When Drugs Take Over

People with addiction don’t start out thinking that they will become addicted to a substance. When they had their first few drinks or tokes thinking it would be a fun thing to do, it never occurred that a day would come when their life started to revolve around getting and taking drugs. That nothing but the drug would matter to them. It never occurred to them that there would come a time when their choice in the matter would be either severely limited or taken away entirely.

Through recent scientific advances, we know more about how drugs work in the brain than ever before. Brain imaging studies of drug-addicted individuals show changes in areas of the brain that are critical to judgment, decision making, learning and memory, and behavior control. Together, these changes can drive an abuser to seek out and take drugs compulsively despite adverse, even devastating consequences. When brain chemistry changes, the mind is tricked into thinking it NEEDS the drug to function. A physical addiction sets in and the person must have the drug.


When abuse becomes addiction

Almost all of us know someone who uses. How much we use ranges from abstinence (nothing at all) to experimental use to recreational use to chemically dependent use (addiction). At what point does someone who uses alcohol or drugs cross that line into addiction?

Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences. The initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, but repeated drug use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to take drugs. [1]

Here are a few indicators that addiction is setting in: [2]

  • Neglecting responsibilities

  • Using drugs under dangerous conditions or taking risks while high

  • Getting into legal trouble.

  • Drug use causing problems for relationships

  • Building up a drug tolerance

  • Taking drugs to avoid or relieve withdrawal symptoms

  • Losing control over drug use

  • Life revolves around drug use

  • Abandoning activities you used to enjoy

  • Continuing to use drugs despite knowing it’s hurting you

From the perspective of a person with addiction, they need to take the drug to feel “normal” or to feel “good.” There is no choice.

There is no single factor that can predict whether you will become addicted to drugs. Risk for addiction is influenced by a combination of factors that include your individual biology and genetics, social environment, and age or stage of development. The more risk factors you have, the greater the chance that taking drugs can lead to addiction.[3]

Although taking drugs at any age can lead to addiction, the earlier drug use begins, the more likely it will progress to a substance use disorder which poses a special challenge to adolescents. Because areas in the brain that govern decision-making, judgment, and self-control are still developing, teens may be especially prone to experimentation. [4]

Long-term use causes changes in other brain chemical systems and circuits as well. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that influences the reward circuit and the ability to learn. When the optimal concentration of glutamate is altered by drug abuse, the brain attempts to compensate, which can impair cognitive function. [5]


Concerned about your drug use?

What role do drugs play in your life? Have you ever had a negative experience? Here are some tools to help you understand your drinking and drug use and suggestions for how to stay safe:

  • Understand your drinking: From Drink Aware in the U.K., here are some quizzes to help you understand your relationship with alcohol. They even have suggestions on what steps to take if you do want to make a change.

  • Check where I’m at with weed: “What’s with Weed” has a quiz you can take to see where you stand with marijuana. There are also tips to reduce your harms and see what others teens are saying about weed.

  • Drug use quiz: From, this quiz can help you identify if there is a problem. You can also learn about depression, anxiety, and body image.  There are a lot of quizzes and resources for you to check out here.

  • CRAFFT: Designed specifically for you, the CRAFFT test is self-administered. You can take the test and if you answer yes to more than two of the questions consider talking with a trusted adult about your substance use. 

Do you think you, or someone you know, needs a little extra help? Then you’re not alone. Many people in your own community struggle with similar problems. Your community has a lot of resources available to you including group meeting, people to talk to, and more.  Check out this site for the latest on how drug affect brain and body.  


Getting help

In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting takes more than good intentions or a strong will. In fact, because drugs change the brain in ways that foster compulsive drug abuse, quitting is difficult, even for those who are ready to do so. Through scientific advances, we know more about how drugs work in the brain than ever, and we also know that drug addiction can be successfully treated to help people reduce and even stop using drugs.

For the substance user, a life free from all chemicals is a terrifying prospect. However, it is possible to attain full recovery if treated professionally. To successfully arrest addictions, a total multi-disciplinary treatment approach is necessary — one that involves medical, behavioral, and social sciences, as well as philosophical and spiritual wisdom.

Some people may quit using willpower alone, but unless the illness has been properly treated, they are more likely to start drinking/using again. Unless and until someone with addiction achieves personal integrity and attains inner security, they are powerless to live free from chemicals.


  1. "Understanding Drug Use and Addiction." DrugFacts. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Web.

  2. "Drug Abuse and Addiction. Signs, Symptoms, and Help for Drug Problems and Substance Abuse.” HELPGUIDE.ORG. Web.

  3. Wilcox, Stephen. "Understanding Addiction." National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Web.

  4. Ibid.

  5. "Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction." PsycEXTRA Dataset (n.d.): National Institute on Drug Abuse. Web.

  6. "Genetics and Epigenetics of Addiction." DrugFacts: Genetics and Epigenetics of Addiction | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). February 2016. Web.

Staying Safe

Checking out a music concert, going to the beach at night, or heading to a friend’s house for a party are all great ways of having fun. The last thing you want is for your night to get ruined by not playing it right with drugs and alcohol.

Here are some tips to help keep you and your friends out of a sticky situation and let everyone have a good time:

Plan your night: Think about how you’re getting back from a party and where you’re staying. Maybe call someone ahead of time for a ride. Decide ahead of time if you’re going to stay sober, then make a plan on how to say “no” and at what point you will leave. If you’re going to be drinking or getting high, set yourself a limit, especially if you have something to do tomorrow. Combine forces with a friend to keep each other in check.

Take it easy: It’s no secret that teens have some of the highest rates of binge drinking - among youth who drink, 39% binge drink.[1] And binge drinking can cause a whole host of unpleasant things, including increased risk of sexual assault, unprotected sex, vomiting, and blackout.[2] Being as high as a kite can be pretty unpleasant too sometimes.

So what can you do to make sure your night isn’t wrecked? Follow these guidelines:

  • Limit yourself to 2 drinks for females and 3 for males.[3]

  • Marijuana: wait 3-4 hours before driving, use small amounts and wait to feel effects. [4]

  • All other substances: use in small amounts, never use alone, drink water and if you’re dancing or feeling overwhelmed, go to a cooler location to cool down and relax.

Know where to find help: If you’re uncomfortable at a party, you can always leave. Calling someone you trust or a parent to come pick you up is a smart move. And bring your friends with you! If you see someone who may have overdosed, stay with them and call 911 immediately. To better understand your drug use, check out this cool site.

Avoiding a forgotten night: No one wants to forget their night out, or worry about what they may have done. Avoid a forgotten night by not accepting drinks from strangers and never leaving your drink unattended.

Have each other’s backs: One of the best things you can do as a friend is look out for each other at a party, especially one where you don’t know many people. Watch out for your friends and make sure they don’t go home with someone they don’t want to.


