Title: Drugwise: Growing Up Straight in a Chemical Culture
Author: Jim Parker
Publisher: Do It Now Foundation
Publication Date: September 2003
Catalog Number: 212

Building Blocks

Before we can say much about
drugs one way or the other, though, we
agree on basic concepts and definitions.

This stuff will apply, in one
way or another, to every one of the drugs we’ll be talking about
in this booklet.

In fact, the first word we need
to define is “drug” itself.

Drug. A
drug is a chemical that changes the way that people think or
feel. Drugs can be pills, potions, or powders–even gases and
liquid chemicals fall under this definition.

The only exception
is food. That’s why sugar isn’t considered a drug, even though
it can change the way we think and feel. On the other hand, alcohol
is a drug, since it doesn’t
have real nutritional value.

Tolerance. This
is a process that occurs when the body begins to adapt to, or
tolerate, a particular chemical. As tolerance develops, a user
has to use more of a drug to get high, or achieve other desired

Dependence. When someone uses a drug again and again, he or
she begins to feel a need–physical, psychological, or both–for
it. Some drugs (marijuana, for example) produce a type of psychological
dependence. Others, like heroin and alcohol, cause physical dependence,

What’s the difference? Not much–or
a lot, depending…

  • Physically dependent users get sick when they can’t
    smoke, snort, swallow, or shoot their favorite poison.
  • Psychologically-dependent users suffer from boredom,
    depression, or just plain old funky feelings.

Addiction. An intense physical or psychological need for a
drug. People who are addicted to drugs are sometimes called addicts.
People addicted to alcohol are called alcoholics.

The process that starts
when an addicted user stops taking a drug. In withdrawal,
all kinds of physical and emotional problems can
come churning to the surface. The physical symptoms of withdrawal
can last days or weeks, depending on the drug. Psychological
effects–usually anxiety, irritability, or depression–can last
a lot longer, even months or years.

Dangerously high doses
of a drug. Overdoses are always serious medical emergencies,
and can cause coma or death, depending on the drug.

The technical term for
being drunk or high. Intoxication often involves an increasing
loss of control over such basic body functions as balance and
walking, along with changes in mood and behavior. Look closely
at the word “in
toxication,” and you’ll see where it
comes from and what it refers to: the effects of a toxin, or
poison, on the body.

Types of Drugs

Basically, five types of drugs
are used and abused:

  • Depressants. Drugs that depress (or slow down) the brain and
    central nervous system, easing tension and causing sleep. Because
    depressants slow down both the body and brain, they’re sometimes
    called “downers.” The most commonly-used depressant
    drug in the world is alcohol.
  • Stimulants. Stimulant
    drugs do the opposite. They stimulate (or speed up) the firing
    of cells in the brain and central nervous system, blocking feelings
    of hunger and fatigue. Stimulants are often called “speed”
    or “uppers.”
  • Hallucinogens.
    Drugs in this category
    cause hallucinations or other sensory distortions in the way
    users think and perceive the world. Marijuana is a mild hallucinogen,
    while LSD and other chemicals are much more intense.
  • Inhalants. A wide range of chemicals can cause feelings of
    intoxication when they’re inhaled or sniffed, including gases
    and industrial solvents. The effects of inhalants are similar
    to the effects of alcohol, but are more dangerous, since they
    kick in so suddenly and are so unpredictable.
  • Narcotics. Even
    though some people call all drugs “narcotics,” technically,
    they’re wrong. Narcotics are natural or synthetic members of
    a single drug family, which originated with the drug opium. Most
    were developed, and are still used, as medical drugs to relieve

Continue with Chapter 3: Facing Facts
Go to Table of Contents


This is one in a series
of publications on drugs, behavior, and health published by Do
It Now Foundation. Check us out online at www.doitnow.org


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