Healthy living


  • A drug is any substance which alters the body's function, other than food or water.
  • There is no safe level of illicit drug use.
  • Psychoactive drugs affect the central nervous system and alter a person's mood, thinking and behaviour.
What is a drug?

A drug is any substance (with the exception of food and water) which, when taken into the body, alters the body's function either physically or psychologically.

Drugs may be legal (for example alcohol, caffeine or tobacco) or illegal (for example cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine or heroin).

What is a psychoactive drug?

Psychoactive drugs affect the central nervous system and alter a person's mood, thinking and behaviour.

Psychoactive drugs may be divided into 4 categories.

Depressants are drugs that decrease alertness by slowing down the activity of the central nervous system, for example:

  • heroin
  • alcohol
  • analgesics.

Stimulants are drugs that increase the body's state of arousal by increasing the activity of the brain, for example:

  • caffeine
  • nicotine
  • amphetamines.

Hallucinogens are drugs that alter perception and can cause hallucinations, such as seeing or hearing something that is not there, for example:

  • lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
  • magic mushrooms.

Other drugs fall outside these categories, as they may have one or more of these properties. For example cannabis has depressive, hallucinogenic and stimulant properties.

Why do people use drugs?

People use drugs for a variety of reasons. Young people often use drugs for the same reasons that adults do. Some of these include:

  • to have fun
  • to relax and forget problems
  • to gain confidence
  • to socialise
  • out of curiosity
  • as a form of escapism
  • to lessen inhibitions
  • to remove personal responsibility for decisions
  • to celebrate or commiserate
  • to relieve boredom and stress
  • self-medication to cope with problems.

Friends, parents, older brothers and sisters and the media can also have some influence over a young person's decision to use drugs.

What are the effects of drugs?

The experience that a person has when using drugs will be affected by the:

  • Individual
    This takes in the person’s:
    • mood
    • physical size
    • gender
    • personality
    • expectations of the drug experience
    • whether the person has food in his/her stomach
    • whether other drugs have been taken.
  • Drug
    This takes in:
    • the amount used
    • how it is used
    • the strength and purity of the drug.
  • Environment
    This takes in whether the person is using:
    • with friends
    • on their own
    • in a social setting
    • at home
    • at work
    • before or while driving.

Where to get help

  • Call one of the Alcohol and Drug Support Line 24 hour support lines (external site) – providing confidential counselling, information, advice and referral
  • For emergency or life-threatening conditions, visit an emergency department or dial triple zero (000) to call an ambulance – police are not called unless a death has occurred or ambulance officers are threatened
  • See your doctor
  • Visit healthdirect (external site) or call 1800 022 222

This information provided by

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Drug Aware

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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