NIDA staffers responded to 1,300 questions about drug abuse and addiction during the Institute's second annual Chat Day. Students and teachers from 100 schools in 23 states sent 11,000 queries from classroom computers. Nearly 40 NIDA scientists and science communicators responded to the queries during the day-long program. Although the sheer number of inquiries prevented personal replies to every questioner, the NIDA team's answers covered the issues that students asked about most often.
"Reaching people in their teen years with accurate information is one of the most important addiction-prevention efforts we can make," says NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow, who was one of the scientists responding to questions. "The unexpectedly high volume of questions underscores how much teens—and their teachers—want to learn real facts about drug use."
The queries covered a wide range of substances, including alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, prescription medications, inhalants, steroids, heroin, LSD, over-the-counter medications, and lesser known substances like hallucinogenic mushrooms and salvia, a psychoactive herb. Some sample exchanges:
Q: What makes drugs addictive?
A: Drugs are addictive because they affect parts of the brain that are involved in feelings of pleasure (drugs increase the chemical dopamine in the reward system). When something activates the reward system it makes you want to do it again and again. But there's a catch—when you take drugs repeatedly, the brain changes. The reward system becomes less sensitive so you need more of a drug to feel good, and those things in your life that used to feel good—like eating an ice cream sundae, listening to music, hanging out with friends—lose their ability to give you pleasure. Ultimately, it all backfires, and drugs become the main motivating force in your life in an attempt to try and feel normal.
Q: What is the strongest/most dangerous drug?
A: Opiates such as heroin or prescription painkillers can cause a person to stop breathing. Cocaine can cause seizures, mental problems like anxiety and psychosis (losing touch with reality), and problems with your heart. Drugs can even cause your heart to stop beating. Methamphetamine can cause strokes, heart disease, and problems with thinking. PCP can cause people to stop breathing and can cause psychosis.
Q: My boyfriend tells me if I do weed, then he won't leave me. I love him, but I don't want to do it. I guess you can say that if he wants me to do that, then he's not being a good boyfriend.
A: You'll have to decide for yourself whether your boyfriend is good for you or not. But... good for you for knowing that marijuana, besides being illegal, is a health hazard. There are many negative effects of smoking marijuana. It can cause loss of coordination and affect memory, judgment, and perception. Under the influence of marijuana, you could fail to remember things you just learned, watch your grade-point average drop, or crash a car. Some people may suffer sudden feelings of anxiety and have paranoid thoughts, which is more likely to happen when higher doses are used or when it is taken orally. It's difficult to tell what the effects of marijuana will be because they vary based on the person, their drug history, how much marijuana is taken, and its strength.
Many students asked about the effects of using drugs or alcohol during pregnancy, how they could get help for a friend or family member, and whether addiction could be inherited. To read the Chat Day transcript and find answers to frequently asked questions, see drugfactsweek.drugabuse.gov/chat/.