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What is a drug?

A drug is any substance that, when taken or administered into the body has a physiological effect.

A psychoactive or psychotropic drug affects mental processes and can influence mood, behavior, cognition and perception.

Why do people use drugs?

People use drugs for many reasons; to relax, for enjoyment, to be part of a group, out of curiosity, as a coping mechanism or to minimize physical and/or psychological pain and trauma.

They use drugs for the benefits (perceived and/or experienced), not for the potential harm. This applies to both legal and illegal drugs.

Types of drug use 

These are some of the different categories of drug use. People may use drugs in one or several categories, and one stage will not inevitably lead to another.

Experimental use: a person tries a drug once or twice out of curiosity.

Recreational use: a person chooses to use a drug for enjoyment, particularly to enhance a mood or social occasion.

Situational use: a drug is used to cope with the demands of particular situations.

Intensive use or ‘bingeing’: a person consumes a heavy amount of drugs over a short period of time, and/or uses continuously over a number of days or weeks.

Dependent use: a person becomes dependent on a drug after prolonged or heavy use over time. They feel a need to take the drug consistently in order to feel normal or to avoid uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Preventing and reducing harms

Many Australians take at least one psychoactive drug on a regular basis—they might take medication (i.e. over-the-counter or via a prescription), drink alcohol, smoke tobacco or use an illegal drug. All drugs have the potential to cause harm. As use increases, so does the potential for harm.

Australia’s national drug policy is based on harm minimisation. Strategies to minimise harm include encouraging people to avoid using a drug, through to helping people to reduce the risk of harm if they do use a drug. It aims to reduce all types of drug-related harm to both the individual and the community.