Drugged Driving

We’ve all heard “don’t drink and drive!” From not being able to focus properly and impaired perception, to slowing down your reaction time and muddling your thinking, driving after drinking can be deadly.[5] In Canada, alcohol is involved in thousands of car crashes every year which cause injury or death.

What about driving stoned? Studies have found that teens are more likely to drive high or get in the car of someone who is high than they are with someone who has been drinking alcohol.[6]

Although much is known about driving under the influence of alcohol, driving while affected by drugs is an emerging issue. Driving involves skills and abilities such as attention, judgment, perception, concentration, physical reaction time, and coordination, all of which can be impaired by use of any mood-altering substance. This includes operating other types of vehicles as well such as boats or ATV’s, or complex machinery. The risk of a driving collision is increased if a person is using more than one drug at a time.

In Canada, it is an offense to operate a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or other drugs. Even without evidence from blood or urine testing, police can lay charges based on behavioural indicators such as erratic driving, slurred speech, or lack of coordination.

It is difficult to determine the full extent of driving while impaired by drugs other than alcohol because our laws only allow for roadside blood or urine tests of drug-impaired drivers by police or medical personnel under limited circumstances. However, several studies to date have been consistent in finding that cannabis, benzodiazepines, and stimulants such as cocaine are the most commonly detected drugs in trauma victims or in blood samples sent for forensic testing.

“But I drive slower when I’m high”: Does slowing down make you a better driver? Driving high makes it more difficult and confusing to navigate a vehicle. Your perception of your surroundings, coordination, and balance becomes flawed.[7] Slower doesn’t mean safer if you can’t concentrate on the road. Combining alcohol and marijuana behind the wheel can be deadly. The effect of mixing is greater than using one substance alone.[8] Even if you think you’re not consuming a lot of either, you can still be impaired.


What can I do to stay safe?

  • For marijuana, wait 3-4 hours after your last hit, longer if you’ve consumed more.[9]

  • Never get in the car of someone who you know or think might be high or intoxicated.

  • Having any alcohol or drugs in your system and driving is illegal if you have your “L” or “N”. You may have to restart the driving stage you are in, you could get your license suspended, and you could be fined up to $500.[10]

Plan your night before you start. Think of taking public transport or call a friend you trust and get a ride. Check out this infographicHere’s brochure to check out how to be safe with marijuana.


Raves and club drugs

If you plan to attend a rave, night club, or music festival it is important to understand what are called “Club drugs”.  After MDMA and alcohol, there are three common drugs you need to know about: GHB, ketamine, and Rohypnol.

GHB: Short for gamma-hydroxybutyrate, this CNS depressant is naturally made in our bodies.[11] It was used in the past to treat sleeping disorders and as an anesthetic.[12] GHB comes in both liquid and powder form, dissolved in a drink it has a slightly salty taste that can easily be masked. [13] Effects start after 15 minutes and last for several hours.[14] GHB in small amounts produces euphoria, amnesia, vomiting, and loss of muscle strength. Large doses can cause seizures, coma, and loss of consciousness.[15]

Ketamine: This anesthetic is used mainly in the vet’s office for surgery. Ketamine is usually snorted or injected. Effects occur within minutes and last for about an hour. [16] This hallucinogen produces visual hallucinations at high doses, including feelings of floating outside the body called the “K-hole.” It can cause confusion, blurred vision, high blood pressure and heart rate, trouble thinking, and problems breathing. [17]

Rohypnol: No longer approved for medical use, this drug is used as a muscle relaxant, sedative, and anesthetic. [18] It comes in pill form and is undetectable when dissolved in a drink.[19] You can feel the effects after about half an hour, and it can last for 8-12 hours.[20] In small doses, you may feel your muscles relax and anxiety go down. Up the amount and you could lose consciousness, forget what happened during the night, and lose control of your body.[21] Mixing it with alcohol can be a lethal combination.[22]


Overdosing and what to do

An overdose of any drug is a dose that can cause serious and sudden physical or mental damage. An overdose may or may not be fatal, depending on the drug and the amount taken. Here as some signs to look for in case of a bad reaction or overdose:

  • Alcohol: vomiting, slow breathing, confusion, or trouble staying awake [23]

  • Marijuana: extreme anxiety or paranoia [24]

  • Club drugs: very high body temperature, sweating, dizziness, vomiting, and agitation [25]

  • Opioids (pain killers, heroin): slowed breathing, pinpoint pupils, and unconsciousness [26]

For more on opioid overdoses, check out this graphic.

Here are some symptoms that could indicate a fentanyl overdose:[27]

  • Labored or shallow breathing

  • Small pupils

  • Cold and clammy skin

  • Extreme fatigue and sleepiness

  • Inability to talk or walk normally

  • Confusion

  • Fainting, and dizziness

If you suspect an overdose, dial 911 immediately and then…

  • Move victim to a safe area with fresh air.

  • Remove obstruction from mouth.

  • If vomiting occurs, turn victim on side to avoid choking.

  • If no pulse, perform CPR.

  • If not breathing, perform artificial respiration (mouth to mouth).

  • Keep victim as comfortable as possible until emergency personnel arrive.

  • Collect information about victim for emergency responders.


Fast Facts

  • Those between ages 16-24 have the highest rates of impaired driving and are the most likely to be hurt. [28]

  • Driving high doubles the risk of a car crash. [29]

  • Marijuana is the most common illicit drug found in impaired drivers. [30]

  • Weed slows your reaction time, affects your attention span and your ability to make decisions [31]

  • Driving under the influence is unsafe, no matter how much you’ve had.

  • Each year, many individuals attending Canadian music festivals are treated for drug- and alcohol related harms. In the summer of 2014, five young adults died while many more were treated onsite or admitted to hospital. Alcohol or drug use or both was strongly suspected as a contributing factor. [32]

  • Both GHB and Rohypnol are known as “date rape” drugs since they can sedate and incapacitate someone.[33] They are tasteless and odorless when mixed in alcoholic drinks. However, it is important to note as well that alcohol is probably more responsible for date rapes than these other drugs.



  1.  Smith, A., Stewart, D., Poon, C., Peled, M., Saewyc, E., & McCreary Centre Society. (2015). How many is too many for BC youth? Alcohol use and associated harms. Vancouver, B.C: McCreary Centre Society.

  2.  National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism,. Alcohol Overdose: The Dangers Of Drinking Too Much; 2015.

  3. Butt, P., Beirness, D., Gliksman, L., Paradis, C., & Stockwell, T. (2011). Alcohol and health in Canada: A summary of evidence and guidelines for low risk drinking. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

  4.  Hartman, R.; Huestis, M. Cannabis Effects On Driving Skills. Clinical Chemistry 2012, 59, 478-492.

  5.  Moskowitz,, H.; Fiorentino, D. A Review Of The Literature On The Effects Of Low Doses Of Alcohol On Driving-Related Skills; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Washington, D.C., 2000.

