A drug is a chemical that you take into your body, which changes the way you feel and act. Some drugs are prescribed by a doctor for illnesses. But when people talk about drugs they usually mean drugs that are illegal or unsafe.

Why people take drugs

There are lots of reasons why people take drugs. Some people try drugs because friends are doing it or to look popular in front of people. Some people think drugs can help them forget about feeling sad or hopeless, problems at home or problems at school. And some people may like the thought of doing something dangerous or illegal.

Sometimes people are forced to take drugs. Or are put under pressure to take drugs as a dare. 

4 things to remember about taking drugs:

  1. you never know exactly what’s in them
  2. you can't be sure how they'll affect you each time you take them
  3. drugs can have long-term side effects
  4. some drugs are highly addictive and can be hard to stop even if you know they’re bad for you.

Feeling pressured to take drugs?

It can be hard to say 'no' to your friends, especially if they’re all doing drugs. If they're trying to get you to do something that you don't want to do, this could make you feel scared and alone.

You could try:

the risks of taking drugs

There are always risks involved when taking any kind of drug. Some drugs can be unsafe and could make you very ill.

Here are some of the risks:

  • damage to your physical and mental health
  • becoming addicted and feeling like you can't cope without drugs
  • falling behind with school work
  • falling out with family and friends
  • getting into trouble with the police or involved in a crime. Find out about your rights if you're stopped and searched by the police.
  • being more likely to do dangerous things
  • overdosing or having a bad experience from what you've taken, also known as a 'bad trip'
  • owing money to drug dealers or gangs who may become violent if you can't pay.

Watch: Drugs and addiction

How to tell if you have a drug problem

Different types of drugs affect people differently.

If you have a drug problem, you might:

  • worry about when you'll have drugs next
  • depend on drugs to relax or to feel calm
  • use drugs to cope with some situations, for example, exam stress or family problems
  • find it hard to remember how much you've taken in one day
  • notice changes in your relationships with friends and family
  • notice big changes in your mood
  • think about drugs a lot, for example, at school or while you're out with friends
  • plan your social life around drugs by making sure you can take drugs where you'll be, for example, at a party or in the park.

You can talk to a counsellor who can support you, ask an adult you trust for help, or talk to other people on our message boards who may have similar problems.

How you can stop taking drugs

Drugs can be very addictive and stopping can sometimes be difficult.

Different things can help people in different ways.

You could try:

  • avoiding places or situations where there will be drugs
  • thinking about what makes you take drugs and how it would be to talk about this
  • getting rid of the drugs you have by flushing them down the toilet
  • finding new hobbies and interests to take your mind off drugs
  • finding places in your area that might offer support and treatment.

overdose - signs and what to do

Remember that emergencies are very rare. But sometimes people can have a bad reaction to drugs. They could have a bad experience and get anxious and panic. Or become overheated and dehydrated.

For immediate help call 999 for an ambulance to come. For more info in an emergency visit Talk to Frank.

Here's some advice on helping somone who is:

Different types of drugs and their effects

There are lots of different types of drugs and they can all be harmful. 

Illegal drugs are described in different classes (A, B and C) depending on how unsafe they are. The harmful effects of these include feeling paranoid, depressed, dizzy, anxious, out of control or physically ill (vomiting). They can also make you feel 'high', relaxed, happy, confident and energetic.

They can affect mental and physical health. You never know how your body will react, so while 1 person might be fine, another might end up with a reaction that could harm them. By taking any type of illegal drug you are also at risk of poisoning, overdosing or dying. The find out more about different types of drugs and their effects, visit Talk to Frank

The punishment for taking, carrying, sharing or selling drugs depends on the type of drug. If the police caught you with any type of drug you could be arrested and sent to prison. You might also not be allowed to travel to certain countries like the USA or Australia. Illegal drugs are described in different 'classes' depending on how addictive or unsafe they are.

How to help a friend with a drug problem

You could start by letting the person know that you're worried about them.

They may not realise they have a drug problem. And they might not know how their behaviour is affecting you.

It may also be embarrassing for them to talk about things like this.

If they don't want to talk to you, you could suggest they talk to someone else.

Read our advice about helping a friend

If you take drugs or are worried about someone else who is taking drugs, you could try:

  • asking an adult for help, like a teacher, youth worker or family member
  • visiting Talk to Frank to find out more about different types of drugs and to get help
  • visiting NHS for support if you're a young carer for someone who has a drug problem
  • dialing 999 for urgent help if you or someone else is feeling ill, scared or unsafe
  • talking to Childline by calling free on 0800 1111 or online through 1-2-1 counsellor chat.

What to do if your parents are using drugs

It can be hard to see your mum, dad or carer with drugs.

A first step could be letting them know how their behaviour is affecting you. It might be embarrassing or scary to talk about things but it's important that you feel safe at home.

You could also try:

  • find a time to talk to them when they're not busy or taking drugs
  • suggest they talk to someone else if they don't feel comfortable talking to you
  • get support by asking an adult for help, like a teacher or family friend
  • talk to a counsellor at any time for help and support.

Watch: What happens when you see a doctor