaline and ecstasy (high doses of cannabis can also cause hallucinations). Taking hallucinogens can cause anxiety and paranoia, make you take risks you normally wouldn't, and can also cause psychosis.

A drug's effects can depend on things like your size, weight, height or what other drugs you've taken. If you take a drug a lot it can also have an effect on how that drug affects you. It also depends on how much you take.

Because illegal drugs are uncontrolled, it's hard to know exactly how much you're taking. The quality and strength of any illegal drug can be completely different each time you take it.

Mixing drugs - including alcohol - is also dangerous because it puts stress on your body and can cause serious health issues, especially if you mix drugs frequently. For example, mixing different kinds of depressants can lead to overdosing, and mixing stimulants puts additional strain on your heart.

Drugs can also mess up your judgement, making you do things - including dangerous and life-threatening things - that you wouldn't otherwise do. To find out more about the effects of specific drugs, check out:

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Other risks

There are other risks related to the use or overuse of drugs, both legal and illegal, besides the risk to your mental and physical health.

Drugs and pregnancy

Using any drugs while pregnant can seriously affect the health of unborn children - for more information about drugs and pregnancy check out DrugInfo's Pregnancy, Alcohol and Other Drugs page (new window)

Drugs and driving

Driving after taking drugs can seriously affect your driving ability, increasing the chance of an accident - for more information about drugs and driving, check out the Vicroads Alcohol and other drugs pages (new window)

Sharing needles

Sharing needles dramatically increases the risk of HIV, Hepatitis and other transmissable diseases - Check out the Department of Health's Needle and Syringe Programs page (new window) for more information about needle exchanges, and the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (new window) for more about safe needle use.

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Addiction

Many drugs can cause dependence if they are used often over a long period of time. People who regularly use drugs can also develop a tolerance, which means they have to keep on taking more of the drug each time to get the same effect.

People who become dependent on a drug can start to crave that drug and in some circumstances will do whatever it takes to get more drugs, including lying and stealing. It is also very difficult for people who have developed a drug dependence to stop using drugs.

Reach Out has more information on their The Facts About Drug Addiction page (new window)

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Withdrawal

If a dependent person does stop taking the drug they are dependent on, they may experience withdrawal symptoms and cravings while their body and mind get used to functioning without the drug. For more about withdrawal, visit the DrugInfo Withdrawal page (new window)

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Drug overdoses

If you think someone has had a drug overdose, you should immediately call triple zero (000). 000 is a free call from anywhere in Australia, including mobiles.  If your mobile phone is out of range from your normal network then you can dial 112.

Paramedics are not obliged to involve the police, and the sooner you get help for someone the more likely it is that they will make it.

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Drugs and the law

Drugs like alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and various medications are legal. Although these drugs are legal, there are laws that restrict their availability, quality and price. For example, you can't buy alcohol in Australia unless you're 18 years old or older.

Drugs like cannabis, amphetamines, ecstasy, cocaine and heroin, are illegal. Federal and state laws provide penalties for possessing, using, making, selling or driving under the influence of illegal drugs. Penalties can include fines, imprisonment and disqualification from driving.

Each state in Australia has its own laws about the making of, possession, distribution and use of drugs, both legal and illegal.

It's no news that getting caught using, carrying or selling illegal drugs can have serious consequences including heavy fines or a gaol term. Check out the facts at Victoria Legal Aid (new window).

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Links

Reach Out!
Information for young people on topics including chroming, drink spiking, safer drug use and what to do if your friend has taken drugs or hurt themselves.

Drug Info Clearinghouse
Drug and alcohol information especially for young people.

Victorian Legal Aid - Drugs, the law and safer injecting
A range of facts about drugs and the law including arrest, bail, being questioned, overdoses and safer injecting.

Better Health Channel - Drugs
Features articles about drugs, drug dependency and overdoses.

Victorian Department of Health: Drug Information Site
Information about drugs and their effects, answers to frequently asked questions and contact details for counselling services, treatments and professional agencies who can provide proper advice and completely confidential services.

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