A drug is a substance that has an effect on the body:

  • medicines are drugs that help people suffering from pain or disease
  • recreational drugs are taken by people because they like the effects they have on their bodies

Some recreational drugs are legal, such as tobacco and alcohol, although there are restrictions on who can buy them. Caffeine, found in coffee, is another recreational drug. Most other recreational drugs are illegal, and these include cannabis, ecstasy and heroin.

Recreational drugs can be classified as a depressant or a stimulant. Most recreational drugs can be addictive.


A selection of alcoholic drinks
Alcohol is found in alcoholic drinks such as wine

A depressant slows down messages in the brain and along the nerves. Alcohol is a depressant. It is found in beer, wines and spirits such as vodka. Other depressants include heroin and solvents (found in glue and aerosols).

Here are some of the typical effects depressants have on the body:

  • feelings of well-being
  • lowered inhibition
  • slowed thinking
  • slowed muscular activity
  • a distorted view of the world, or hallucinations

Some of the long-term effects of depressants on the body include damage to the liver, brain and heart. They can also have the following effects:

  • alcohol can cause weight gain
  • solvent abuse causes a rash around the nose and mouth
  • some depressants cause loss of memory and concentration, as well as an increased risk of mental illness


Caffeine is found in tea and coffee

Stimulants speed up messages in the brain and along the nerves. This makes you feel more alert. Nicotine from tobacco is a stimulant. Caffeine is another stimulant and is found in cola drinks, coffee and tea. It makes you feel more energetic and alert, but it can also cause insomnia (difficulty in sleeping), headaches and nervousness.

Cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamines are all illegal stimulants. They make you feel more energetic and confident, but they can damage the liver and heart. They can also cause loss of memory and concentration, and bring an increased risk of mental illness.

Any drug that is misused can cause damage to the body, as well as personal and social problems. Injecting any drug with a needle and syringe that someone else has used may lead to a number of diseases from infected blood, including HIV and hepatitis.

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