  6. Chamberlain, E. and Solomon, R. (2012). Drug-Impaired Driving In Canada: Review and Recommendations. MADD.

  7. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Young Brains On Cannabis: It’s Time To Clear The Smoke; Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics: Ottawa, 2015.

  8. Hartman, R.; Huestis, M. Cannabis Effects On Driving Skills. Clinical Chemistry 2012, 59, 478-492.

  9. Fischer, B.; Jeffries, V.; Hall, W.; Room, R.; Goldner, E.; Rehm, J. Lower Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines For Canada (LRCUG): A Narrative Review Of Evidence And Recommendations. Can J Public Health 2011, 102, 324-27.

  10. Solomon, R.; D. Perkins-Leitman, D.; Dumschat, E. A Summary Of Graduated Licensing, Short-Term And 90-Day Licence Suspensions, Alcohol Interlocks, And Vehicle Sanctions Across Canada; MADD: London, ON, 2015.

  11.  Gahlinger, P. M. (2004). Club drugs: MDMA, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), Rohypnol, and ketamine. American Family Physician, 69(11), 2619–26. -

  12. Ibid.

  13. Teter, C.; Guthrie, S. A Comprehensive Review Of MDMA And GHB: Two Common Club Drugs. Pharmacotherapy 2001, 21, 1486-1513.

  14. Gahlinger, P. M. (2004). Club drugs: MDMA, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), Rohypnol, and ketamine. American Family Physician, 69(11), 2619–26. -

  15. Maxwell, J. Party Drugs: Properties, Prevalence, Patterns, And Problems. Substance Use Misuse 2005, 40, 1203

  16. Gahlinger, P. M. (2004). Club drugs: MDMA, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), Rohypnol, and ketamine. American Family Physician, 69(11), 2619–26.

  17. Ibid.

  18. Maxwell, J. Party Drugs: Properties, Prevalence, Patterns, And Problems. Substance Use Misuse 2005, 40, 1203.

  19. Schwartz, R.; Milteer, R.; Lebeau, M. Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assault (‘Date Rape’). Southern Medical Journal 2000, 93, 558-561.

  20. Gahlinger, P. M. (2004). Club drugs: MDMA, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), Rohypnol, and ketamine. American Family Physician, 69(11), 2619–26. -

  21. Ibid.

  22. Ibid.

  23. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism,. Alcohol Overdose: The Dangers Of Drinking Too Much; 2015.

  24. Moore, T.; Zammit, S.; Lingford-Hughes, A.; Barnes, T.; Jones, P.; Burke, M.; Lewis, G. Cannabis Use And Risk Of Psychotic Or Affective Mental Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review. The Lancet 2007, 370, 319-328.

  25. Baylen, C.; Rosenberg, H. A Review Of The Acute Subjective Effects Of MDMA/Ecstasy. Addiction 2006, 101, 933-947.

  26. World Health Organization,. Information Sheet On Opioid Overdose; 2014.

  27. "Fentanyl Overdose Symptoms and Treatment." Waismann Method®. 11 Mar. 2016. Web.

  28. Statistics Canada,. Impaired Driving In Canada, 2011; Minister of Industry, 2013.

  29. Li, M.; Brady, J.; DiMaggio, C.; Lusardi, A.; Tzong, K.; Li, G. Marijuana Use And Motor Vehicle Crashes. Epidemiologic Reviews 2011, 34, 65-72.

  30.  Hartman, R.; Huestis, M. Cannabis Effects On Driving Skills. Clinical Chemistry 2012, 59, 478-492.

  31. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse,. Young Brains On Cannabis: It’s Time To Clear The Smoke; Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics: Ottawa, 2015.

  32. "Drugs at Music Festivals." Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Web.

  33.  Schwartz, R.; Milteer, R.; Lebeau, M. Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assault (‘Date Rape’). Southern Medical Journal 2000, 93, 558-561.

Street Drugs - Do you know what you're getting?

In general, a drug is defined as any substance, other than food, which is taken to change the way the body and/or mind function. Drugs can come from plants growing wild in fields or planted as a crop, or they can be manufactured in laboratories. Drug use is often described as legal or illegal. Legal drugs include alcohol, tobacco, and prescriptions sold for medicinal purposes such as pain-killers. Illegal drugs are grown or produced to be sold on the street; prescription drugs are sometimes sold illegitimately on the street.

Buying drugs on the street is fraught with danger, the primary reason is that you simply can’t know what you are getting. For example, MDMA or ecstasy sometimes doesn’t even contain M at all but instead is cut with other chemicals, such as caffeine, amphetamine, LSD, PMA, and ketamine. Drugs like “street oxy,” heroin, or cocaine can be cut with fentanyl, so you could end up ingesting this dangerous substance without even knowing it.[1] An individual can overdose from fentanyl by ingesting only a few grains.


Let’s look at three of the main categories of drugs: stimulants, depressants, and hallucinogens:


Stimulants affect the central nervous system. Examples of stimulants  include cocaine, methamphetamine (crystal meth), Ritalin (and diet pills), nicotine and caffeine. In low doses, all stimulants boost energy, raise the heart rate and blood pressure, increase respiration, and reduce appetite and thirst. They also make the user more alert, active, confident, anxious, restless, and aggressive. Stimulants can produce severe psychological dependence. Let’s take a closer look at cocaine, methamphetamine (speed, crystal meth), and prescription stimulants.

Cocaine: There are two forms of cocaine: the white powder which can be snorted, injected, or swallowed, and crack cocaine which looks like opaque crystals which make a popping noise when smoked.[2] Within minutes of snorting, your brain is flooded with dopamine, (Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers causing feelings of euphoria and stimulation).[3] After the effects have worn off, people find themselves having extreme cravings for that high.[4] This is because cocaine changes the reward pathway of the brain and, over time, more and more is needed to get the same effect.[5] Some people even go on cocaine binges where they take cocaine every 10-30 minutes in order to avoid the negative side effects, such as depressed mood and energy.[6]

Besides potentially causing dependence and addiction, cocaine can have other unwanted effects. The high from smoking lasts between 5-10 minutes while snorting effects last for 15-30 minutes. Other health effects of cocaine include:

  • Increase in heart rate and blood pressure [7]

  • Constriction of blood vessels [8]

  • Chest pain [9]

Those who binge on cocaine can experience a “crash” in mood and energy: depression, craving, anxiety, and even paranoia. [10]

Methamphetamine: Also known as speed, uppers, meth, crystal meth, side, chalk, ice, glass, Christmas tree, and crank, this drug can be unpredictable, addictive, and lethal. It can be smoked, snorted, injected, or taken orally. Immediately after smoking the drug or injecting it, the user experiences an intense pleasurable rush that lasts only a few minutes. Snorting or oral ingestion produces euphoria, but not an intense rush.   

