SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Different types of drugs affect your body in different ways.
- They can have short-term and long-term effects, which can be both physical and psychological.
- Making sure you know the risks and harms associated with alcohol or drug use can help you stay safe and reduce harm.
- Not all drug use leads to dependence. And not everyone who uses drugs or alcohol wants (or needs) help.
On this page
Different types of drugs can affect your body in different ways, and the effects associated with drugs can vary from person to person.
How a drug affects an individual is dependent on:
- body size
- general health
- the amount and strength of the drug
- whether any other drugs have been taken around the same time.
- a person’s mood or the environment they are in.
As illegal drugs are not controlled substances the quality and strength may differ from one batch to another.
Drugs have short-term and long-term effects. These effects can be physical and psychological. Drugs can impact the way you think, feel and act. Making sure you know the risks can help reduce the potential harms you experience.
People use drugs for many reasons, these reasons might include to:
- feel good
- cope with stress, anxiety or feelings of depression
- deal with emotional pain or a history of trauma
- stay awake
- fall asleep
- increase confidence
- enhance social experiences – such as partying
Not all drug use leads to dependence. And not everyone who uses drugs or alcohol wants (or needs) help.
Tolerance and dependence
People who use drugs regularly for a long period of time can develop dependence and tolerance to it. Tolerance means they need to take larger amounts to get the same effect.
Dependence can be psychological, physical, or both. People who are dependent on drugs may find that using the drug becomes more important than other activities in their life.
Remember that there is no safe level of drug use. Be careful when taking any kind of drug.
Different drugs, different effects
Drugs affect the body's central nervous system. They affect how a person thinks, feels and behaves. The seven main types are depressants, psychedelics, stimulants, empathogens, opioids, cannabinoids, and dissociatives.
- Depressants slow down the messages travelling between the brain and the body. They can reduce arousal and stimulation, making a person feel relaxed or drowsy.
- Psychedelics affect all the senses, altering a person’s thinking, sense of time and emotions. They can also cause a person to hallucinate—seeing or hearing things that do not exist or are distorted.
- Stimulants are a class of drugs that speed up messages travelling between the brain and body. They can make a person feel more awake, alert, confident or energetic.
- Empathogens increase a person’s feeling of empathy and kindness towards others, as well as feelings of being socially accepted and connected.
- Opioids include any drug that acts on opioid receptors in the brain, and any natural or synthetic drugs that are made from or related to the opium poppy. Opioids slow heart rate and breathing and provide sensations of pleasure and pain relief.
- Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found in all parts of the cannabis plant. They are responsible for the psychoactive effect when cannabis is consumed. They can make a person feel happy, relaxed, anxious or paranoid.
- Dissociatives (also referred to as 'dissociative anaesthetics') can cause people to feel separated or detached from reality. They can also cause hallucinations or other changes in thoughts, emotions and consciousness.
Risk factors for drug-related harm
The effects of a drug, and how long they last, depend on a number of factors:
- the type and strength
- how the drug was made
- your height, weight, age, and metabolism
- the amount you take
- how often or how long you have used the drug
- how the drug is taken (orally, snorting or injecting). Compared with swallowing, snorting and injecting are more likely to lead to overdose. If injecting drugs, there is an increased risk of tetanus, infection and vein damage. If sharing injecting equipment there is an increased risk of hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS.
Using drugs may increase the risk of experiencing mental health issues for people with a history or family history of these conditions.
Mixing drugs − including over-the-counter or prescribed medications − can be unpredictable and dangerous.
Harms from drug use
Drug use can affect short- and long-term health , including physical and mental health.
People may experience some of the following:
- Taking part in risky behaviours such as drink driving or unprotected sex
- Changes in behaviour such as mood swings or increased aggression toward others
- Impacts on sleep or experiencing insomnia
- Cognitive/memory problems
- Reduced appetite or not eating a balanced diet
- Regular colds and flu
- Long term health impacts such as liver, kidney and heart problems or cancer (depending on the type of drug used and how frequently it was used)
- Dental health problems (cavities and gum disease)
- Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression
- Infectious disease from shared injecting equipment
- Damage to veins from unsafe injecting practices
- Financial, work or social problems.
Effects of common drugs
Cannabis (hash, pot, dope, weed, grass, skunk, marijuana)
- may cause relaxation and altered perception
- can lead to increased heart rate and blood pressure
- can make you feel relaxed and happy, but can also cause lethargy, anxiety, paranoia, and psychosis in extreme cases. A history or family history of mental illness may increase the possibility of more extreme psychotic reactions
- is linked to mental health problems such as schizophrenia and, when smoked, to lung diseases such as asthma, chronic bronchitis and lung, throat, mouth and tongue cancer
- affects how your brain works. Regular use can make it hard for you to concentrate, learn and retain information
- reduces your fertility
- when mixed with tobacco, is likely to increase the risk of heart disease and lung cancer.
