This article talks about:
This resource can help you:
This article talks about:
This resource can help you:
Thank you [Kids Help Phone responder] for not judging me, allowing me to speak and be heard. I feel less upset than when I texted and appreciate everything you did. - On speaking with Kids Help Phone crisis responders
In addition to resources like this one, Kids Help Phone and Homewood Health also offer 24/7 confidential counselling at no cost.
If you'd like to speak to somebody, you can call or text the numbers below:
📞 Phone. Call 1-866-585-0445 (Adults) or 1-888-668-6810 (Youth) to speak with a counsellor.
📱 Text (SMS). Text WELLNESS to 741741 (Adult) or 686868 (Youth) to connect with a trained volunteer crisis responder for support.
However, If you’re interested in finding more resources like this one, including self-guided courses, webinars, peer-to-peer support groups, live counselling, mindfulness meditations, and more, you can create an account for free. You’ll also be able to complete a wellness assessment and track your progress towards your wellness goals.
Many people will use substances (e.g. caffeine, prescription medication, alcohol, etc.) over the course of their lifetime without any problems. Substance use becomes a problem when it starts to have harmful effects on a person’s life (e.g. difficulties at school or at home, negative impacts on mental and/or physical health, etc.).
All substances can affect the body and the brain, both in the moment and in the long term. Some substances have higher risks and more dangerous impacts than others. It’s important to know all the facts about a substance — including the risks — before you use it.
Here are some examples of substances people may use:
tobacco and nicotine (in things like cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vapes, hookah, etc.)
cannabis (also known as marijuana, weed or pot)
stimulants (e.g. cocaine, meth, etc.)
opiates (e.g. heroin, oxys, fentanyl, etc.)
sedatives (e.g. prescription drugs such as Ativan, Valium, Xanax, etc.)
hallucinogens (e.g. LSD, magic mushrooms, etc.)
inhalants (e.g. glue, gasoline, etc.)
People use substances for a variety of reasons. Some may use substances out of curiosity, or because they’re influenced by their friends, family and/or peers.
All substances have mood-altering effects, and some can stimulate the brain to “feel good” — at least temporarily. Some people use substances to cope with difficult feelings (e.g. sadness, anxiety, anger, etc.) or when stress becomes more than they know how to handle.
Young people’s brains are still developing into their twenties, which means the “judgment” part of the brain is still growing. A young person’s brain can have difficulty knowing how much is “too much,” knowing when to stop and fully understanding all the risks of long-term substance use (e.g. impacts to internal organs, brain function, attention span, memory, etc.).
If a person uses a substance often, it can cause chemical changes in their brain and body, which can make it difficult to stop using. For example, many drugs make people “feel good” because they encourage the brain to overproduce a naturally occurring chemical called dopamine. Eating, exercising, meditating and listening to music are some activities that produce dopamine. When dopamine is released, a person may experience feelings of euphoria, happiness and pleasure. When a person’s dopamine level drops (e.g. when they stop using the drug, when their body learns to tolerate the drug, etc.) they may not have those same good feelings, partly because their brain has lost some of its ability to produce dopamine naturally. This means they may want to continue using the drug in order to experience those good feelings again, and/or to mask any not-so-good feelings (e.g. sadness, anxiety, anger, etc.) they may be dealing with.
Struggling with substance use can be difficult, and completely stopping use is not easy. Withdrawal refers to the physical and emotional symptoms that a person experiences when they drastically reduce their substance use or completely stop using substances (going “cold turkey”). Signs and symptoms of withdrawal can include anything from mild discomfort (such as a headache) to seizures. Some of the effects of withdrawal can be fatal.
“Addiction” is a common term used to describe when a behaviour is out of control, usually in a harmful way. The meaning of addiction may vary by person or culture. When it comes to the risks and harms of substance use, we prefer to use the terms “problematic substance use” or “substance use problem,” which describe the use of a substance over time that causes negative effects (e.g. adverse physical, emotional and/or social impacts).
The presence of one or more of these factors can be a sign of a substance use problem:
craving a substance (feeling like you have to have it)
feeling out of control of how much or how often you use a substance
feeling a compulsion (urge) to use a substance
using a substance despite negative effects
The risks and harms of substance use can range from mild to severe. They may also vary depending on the substance. These harms may include:
missing school and/or work because of substance use
having tried cutting down or stopping unsuccessfully
needing a substance to have fun
lying about or hiding substance use from friends/family
not being able to just have one drink (hit, dose, etc.) or persistent “binging” (using a lot at one time)
building an increased tolerance to the substance; gradually needing more and more of it to get the same feeling
spending a lot of time planning how you will get and use the substance
avoiding situations or activities where no substances will be present
repeated behaviour while under the influence of a substance that could cause harm to you or others (e.g. illegal activity, unsafe sex, etc.)
There are factors that can help protect a young person from developing a substance use problem. They include:
having a positive role model or mentor, like a parent/caregiver, teacher or coach
having parents or other caregivers regularly available to them
feeling a strong sense of connection to their family, school or community
having goals and dreams for the future
participating in extracurricular activities, such as clubs, sports teams or volunteer work
There are physical, emotional and social risks associated with substance use. Here are some examples:
an overdose can cause serious and sudden physical or mental damage, or even death
alcohol can cause liver damage
people who inject substances with used needles can get viral infections such as hepatitis or HIV-AIDS
substance use during pregnancy can harm the fetus
people who use illegally obtained substances can’t know for sure what they’re taking (e.g. some drugs mixed with other drugs/chemicals can be harmful, etc.)
driving under the influence (i.e. while drunk or high) can affect a person’s attention, reaction time and ability to judge distances, which can increase the risk of death or injury to you or others
some substances can affect co-ordination, the senses, memory and judgment, which can lead to safety risks (like stumbling into traffic)
substance use can get in the way of developing and using healthier coping strategies to deal with difficult feelings (e.g. sadness, anxiety, anger, etc.)
substance use can sometimes make emotional difficulties worse in the long run, and can be especially harmful to young people at risk of developing mental disorders (e.g. depression, psychosis, etc.)
some substances can cause short-term confusion, anxiety or mental disturbances, learning problems and/or memory loss
substance use may cause stress on a person’s relationships and increase the likelihood of conflict (e.g. with parents/caregivers, partners, friends, teachers, etc.)
substance use can interfere with a person’s ability to function at their best at school and/or work
because some substances are obtained illegally, substance use can be associated with violence and crime
substance-related convictions may result in a fine, prison sentence and criminal record. Having a criminal record may affect future convictions, jobs and travel.
If you choose to use substances, it’s important to have all the facts. If you’re concerned that you or someone you know has a substance use problem, you can search Resources Around Me for support services in your area. If you have questions about substance use, you can always call a Kids Help Phone counsellor at 1-800-668-6868.
Want more resources like this? You can consult Kids Help Phone’s self-reflection resources here.