eople who abuse methamphetamines feel like they don’t need to sleep and full of energy. But with repeated use methamphetamines are very damaging to the body and brain. Chronic abuse can result in heart problems, progressive social deterioration, and psychotic symptoms (paranoia, delusions, mood disturbances).[11]

Prescription stimulants: These include methylphenidate (ex. Ritalin, Concerta) and amphetamine (ex. Adderall). Even though they’re prescriptions, these drugs come with the risk of dependence and addiction, [12] especially if they are abused. Prescription stimulants abuse can occur in many forms. These pills can be taken orally, but sometimes they are crushed up and snorted or injected. Crushing or snorting can alter how the drug behaves in our bodies, and can increase risk of abuse and dependence.[13]

Prescription stimulants are often used as “study drugs” or academic enhancers. Students use these drugs to study, help with concentration, and increase alertness.[14] But do they actually help you concentrate and learn? The research says “no”, stimulant drugs do not work as “enhancers.” [15] Only those with attention or learning deficits, such as those with diagnosed ADHD, are helped.[16]

Stimulant drug use can be dangerous. Negative side effects from taking large amounts of these drugs are: [17]

  • irregular heart rate

  • increase in blood pressure

  • trouble sleeping

  • paranoia and hostility

  • loss of appetite

  • very high body temperatures

  • seizures can occur at very high doses



Included in this category of drugs are opioid analgesics (codeine, morphine, heroin, fentanyl, methadone, oxycodone), alcohol, inhalants, benzodiazepines, barbiturates and other sleeping pills. These drugs all cause a slowing down or depression of the central nervous system. At low doses they produce a feeling of calm, drowsiness, and well-being. Let’s take a closer look at fentanyl and oxycodone since both have been in the news a lot in recent years.

Fentanyl: Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 100 times more powerful than morphine.[18] Typically, it is used in hospitals as analgesic or for pain management in the form of fentanyl patches. In its prescription form, Fentanyl is known by such names as Actiq®, Duragesic®, and Sublimaze®.

entanyl is finding its way onto our streets either through the street trade of legitimate prescription patches, through illicitly manufactured fentanyl made into pill form to look like OxyContin, or it is cut into cocaine and heroin to create a more intense high.[19] When dealers cut it into street drugs, users have no idea of the level of purity or the potency of what they take.

Fentanyl works in the brain to change how the body feels and responds to pain. Like heroin, morphine, and other opioid drugs, fentanyl works by binding to the body's opioid receptors, which are found in areas of the brain that control pain and emotions. When opioid drugs bind to these receptors, they can drive up dopamine levels in the brain's reward areas, producing a state of euphoria and relaxation.[20] Opioid receptors are also found in the areas of the brain that control breathing rate. High doses of opioids, especially potent opioids such as fentanyl, can cause breathing to stop completely, which can lead to death.[21] The high potency of fentanyl greatly increases risk of overdose, especially if a person who uses drugs is unaware that a powder or pill contains fentanyl. The RCMP estimates a lethal dose of pure fentanyl to be in the realm of two milligrams for a typical adult… no more than a few grains of salt.[22]

Fentanyl very quickly creates a tolerance to high doses, so a dose that is adequate for the intended high one week will probably not create that intended high even a few days later.[23] If you’re not tolerant, it is a lot more likely to cause serious toxicity and even death. It severely depresses breathing and heart rate so that combined with alcohol or other drugs that slow the central nervous system, it becomes even more dangerous.[24] Numerous fentanyl overdoses are occurring in casual or recreational users who use a different drug such as cocaine, which has fentanyl inside of it.[25]

Oxycodone: This is a narcotic (OxyContin, Percocet and Percodan are the most frequently used and abused) prescribed to relieve pain that is twice as potent as morphine. OxyContin is a time-release version of oxycodone that is snorted or injected. Used as a substitute for heroin, abusers use the drug to relieve pain, alleviate withdrawal symptoms, and gain euphoric effects. Police say that virtually every pill stamped as OxyContin (CDN 80) sold on the street today actually contains fentanyl which is very cheap to manufacture and thus lucrative for drug dealers.[26]



Hallucinogens have been used for thousands of years in religious and spiritual ceremonies. These drugs alter one’s perception of reality and can make users experience things that aren’t real. They work by activating certain chemicals in your brain, mainly serotonin, affecting the way you experience the world.[27] We can find hallucinogens both in the lab (e.g. MDMA) and in nature (e.g. magic mushrooms, LSD, DMT).

Ecstasy or MDMA: or 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine produces energizing effects like the stimulant amphetamine, but also acts as a hallucinogenic similar to mescaline.[28] Made in the lab, ecstasy usually comes in the form of a colourful pill, often with cartoons and icons stamped into them.[29] Nowadays MDMA is rarely ever pure, and sometimes don’t contain any at all.[30] In 2007, Health Canada found only 3% of tablets analyzed contained pure MDMA.[31] It is one of the most popular drugs when it comes to partying, often found at raves, music festivals, and dance parties for its stimulating and enhancing effects.[32]

When you pop a pill, your brain in flooded with two main chemicals: serotonin and dopamine.[33] You may experience feelings of euphoria, increased energy and sexual arousal.[34] Some people have a distorted sense of time and report feelings of closeness with others. Negative feelings can also be felt too, including anxiety, dizziness, headaches, and sweating.[35] While your brain is being flooded with serotonin and dopamine, your body is experiencing other effects. These include: [36]

  • High body temperatures, which can lead to serious liver, heart, and kidney problems

  • Sweating

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Teeth grinding/ jaw clenching

  • Increased risk of having unprotected sex

  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate

  • Muscle tension

MDMA causes you to go to the bathroom more. Combine that with a stuffy club, dancing, and hyperthermia, you can easily become extremely dehydrated, which can cause muscle breakdown and organ failure.[37] Long term there’s a lot of evidence that MDMA use can cause neuron damage that may last for many years. You could have difficulty concentrating, memory problems, impulsivity, and depression. [38]

Psychedelics: Psychedelics are known for their mind-altering effects. It’s hard to know how you’ll experience these drugs, especially since it depends hugely on your expectations and the environment.[39] These drugs produce hallucinations, meaning you could see, smell, taste, or feel things that aren’t actually happening. You may experience altered time sense, visual hallucinations, or even “seeing” a sound.[40]

Using these drugs can be one roller-coaster of a ride: from feeling euphoric and on top of the world one minute, to being anxious and paranoid the next.[41] So if you’re in a bad mood or suffer from depression and anxiety, these feelings can make you have a very unpleasant trip. Hallucinogens do crazy things to our minds, but they can also have effects on our bodies, including:[42,43,44]

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure

  • Dilated pupils

  • Mood swings

  • Nausea and dizziness

  • Sweating

  • Tremors

  • Psychosis

Three examples of psychedelics are:

  • LSD, commonly know as acid. LSD was originally made from a fungus that grows on rye. It takes action in about 20 minutes and lasts for up to 10-12 hours.[45] It usually comes on small squares of blotter paper or in sugar cubes or liquid. Using large amounts of LSD can cause flashbacks, usually brought on by a bad trip, and can occur for up to a year after using.[46]

  • Magic mushrooms. The active ingredient psilocybin is found in certain kinds of mushrooms. They come fresh or dried, and are eaten. The effects hit after about 20-30 minutes and last for 4-6 hours.[47]

  • DMT is found in many different plants, especially in South America. DMT effects start within minutes and last between 20 minutes to an hour.[48] It usually comes in a tablet or powder and is injected, inhaled, or smoked.


