Catharine Hannay, MA

Catharine Hannay, MA

Catharine Hannay is the founder of MindfulTeachers.org and the author of Being You: A Girl’s Guide to Mindfulness, a workbook for teen girls on mindfulness, compassion, and self-acceptance.

How Are Drugs Impacting My Teen’s Mind and Body?

Is your teen currently in a substance abuse treatment program? Or are you concerned that they may be using drugs? 

One important thing to keep in mind is that many kids use drugs as a way to cope with anxiety, depression, or trauma.

As Dr. Sam Himelstein, the co-founder of Family Spring, explains:

“They don’t understand the negative consequences, or they’ve decided the benefits outweigh the risks […] There’s a big reason kids use drugs, whether they’re conscious of it or not. […] They’re much more likely to follow our advice if they believe that we understand them, rather than just telling them ‘Don’t do drugs.’”

(See: ‘The Five Major Types of Drugs Used by Teens’)


To help you understand and explain to your kid how these substances can impact their mind and body, here’s a brief overview of five commonly-used types of drugs.



This category of drugs includes cocaine, ecstasy, meth, amphetamines and nicotine.

Stimulants increase energy and alertness, increase respiration and heart rate, and raise blood pressure. 

Long-term stimulant abuse can lead to anorexia, increased aggression, and in some cases even paranoia or hallucinations.



Depressants are sometimes referred to as tranquilizers or sedatives. Because they make users feel calm or drowsy, they are prescribed for sleep disorders or anxiety. 

This category of drugs includes alcohol, Xanax and Valium.

Depressants can cause problems in the short-term because they make people feel sleepy and uncoordinated. Long-term, the problem is that the body develops a tolerance to these substances, so you need to take more and more of them in order to have the same effect.



Cannabinoids, including CBD and THC, come from the cannabis plant. They may be used medically to treat pain, anxiety, and certain other conditions. 

Long-term marijuana use can lead to lack of motivation, and smoking or vaping can damage the lungs. There can also be serious consequences if cannabis is used in combination with alcohol or other types of drugs.



Common opioids include heroin, codeine, morphine, OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, and Demerol.

Opioids work to relieve pain by:

  • depressing the central nervous system; 
  • modifying the brain’s natural opioid receptors; and
  • activating a dopamine response, which leads to a feeling of relaxation and euphoria. 

Because of very high risk of addiction, most doctors will only prescribe opioids if a non-opioid medication doesn’t provide sufficient pain relief. 



Taking hallucinogens can change a person’s perceptions of reality. They may see, hear, or feel something that doesn’t really exist, or they may experience a blending of senses (synesthesia).

Hallucinogens include: 

  • Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD):  This drug is not addictive, but it can be very dangerous because the effects are so unpredictable, and can include frightening experiences and psychosis (losing touch with reality). 
  • Psilocybin: This is a mushroom that can be eaten, brewed like tea, or added to other foods. In large doses it might induce panic or psychosis. There is also a danger of poisoning if the mushrooms have been misidentified. 
  • Phencyclidine (PCP): This drug may be snorted, swallowed as a tablet, or smoked (when added to marijuana or an herb like mint or oregano). PCP is addictive and has unpredictable effects. It can impact teens’ growth and development. 


I hope this very brief introduction to common types of drugs has been helpful. If you’re looking for more detailed information on trauma-informed drug treatment and the long-term effects of teen drug use, see ‘The Five Major Types of Drugs Used by Teens’ by Dr. Sam Himelstein at the Center for Adolescent Studies.

You can also find information about these and other types of drugs at the website of the National Institute on Drug Abuse or in the book Drug Information for Teens by Elizabeth Macgill.

And the following posts here at Family Spring will help you understand more about substance abuse treatment and how to help your kid:

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