Photographer : Paul Lim
“It’s more than something that you become addicted to. It becomes your whole reason for living. You just want it so much that you’d give anything for it. You just become so sick that you just don’t care about losing your close friends and family over it”. A former addict
This fact sheet will provide a brief overview of what illicit, or illegal, drugs are, how users of illicit drugs are being affected and why people use illicit drugs. What is the issue?
Unlike legal drugs, illicit drugs have no quality or price controls. This means that anyone using these drugs can never be sure of the drug's strength or purity. Various batches of an illegally manufactured drug may have different mixtures of the drug and other additives, such as talcum powder, sugar, and caffeine. Sometimes the additives can be poisonous.
Drugs have different physical and psychological side-affects depending on the substance. Overall, they may cause short-term enjoyable affects, however in the long-term may cause harmful affects. Depending on the drug, users also risk becoming psychically and/or psychologically dependant.
There are three main types of drugs, classified according to the effect the drug has on the central nervous system: depressants, stimulants and hallucinogens.Depressant drugs
Depressant drugs don't necessarily make a person feel depressed. They slow down the functions of the central nervous system.
In small quantities they can cause the user to feel more relaxed and less inhibited. In larger quantities they may cause unconsciousness, vomiting and, in some cases, death.
Depressants affect concentration and coordination and slow down a person's ability to respond to unexpected situations. Depressant drugs include:
- GHB (Gamma-hydroxybutrate), or "GBH", "fantasy"
- opiates and opioids, including heroin, or "H", "smack", and morphine, codeine, methadone, and pethidine
- some solvents and inhalants, or glue, "chroming". Many inhalants are common household products.
Stimulants act on the central nervous system to speed up the messages going to and from the brain. Stimulants can make the user feel more awake, alert or confident. Stimulants increase heart rate, body temperature and blood pressure. Other physical effects include reduced appetite, dilated pupils, talkativeness, agitation, and sleep disturbance.
Large quantities of stimulants can "over-stimulate" the user, causing anxiety, panic, seizures, headaches, stomach cramps, aggression and paranoia. Stimulants include:
- amphetamines, or "speed", "crystal meth", "ice", "shabu"
- cocaine, or "coke", "crack"
- ecstasy, or "E", "XTC"
The effects of hallucinogens vary greatly, though they primarily affect perception. People who have taken them may see or hear things that aren't really there, or what they see may be distorted in some way.
Other effects of hallucinogenic drugs include dilation of pupils, loss of appetite, increased activity, talking or laughing, a sense of emotional and psychological euphoria and wellbeing, jaw clenching, sweating, panic, paranoia, loss of contact with reality, irrational or bizarre behaviour, stomach cramps and nausea.
- ketamine, or "K" , "Special K"
- LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), or "trips", "acid", "microdots"
- magic mushrooms (psilocybin), or "gold tops", "mushies"
- mescaline (peyote cactus)
- PCP, or "angel dust".
Cannabis is a depressant as well as a hallucinogen. Ecstasy can also have hallucinogenic qualities.
Based on responses to the 2004 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, 38% of the Australian population aged 14 years and over had used any illicit drug at least once in their lifetime and 15% had used any illicit drug at least once in the previous 12 months. In 2004, the five most common illicit drugs ever used were marijuana/cannabis (34%), meth/amphetamines (9%), hallucinogens, ecstasy (both 8%), and pain-killers/analgesics for non-medical purposes (6%).
The average age of first use of illicit drugs ranged from 18.6 years for inhalants, to 25.2 years for tranquillisers/sleeping pills and steroids for non-medical purposes. The average age of initiation was 18.7 years for marijuana/cannabis, 20.8 years for meth/amphetamines and 22.8 years for ecstasy.Who does it affect?
Illicit drugs can affect users and their lives in a number of ways. These can include:Family/relationship problems
: Drug use may lead to conflict with family or friends. Family and friends may be very frustrated and concerned when they are manipulated or pressured for money or possessions, or when the person using drugs fails or refuses to recognise their drug use is causing problems.Work/school problems
: Drug users may take increased sick days and be unable to work properly.Accidents
: Drug use may affect a person's ability to respond appropriately to a given situation, their ability to think clearly and to maintain attention, and may cause physical symptoms such as blurred vision, cramps, and nausea. Such effects can increase the risks of car accidents, drownings, and reduce the ability to be able to safely cross roads.Legal problems
: Each state has laws governing the manufacture, possession, distribution and use of drugs. The four main types of offences related to illegal drugs are: use, possession, cultivation and trafficking of drugs. Drug use may also lead to other legal concerns such as crimes committed in order to raise sufficient money to support ongoing drug use, and violent assaults.Financial problems
: The cost of maintaining ongoing drug use may mean that there is not enough money left to pay for a range of goods and services. This may include regular bills, food and clothing, and other purchases that may increase a person's quality of life, such as entertainment and leisure.Health problems
: Tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs can all have serious health effects if used over a long period of time. Lifestyle changes such as poor eating habits and inadequate sleep can increase the chances of experiencing a variety of health complications. People who inject drugs are at risk of contracting hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV (the virus that causes AIDS).Sexual problems
: Certain types of drugs may lead a person to feel sexually aroused, but can actually reduce their ability to perform sexually.Where is it happening?
It is happening in all walks of life in Australia. Illicit drugs users can be both young and old, working and upper class, as well as city and country residents. Why is it happening?
Illicit drug use can be influenced by a number of factors. Most people use drugs to change how they feel because they want to feel better or different. They use drugs for the perceived benefits, or the benefits experienced, not for the potential harm.
People use drugs to relax, have fun, to be part of a group, out of curiosity, and to escape from physical and/or psychological pain. Many of the reasons young people use drugs are the same reasons adults use drugs.
A major reason why this is happening is that users can become dependent on the substance they are abusing. Degrees of dependency, from mild dependency to compulsive drug use (often referred to as addiction). The length and frequency of drug use before a person becomes dependent varies depending on the substance.
Dependence can be psychological, physical, or both.
People who are psychologically dependent on a drug feel compelled in certain, or in a number of different, situations to use a drug in order to function effectively, or to achieve emotional satisfaction.
Physical dependence is when a person's body adapts to a drug and becomes used to functioning with the drug present.
If a physically and/or psychologically dependent person suddenly stops taking the drug, they may experience withdrawal symptoms as their body readjusts to functioning without the drug. Withdrawal symptoms are different for different types of drugs and for each person. There are numerous types of withdrawal symptoms that may be experienced, such as depression, irritability, cramps, nausea, sweating and sleeping problems.
People who are physically dependent on a drug usually develop a tolerance to the drug. This means that they need to take more and more of the drug to get the same effect.How do I know this?
Australian Drug Foundation, http://www.adf.org.au
Australian Institute of Criminology 2006, ‘Trends in illicit drug use in Australia’ Crime facts info
no. 121, 26 Apr, http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/cfi/cfi121.html
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2005, Statistics on Drug Use in Australia 2004
, 29 July, http://www.aihw.gov.au/publications/index.cfm/titl...
Centre for Youth Drug Studies, http://www.cyds.adf.org.au/
National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University: http://www.ndri.curtin.edu.au/
Reach Out!, http://www.reachout.com.auAffected by this issue yourself or know someone who is? Check out our sister site http://www.reachout.com.au/