A closer look… combining drugs

Many drugs become more dangerous when mixed. Some people may combine drugs intentionally to enhance the effects, or to counteract undesirable side-effects, or they may use a hazardous combination of drugs without intending to do so. For example, they may take sleeping medications after drinking alcohol without being aware that using these drugs together is hazardous.

Even if someone is aware that mixing drugs is dangerous, they may do so anyway. Many people will mix alcohol with other drugs with adverse effects. A mixture of heroin (a depressant) and cocaine (a stimulant), for example, increases the risk of death from respiratory depression. People who use illegal drugs may mix drugs because they do not know what they are taking.

Many drugs taken together have the potential to interact with one another to produce greater effects than either drug taken by itself. When two depressant drugs are taken -- alcohol, opioid analgesics (like codeine), barbituates (like Secondal) and benzodiazepines (like Valium) – the result may be confusion, injuries from falls, depressed breathing, coma, and death.


Fast Facts

  • Cocaine is one of the most addicting street drugs out there. Lab rats will self-administer cocaine until death.[49]

  • More teens die from prescription drugs than heroin/cocaine combined. [50]

  • Between 1.4 - 4.9% of youth have used prescription stimulants in the past year in Canada. Of those, up to 40% says they abused them.[51]

  • Drug abuse is a leading cause of premature deaths. The Government of Saskatchewan’s Department of Health found that young people who use illegal drugs are 11 times more likely to commit suicide or overdose.[52]

  • Hallucinogens are almost exclusively used by teen and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24. 3.9% of youth say they used, compared to only 0.4% of adult.[53]

  • If you think it is safe to buy drugs on the street, consider this: Even prescription drugs that appear to be sealed in original packaging can be knock-off home-made products. Many dealers are motivated to substitute potentially toxic ingredients in place of drugs to save money. It is not uncommon to find bleach, cleansers, toxins or other materials in illegal drugs. [54]

  • If you think it is safe to buy drugs over the internet, consider this: you could be dealing with anyone from an international black market broker to a neighbour. Drugs that are bought online may be counterfeit, homemade or stolen, and are often illegal. Despite the increasing popularity and convenience, illegally buying drugs, whether online or on the street, can have dangerous consequences. [55]


  1. Geoff McKee, MD, Ashraf Amlani, MPH, Jane A. Buxton, MBBS, MHSc, FRCPC. Illicit fentanyl: An emerging threat to people who use drugs in BC. BCMJ, Vol. 57, No. 6, July, August, 2015, page(s) 235 — BC Centre for Disease Control.

  2. Egred, M. Cocaine And The Heart. Postgraduate Medical Journal 2005, 81, 568-571.

  3. Walters, C.; Kuo, Y.; Blendy, J. Differential Distribution Of CREB In The Mesolimbic Dopamine Reward Pathway. Journal of Neurochemistry 2003, 87, 1237-1244.

  4. Nestler, E. Historical Review: Molecular And Cellular Mechanisms Of Opiate And Cocaine Addiction. Trends in Pharmacological Sciences 2004, 25, 210-218.

  5. Carlezon Jr., W. Regulation Of Cocaine Reward By CREB. Science 1998, 282, 2272-2275.

  6. Gawin, F. Cocaine Addiction: Psychology And Neurophysiology. Science 1991, 251, 1580-1586.

  7. Breiter, H.; Gollub, R.; Weisskoff, R.; Kennedy, D.; Makris, N.; Berke, J.; Goodman, J.; Kantor, H.; Gastfriend, D.; Riorden, J. et al. Acute Effects Of Cocaine On Human Brain Activity And Emotion. Neuron 1997, 19, 591-611.

  8. Kloner, R.; Hale, S.; Alker, K.; Rezkalla, S. The Effects Of Acute And Chronic Cocaine Use On The Heart. Circulation 1992, 85, 407-419.

  9. Egred, M. Cocaine And The Heart. Postgraduate Medical Journal 2005, 81, 568-571.

  10. Gawin, F. Cocaine Addiction: Psychology And Neurophysiology. Science 1991, 251, 1580-1586.

  11. Davis, Kathleen. "Methamphetamine: Side Effects, Health Risks and Withdrawal." Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, Web.

  12. Smith, M.; Farah, M. Are Prescription Stimulants “Smart Pills”? The Epidemiology And Cognitive Neuroscience Of Prescription Stimulant Use By Normal Healthy Individuals. Psychological Bulletin 2011, 137, 717-741.

  13. Teter, C.; McCabe, S.; LaGrange, K.; Cranford, J.; Boyd, C. Illicit Use Of Specific Prescription Stimulants Among College Students: Prevalence, Motives, And Routes Of Administration. Pharmacotherapy 2006, 26, 1501-1510.

  14. Ibid.

  15. Lakhan, S.; Kirchgessner, A. Prescription Stimulants In Individuals With And Without Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Misuse, Cognitive Impact, And Adverse Effects. Brain Behav 2012, 2, 661-677.

  16. Ibid.

  17. Klein-Schwartz, W. Abuse And Toxicity Of Methylphenidate. Current Opinion in Pediatrics 2002, 14, 219-223.

  18. Muijsers, R.; Wagstaff, A. Transdermal Fentanyl. Drugs 2001, 61, 2289-2307.

  19. Gatehouse, Jonathon, and Macdonald, Nancy. “Fentanyl: The King of All Opiates, and a Killer Drug Crisis,” 21 Sept. 2015. Web.

  20. Gutstein H, Akil H. Opioid Analgesics. In: Goodman & Gilman’s the Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics. 11th ed. McGraw-Hill; 2006.

  21. Ibid.

  22. "RCMP Releases Video on the Dangers of Fentanyl." Government of Canada, Royal Canadian Mounted Police. 13 Sept. 2016. Web.

  23. "Signs and Symptoms of Fentanyl Abuse." Narconon International. Web.

  24. Gatehouse, Jonathon, and Macdonald, Nancy. “Fentanyl: The King of All Opiates, and a Killer Drug Crisis,” 21 Sept. 2015. Web.

  25. "Increases in Fentanyl Drug Confiscations and Fentanyl-related Overdose Fatalities." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26 Oct. 2015. Web.