Cocaine (powder cocaine, coke, blow, Charlie, crack)
- gives you increased energy
- makes you feel happy, awake, confident and less inhibited, but has a nasty 'come down' that makes you feel depressed and unwell. (Using depressant drugs to help with the severity of come downs can increase the chances of the development of negative cycles of dependence.)
- can overstimulate the heart and nervous system and lead to a seizure, brain haemorrhage, stroke or heart attack (people have died from cocaine-induced heart failure)
- reduces your pain perception and may result in injury
- carries greater risk if mixed with alcohol or other stimulants, especially if you have high blood pressure or if you have an existing heart condition
- can harm your baby during pregnancy, and may cause miscarriage
- can increase the risk of mental health issues such a s anxiety, paranoia and psychosis
- if snorted, can cause damage to the lining of the nasal passage and nose
- if injected, can cause vein collapse and increased risk of HIV and hepatitis infection.
Mephedrone (meow meow, m-cat, plant food, bubble, meph)
- can induce feelings of happiness, euphoria and confidence, but can also cause anxiety and paranoia
- causes vomiting, sweating and headaches in some people
- can overstimulate your heart and nervous system
- can cause periods of insomnia
- can lead to fits and agitation and hallucinatory states
- if used in large amounts, can cause tingling of the hands and feet, seizure and respiratory failure
- has been linked to a number of deaths
- if injected, can cause vein collapse and increases the risk of HIV and hepatitis infection.
Ecstasy (MDMA, pills, E, eckies)
- can make you feel alert, warm and chatty
- can make sounds and colours seem more intense
- may cause anxiety, confusion, paranoia and even psychosis
- is linked (in cases of long-term use) to memory loss, depression and anxiety
- can lead to overheating and dehydration
- tends to stop your body producing enough urine, so your body retains fluid.
Speed (amphetamine, billy, whizz)
- can make you feel alert, confident and energetic
- can reduce appetite
- may make you agitated and aggressive
- may cause confusion, paranoia and even psychosis
- can make you very depressed and lethargic for hours or days, when used a lot
- can cause high blood pressure and heart attacks
- is more risky if mixed with alcohol, or if you have blood pressure or heart problems
- puts you at risk of overdose, vein and tissue damage, and infectious disease (such as hepatitis C and HIV), if you inject speed.
Ice (crystal meth, shabu, crystal, glass, shard, P):
- may create feelings of pleasure and confidence
- can make you feel alert and energetic
- can cause you to repeat simple things like itching and scratching
- can cause enlarged or dilated pupils and a dry mouth
- may make you grind your teeth
- can cause excessive sweat
- can increase your heart rate and breathing
- may reduce your appetite
- may increase your sex drive
- puts you at risk of infectious diseases (such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV) if you inject it
- can damage your nasal passages and cause nose bleeds if you snort it.
The Alcohol and Drug Foundation has a list of drugs and their effects.
Effects of a 'come down'
If you are planning on taking drugs and alcohol, it's likely you’ll experience a come down afterwards.
Comedowns don’t last forever but they can feel unpleasant.
How long it lasts depends on the type of drug, it’s strength and the amount you took along with your general health.
Common effects are:
- feeling anxious, depressed or irritable
- lack of appetite
- sleepy or unable to sleep.
To help reduce the effects of a comedown you can:
- avoid using again straight away
- eat some healthy food to recover and restore energy
- stay hydrated
- rest as much as you can – your body and brain need time to heal
- get some fresh air
- be kind to yourself – avoid people or places that stress you out, and do things that make you feel good like a hot bath or listening to music.
Where to get help
- Alcohol and Drug Foundation Tel. 1300 85 85 84 – for confidential information and advice, and to get connected with relevant services in your state and territory
- DirectLine Tel. 1800 888 236 ‒ to speak to a confidential telephone counsellor about any drug issue and referral to treatment services
- ReachOut NextStep ‒ an anonymous online tool that recommends relevant support options based on the help that you want
- Drug facts, Alcohol and Drug Foundation, Australia.
- The effects of drugs, NHS Choices, UK.
- Drug use and your health, 2013. MyHealth.Alberta.ca.
- Drug help, Department of Health, Australian Government.
- Withdrawal, Alcohol and Drug Foundation, Australia.