What are drugs?

Drugs are illegal substances people take to alter the way they think or feel. At some stage in your life, you may know someone who takes drugs. That someone could even be you.

Drugs are common in Australia, which is why it’s important to be informed and understand different types of drugs, their effects, and the risks. Understanding why people use drugs, where you can get help, and how to say ‘no’ is a huge part of partying safely.

Important: if you do decide to take drugs, it should always be your choice. Don’t let anyone pressure you into doing anything you are not comfortable with.

What kind of drugs are there?

There are three main kinds of drugs: uppers, downers, and all rounders.


These types of drugs are stimulants. Uppers include cocaine, amphetamines, speed, mephedrone and meth/ICE.

Stimulants affect and speed up our bodies most basic functions, such as body temperature, heart rate, and breathing. It may also decrease feelings of hunger and thirst, which is why dehydration is a very common side-effect of these drugs. 

For some people, “uppers” can temporarily increase energy, confidence and alertness, while others may experience aggressiveness, increased anxiety or restlessness. “Uppers” also affect our brain’s pleasure receptors, which is why these drugs can be really harmful and addictive. 


These types of drugs are depressants. Downers include alcohol, heroin, GHB, and highly addictive prescription drugs like Valium, Xanax, Oxycontin and Ketamine.

Like uppers, downers affect our basic body functions, but instead of speeding up our biological processes, downers slow them down a lot — some functions may even stop. This is why people on depressants experience ‘sedation’ (or calmness); muscle relaxation and drowsiness; and may have little control over their emotions and actions. 

All rounders

These drugs can be either stimulants or depressants but they are in this category, because they are all hallucinogens, also known as ‘psychedelics’.

All-rounders alter a person’s perception of reality by affecting the part of the brain that detects senses such as sight, sound and touch. When this section of the brain is mixed up people can see or hear things (hallucinations). Their reasoning and judgement skills are often affected too. All-rounders include: marijuana, MDMA (ecstasy), mushrooms and Acid/LSD.

Have a look around this site to find out all the street names for different drugs, so you know what you are being offered.

What are some ways to say ‘no’ to drugs?

Plucking up the courage to say no to using drugs can be really hard, especially if it’s your friends who are using and offering. After all, wanting to belong to the group is a totally normal part of being a human being!

If you find you are being pressured by friends or family to try drugs and you don’t want to, here are some tips on how to say no:

Just say ‘no’

While it sounds simple, saying ‘no’ can be really difficult. But more often than not, telling the truth and sticking to it is the best way of getting out of this situation. Remember, it’s pretty hard to argue with someone who says ‘No, I don’t want to.’  Try telling them, “Not tonight, thanks” or “I’m not in the mood.” 

If you make up an excuse, people can often use it to add more pressure and may try even harder to convince you.

If saying ‘no’ isn’t working: avoid the situation

If you have said no and the person trying to convince you to take drugs is being pushy, it can be a good idea to remove yourself. Go and talk with some other friends, have a dance or if you are feeling a bit over it, call a taxi and head home to your comfy bed!Another way to avoid situations where you feel pressured to take drugs is to hang around with friends who share your values. Becoming friends with people who share similar interests as you may help you avoid situations where you may feel pressured into doing things you don’t want to.

Remember: true friends respect and accept your decisions.

An image of various colourful pills
Thinking about taking drugs? Read this first.
Drugs affect everyone differently

Just because one person is having a good high doesn’t guarantee that you will. The effect depends on many things including, your body type; your mental state; the source of the drug; drug purity (how strong it is); the amount of drugs taken; and the way it is consumed.

Drugs are illegal

This is pretty obvious but important to remember — illicit drugs are illegal and you can face tough punishments for using, carrying and selling.

Drugs + alcohol = big risk

Do not take drugs if you are drinking alcohol or taking any medication as they can mix together and have very serious effects on your health.

Feeling down? Drugs aren’t the answer

Don’t take drugs if you are feeling upset, angry or sad, as drugs may cause these feelings to grow stronger. There are much healthier ways to help yourself when you are feeling like this. Beyond Blue has some great info on how you work through issues, without relying on drugs or alcohol.

How do you know your drugs are actually what you think they are?

Short answer: you don’t. Unless you go to a drug testing clinic (currently only available in Canberra) you can’t know for sure what is in the drug you are taking. 

Drug dealers may lie and say a drug is a certain substance, like ecstasy pills or cocaine. In reality, they may have mixed the drugs with other harmful synthetic substances (like bath salts) to further their product and increase their profits. 

If you do choose to use a specific drug, be informed of the risks. Tell a friend know what you have taken, so that if anything goes wrong they can tell the doctor or ambulance workers, if you are unable to.

If something does go wrong, always call 000 for an ambulance. Paramedics will not get the police involved or get you into trouble. They are only there to help. 

Learn more
  • Get the Effects by Text 0439 TELL ME — SMS the name of any drug and they will send you a message back with the drugs details and effects. Standard network costs apply, messages received are free.
Where to get help

If drugs are affecting your life, talk to someone you trust about it. 

  • Talk to a parent, teacher or school counsellor
  • Speak to a counsellor on the phone or online at eheadspace
  • Call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015 for confidential addiction support

Need someone to talk to? Free, confidential support is available.

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