  26. Stewart, Eric. "RCMP Gazette." Government of Canada, Royal Canadian Mounted Police. 24 June 2016. Web.

  27. Hill, S.; Thomas, S. Clinical Toxicology Of Newer Recreational Drugs. Clinical Toxicology 2011, 49, 705-719.

  28. Freese, T.; Miotto, K.; Reback, C. The Effects And Consequences Of Selected Club Drugs. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment 2002, 23, 151-156.

  29. Gahlinger, P. M. (2004). Club drugs: MDMA, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), Rohypnol, and ketamine. American Family Physician, 69(11), 2619–26. -

  30. Hudson, A.; Lalies, M.; Baker, G.; Wells, K.; Aitchison, K. Ecstasy, Legal Highs And Designer Drug Use: A Canadian Perspective. Drug Science, Policy and Law 2013, 1.

  31. Ibid.

  32. Gahlinger, P. M. (2004). Club drugs: MDMA, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), Rohypnol, and ketamine. American Family Physician, 69(11), 2619–26. 

  33. Montoya, A.; Sorrentino, R.; Lukas, S.; Price, B. Long-Term Neuropsychiatric Consequences Of "Ecstasy" (MDMA): A Review. Harv Rev Psychiatry 2002, 10, 212-220.

  34. Ibid.

  35. Teter, C.; Guthrie, S. A Comprehensive Review Of MDMA And GHB: Two Common Club Drugs. Pharmacotherapy 2001, 21, 1486-1513.

  36. Gawin, F. Cocaine Addiction: Psychology And Neurophysiology. Science 1991, 251, 1580-1586.

  37. Baylen, C.; Rosenberg, H. A Review Of The Acute Subjective Effects Of MDMA/Ecstasy. Addiction 2006, 101, 933-947.

  38. Montoya, A.; Sorrentino, R.; Lukas, S.; Price, B. Long-Term Neuropsychiatric Consequences Of "Ecstasy" (MDMA): A Review. Harv Rev Psychiatry 2002, 10, 212-220.

  39. Nichols, D. Hallucinogens. Pharmacology & Therapeutics 2004, 101, 131-181.

  40. Passie, T.; Seifert, J.; Schneider, U.; Emrich, H. The Pharmacology Of Psilocybin. Addiction Biology 2002, 7, 357-364.

  41. Cunningham, N. Hallucinogenic Plants Of Abuse. Emerg Med Australas 2008, 20, 167-174.

  42. (146) Passie, T.; Seifert, J.; Schneider, U.; Emrich, H. The Pharmacology Of Psilocybin. Addiction Biology 2002, 7, 357-364.

  43. Cunningham, N. Hallucinogenic Plants Of Abuse. Emerg Med Australas 2008, 20, 167-174.

  44. Passie, T.; Halpern, J.; Stichtenoth, D.; Emrich, H.; Hintzen, A. The Pharmacology Of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide: A Review. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics 2008, 14, 295-314.

  45. Nichols, D. Hallucinogens. Pharmacology & Therapeutics 2004, 101, 131-181.

  46. Abraham, H. The Psychopharmacology Of Hallucinogens. Neuropsychopharmacology 1996, 14, 285-298

  47. Passie, T.; Seifert, J.; Schneider, U.; Emrich, H. The Pharmacology Of Psilocybin. Addiction Biology 2002, 7, 357-364.

  48. Haroz, R.; Greenberg, M. New Drugs Of Abuse In North America. Clinics in Laboratory Medicine 2006, 26, 147-164.

  49.  Gawin, F. Cocaine Addiction: Psychology And Neurophysiology. Science 1991, 251, 1580-1586.

  50. “The Truth About Prescription Drug Abuse." Foundation for a Drug-Free World. Web.

  51.  Health Canada,. Canadian Alcohol And Drug Use Monitoring Survey: Summary Of Results For 2012; 2014.

  52. "Teen Drug Abuse Facts & Their Implications." Canadian Centre for Addictions. 19 Aug. 2016. Web.

  53.  Health Canada,. Canadian Alcohol And Drug Use Monitoring Survey: Summary Of Results For 2012; 2014.

  54.  "The Dangers of Buying Street Drugs." Drug Addiction Help. 13 June 2011. Web.

  55. "Dangers of Getting Drugs from a Dealer." Drug Rehab Experts. Web.

Alcohol - Just a simple drug?

Alcohol is the oldest known and most widely used psychoactive drug in the world…and yes, it is a drug. And despite all the talk in the media about marijuana and other drugs, alcohol is still, by far, the “drug of choice” for people of all ages.  

There is no question that alcohol is totally socially acceptable in our society, with a large percentage of the population enjoying an alcoholic beverage on a regular basis. But at the same time, we can’t ignore the fact that each year alcohol ruins millions of lives, causes an untold number of deaths, and results in billions of dollars in health care expenditures.

If you are going out to party and plan to do some drinking, one thing to keep in mind is that alcohol reduces your inhibitions, so socially unacceptable behaviours such as aggression are more likely to occur. After just a few drinks you are more likely to place yourselves in risky situations.[1]


Do you know your BAC’s?

BAC or “Blood Alcohol Concentration” refers to the amount of alcohol in a person’s blood. In Canada, the BAC is usually expressed as the number of milligrams of alcohol in 100 milliliters of blood. Our Criminal Code BAC limit is .08%. [2] This is the level at which Criminal Code impaired driving charges can be laid. It is important to realize, though, that even small amounts of alcohol can impair driving ability.

That is why just about every province and territory in Canada has administrative laws for drivers whose BACs are .05% and over. Drivers at these levels do not face criminal impaired driving charges, but they are subject to licence suspensions ranging from 24 hours to 7 days depending on the province or territory. [3]

The more you drink, the higher your BAC. The higher your BAC, the more physically and mentally impaired you become. The more impaired you are, the higher the risk of an accident.

When you have a drink, the alcohol is absorbed directly into your bloodstream through the stomach and small intestine. The more your drink, the more alcohol will be absorbed, and your BAC will continue to rise. Within 30 – 90 minutes, the alcohol is distributed evenly throughout your body. Once the alcohol has entered your bloodstream, it doesn’t simply pass through you. It must be broken down (oxidized) and eliminated. 

It takes about 90 minutes for your body to absorb and eliminate one standard drink. The exact time depends on factors such as: [4]

  • how much you weigh

  • whether you are male or female

  • the strength of your drinks

  • how old you are

  • your drinking history

  • your genetics or biological makeup

A number of factors, such as body weight and fat/muscle ratio, influence how fast the alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream. Generally, it takes less alcohol for a woman to reach the legal limit than it does for a man.

These charts allow you to estimate your BAC after consuming a certain number of drinks in a given period of time. They are based on ideal conditions (i.e. ideal body weight) and are intended to provide an indication of how the number of drinks you consume translate into BAC. Remember, there is no safe limit for drinking before driving or operating equipment.


A closer look… binge drinking

We’ve all heard about it, but what is binge drinking? According to the Center for Addiction and Mental Health, it’s:

  • 5 drinks on one occasion for guys

  • 4 drinks on one occasion for females

While it may seem like a fun idea at the time, drinking to get wasted can come with a whole host of consequences. A lot of the harmful things people experience when they drink happen when they have five or more standard drinks on one occasion. When you’re drunk, you are more likely to:

  • be in car crash, causing injury or death [5]

  • sexually assault someone [6]

  • get into a fight [7]

  • have unsafe sex [8]

  • forget the night and blackout [9]

  • get alcohol poisoning, and end up spending the night at the toilet or in the hospital [10]

Alcohol poisoning is the most life-threatening consequence of binge drinking. When someone drinks too much and gets alcohol poisoning, it affects the body's involuntary reflexes — including breathing and the gag reflex. If the gag reflex isn't working properly, a person can choke to death on his or her vomit.[11]

If you are at a party and someone appears to be choking on their own vomit, put them into a recovery position:

  • Raise the person’s arm above their head.

  • Roll them on their side towards you.

  • Tilt their head to make sure their airway is open.

  • Tuck the nearest hand under their cheek to maintain the position of the head.

  • Keep an eye on them, look for signs of alcohol poisoning and call for help.

No one wants their night ruined. The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse recommends that guys stick to a maximum 4 drinks and girls to 3 on special occasions. Click here to read more. Or, check out this site to learn more about healthy drinking.


Mixing alcohol with other drugs

lcohol & Marijuana: This combo is common. But even so, it can have some unpredictable side effects including nausea, dizziness, vomiting, panic, anxiety, and paranoia. When recreational drinking and smoking marijuana are combined, it is easier to drink excessively and risk alcohol poisoning, which can kill you.[12] And driving? Forget it. When these two substances are combined you become even more impaired than you would on just one drug alone. [13]

lcohol & Prescription Drugs: Let’s take a look at pain-killers first… oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine, and all the ones you hear about on the news. These opioids, which are synthetic creations of opiates, slow down your breathing. Alcohol is also a downer, making the body even slower. Fentanyl, which is up to 100 times more powerful than morphine, is especially dangerous when mixed with alcohol.[14]

ou may have heard of stimulant drugs such as Adderall, Ritalin, and other ADHD meds. Alcohol and uppers can make you dizzy and you could have trouble concentrating. More seriously, heart problems and liver damage can occur.[15]

ou never know what you’re getting with illicit prescription drugs. Other contaminants may be mixed in, which can cause some serious problems. If you are going to use, don’t use alone and start with a small amount. Be able to recognize opioid overdose by signs of very small pupils, slow breathing, and trouble staying awake. Call 911 immediately if you think someone has overdosed. Check out this chart of opioid overdose signs.

lcohol & MDMA: A lot of people take “Molly” at dance parties and music festivals since it increases energy, but “M” makes your body heat up and we all know dancing makes you sweat. A LOT.[16] Plus, alcohol makes you go to the bathroom more, making you lose even more liquid. With these two in your system, you could be looking at some severe dehydration which can make you pass out, get heatstroke, or cause you to be hospitalized from dehydration. If you’re going out, pace yourself, drink water in between alcoholic drinks, and take breaks in order to cool off.[17]

lcohol & Cocaine: Combining vodka and coke increase the effects of either substance. Once in your system, this combo causes the production of a toxic substance called cocaethylene. It increases risk of heart attack and death and you may become more aggressive or violent. [18]


Fast Facts

  • Alcohol is a downer or depressant, meaning it slows our bodies down.[19]  While one drink may “loosen” you up, drinking more makes you drowsy and muddles your memory.[20]

  • Alcohol + opioids = possible overdose and death because you’re breathing is so slow.[21]

  • In Canada, the highest rate of impaired-driving deaths occurs at age 19.[22]

  • A driver with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.10% is 50 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than a driver with no blood alcohol.[23]



  1. Fact Sheet: Drinking and Alcohol, Canadian Public Health Association, 2006. Web

  2. Perreault, Samuel. "Impaired Driving in Canada, 2011." Statistics Canada: Canada's National Statistical Agency / Statistique Canada : Organisme Statistique National Du Canada. 30 Nov. 2015.

  3. "Overview - Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)." MADD Canada - Impaired Driving. Web.

  4. Fact Sheet: Drinking and Alcohol, Canadian Public Health Association, 2006. Web.

  5. Chamberlain, E.; Solomon, R. Zero Blood Alcohol Concentration Limits For Drivers Under 21: Lessons From Canada. Injury Prevention 2008, 14, 123-128.

  6. Abbey, A. Alcohol-Related Sexual Assault: A Common Problem Among College Students. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Supplement 2002, 118-128.

  7. Anderson, P.; Chisholm, D.; Fuhr, D. Effectiveness And Cost-Effectiveness Of Policies And Programmes To Reduce The Harm Caused By Alcohol. The Lancet 2009, 373, 2234-2246.

  8. Ibid

  9. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism,. Alcohol Overdose: The Dangers Of Drinking Too Much; 2015.

  10. World Health Organization,. Alcohol: Global Status Report On Alcohol And Health 2014; Geneva, 2014.

  11. "Binge Drinking." KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation.

  12. Scharff, Constance. "The Dangers of Combining Alcohol and Marijuana." Psychology Today. 6 May 2014. Web.

  13. Hartman, R.; Brown, T.; Milavetz, G.; Spurgin, A.; Pierce, R.; Gorelick, D.; Gaffney, G.; Huestis, M. Cannabis Effects On Driving Lateral Control With And Without Alcohol. Drug and Alcohol Dependence 2015.

  14. Muijsers, R.; Wagstaff, A. Transdermal Fentanyl. Drugs 2001, 61, 2289-2307.

  15. Tavernise, Sabrina. "New Sign of Stimulants’ Toll on Young." The New York Times. The New York Times, 08 Aug. 2013. Web.

  16. Baylen, C.; Rosenberg, H. A Review Of The Acute Subjective Effects Of MDMA/Ecstasy. Addiction 2006, 101, 933-947.

  17. Gahlinger, P. M. (2004). Club drugs: MDMA, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), Rohypnol, and ketamine. American Family Physician, 69(11), 2619–26.

  18. Pennings, E.J., Leccese, A.P. & Wolff, F.A. (2002). Effects of concurrent use of alcohol and cocaine. Addiction,97(7), 773-783.

  19. Valenzuela, C. F. (1997). Alcohol and neurotransmitter interactions. Alcohol health and research world, 21, 144-148.

  20. Ibid.

  21. White, J.; Irvine, R. Mechanisms Of Fatal Opioid Overdose. Addiction 1999, 94, 961-972.

  22. Fact Sheet: Drinking and Alcohol, Canadian Public Health Association, 2006. Web.

  23. Ibid.

  24. Fact Sheets - Caffeine and Alcohol." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 Nov. 2015. Web.

Knowledge is Power

This blog hopes to impart a little knowledge about drugs and their impact. Knowledge empowers us because it helps us make better decisions. Decisions you make about drugs could literally mean life and death. This information has been developed with you in mind. Given how prevalent and accessible drugs are today, it is important to have the right facts to help you make informed decisions about using drugs when and if an opportunity arises.

While the use of drugs is not a new concept, the type of drugs are new. Modern drugs have increased potency, include a wide variety, and have an ease of availability. Both legal and illegal drugs seem to be everywhere. Drugs can either save a life, or end it. You do not have to do drugs regularly to experience life-altering or potentially fatal consequences. One night of drinking and driving under the influence can lead to disability or death; a dose of cocaine could cause a fatal heart attack. Each of these tragic outcomes are preventable with a little bit of knowledge.


Speaking up

You’re with family and friends and someone offers you a drink, a joint, or maybe a pill – that’s how it can start. You have a choice to say yes or no. What do you do? It helps to stop and take a moment to understand what you’re taking and why you’re taking it before you say yes. Are you experimenting? Trying to fit in? Wanting to avoid thinking about something stressful at home or in your life?[1]  

Saying “no” to friends or family can be tough. It helps to think about possible ways to avoid using before the time comes. Here are some examples of passing on the opportunity to do drugs:

  • “No thanks. I have to get up early tomorrow.”

  • “I’m good. I’ve had quite a bit already.”

  • “Just not feeling it tonight.”

  • “I’m okay, thanks. I promised my friend I’d watch out for her tonight.”

  • It's also okay to use "No thanks", as sometimes people appreciate straightforward honesty: "No thanks, I don't want any." There are ways to counter specific arguments. Check out this site for additional suggestions or this site for girls.


Talking it over

Talking about drugs can sometimes feel super awkward. Whether you have questions or you’re concerned about a friend or family member, it can be hard to figure out who to turn to for support or answers. There’s a lot of confusing and conflicting information out there. Who’s the best person to ask? It’ll depend on your comfort level, but here are some good options:

Your parents:  As you’ve moved through school, maybe you’ve started to share a bit less with your parents and started talking with your friends more. But your parents were once teens too and they can understand the pressures that you might be facing. You might feel really awkward bringing up the subject of drugs and that is okay. Its very likely your parents will want to have a conversation about drugs too. They also may know other people in the community to talk to, such as a doctor or counsellor. Many teens are confused about what their parents’ stance on partying and drugs is, so ask questions like “How late can I stay out?” and “Can I call you if I ever end up somewhere I don’t feel comfortable?” It might be helpful to ask straight out:  “How would you react if I used drugs?”

Your counsellor or teacher: If you know a particular adult at school whom you trust, talk to them! Counsellors especially know of different resources within the community, and will be able to guide you to someone else if they don’t have all of the answers. There are even ways to bring up the topic in class, such as in a bio class. For example, if you’re studying the heart you can ask how a certain drug affects it.

Another adult in your life: There are a lot of really great people around us. Maybe you’re close with your hockey coach or your camp counsellor. These people may not be able to answer all your questions, but they probably care about you and will help you to find the answers you’re looking for.

Your Friends: They’re probably the first people you turn to with questions, but they might have as many questions as you do. However, talking with a good friend who will listen and be supportive can be very helpful. They can also help you decide how to talk to your parents or another adult. The more we bring up our concerns about drug use, the more open the conversation can become.

When you try and decide who to talk with, there are three questions you can ask yourself:

  1. Is my happiness and health important to them? You want someone who cares about you and your well being.

  2. Do I admire them? Whomever you talk with about drugs should be someone you want to emulate because their advice will be a reflection of who they are.

  3. Will they listen to me? You should find someone who can listen non-judgmentally to your questions and concerns without jumping straight to advice-giving or lecturing.

If you have concerns about a friend’s or family member’s use:

Maybe you’ve noticed your friend skipping class more, being less likely to hang out, or they’ve become moodier. Maybe your sibling is not home very often or you’ve seen them use substances when your parents are out. Whoever it is, it’s difficult to get that conversation started when you’re concerned about someone else. It’s important to start a discussion when the person is relaxed and the two of you are just hanging out. Ask questions like, “Hey, I missed you in class today. Are you doing okay?” or “I’ve noticed you’ve been going out a lot lately and I’m worried”. You can even be straightforward about your concerns: “I’m worried that you have been using alcohol or drugs lately”

Listening to their side of the story is important. Don’t use a judgmental or accusing tone. Let them know that you’re concerned and that you’re always available to talk. Having someone who is supportive is important. Remember, you can’t “fix” them, but you can give them some guidance on who to talk to and resources that they can access.


Fast Facts

  • A heroin user who spends $50 a day on the drug could save $180,000 over a decade, were it not for their addiction. A cocaine abuser with a $75-a-day habit would save $250,000 over ten years.[2] 

  • 1 in 10 Canadians 15 years of age and over report symptoms consistent with alcohol or illicit drug dependence.[3] 

  • 60% of illicit drug users in Canada are between the ages of 15 and 24.[4] 

  • In Canada one in every 16 visits to the ER were related to alcohol use.[5]

  • Adolescence is a critical period both for starting to smoke, drink or use other drugs, and, as a result, for experiencing more harmful consequences.[6]

  • If you have addiction in the family or a family history of trauma and mental health or behavioural problems, you are at greater risk of developing an addiction.[7]

  • When it comes to tobacco,there is good news. The Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey (2016) found declines in both the numbers of students who had ever tried smoking and current smokers. The percentage of students who smoke tobacco fell to about 3 per cent in 2014-15 from 4 per cent a year earlier.[8]


  1. Kuntsche, E.; Knibbe, R.; Gmel, G.; Engels, R. Why Do Young People Drink? A Review of Drinking Motives. Clinical Psychology Review 2005, 25, 841-861.

  2. Buggle, Annabelle. "After 40-Year Fight, Illicit Drug Use at All-Time High." The Huffington Post., Web.

  3. "Health at a Glance." Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. 27 Nov. 2015. Web.

  4. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA). (2007). A Drug Prevention Strategy for Canada’s Youth. Ottawa, ON: CCSA.

  5. Thomas, G. (2012). Levels and patterns of alcohol use in Canada. (Alcohol Price Policy Series: Report 1) Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

  6. Crews, Fulton, Jun He, and Clyde Hodge. "Adolescent Cortical Development: A Critical Period of Vulnerability for Addiction." Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior 86.2 (2007): 189-99. Web

  7. Nordqvist, Christian. "Addiction Risk Factors." Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, 4 Jan. 2016. Web.

  8. Canadian Press. "Canadian Teens Are Smoking Less Tobacco, but Marijuana Popular." 14 Sept. 2016. Web.