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A bag of blue meth (stock image)

The Drug Facts Grid

Photos and descriptions of selected drugs of concern on Cape Cod. What do they look like and what do they do to you.

Here are some important facts to help you make informed decisions about the use of alcohol and drugs.

Alcohol Facts

A. Many people are surprised to learn what counts as a drink. The amount of liquid in your glass, can, or bottle is not necessarily equal to how much alcohol is in your drink. A standard drink is:

  • 12 ounces of beer (about 5% alcohol)
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor – beer with a high alcohol content (about 7% alcohol)
  • 5 ounces of table wine (about 12% alcohol)
  • 1.5 ounces (a “shot”) of liquor, like gin, rum, vodka, tequila, or whiskey (about 40% alcohol)

No level of drinking is safe or legal for anyone under age 21 and can be very dangerous.

A. When teens drink, alcohol affects their brains in the short-term– but repeated drinking can also impact it down the road, especially as their brains grow and develop. See more detail answers below.


  • An intoxicated person has a harder time making good decisions.
  • A person is less aware that his/her behavior may be inappropriate or risky.
  • A person may be more likely to engage in risky behavior, including drinking and driving, sexual activity (like unprotected sex) and aggressive or violent behavior.
  • A person is less likely to recognize potential danger.

A. Adolescents who drink are at a greater risk of a broad range of psychological and physical problems in adulthood. These include:

Alcohol abuse/dependence. Evidence indicates that any drinking during adolescence increases the chance of developing a drinking problem in early adulthood, and the earlier someone starts drinking, the greater the risk.

Depression and other mental illnesses. Young people who suffer from mental illnesses are more likely to use alcohol to help them cope. While alcohol can make people feel better in the short term, heavy drinking can make these problems worse.

Social problems. Abuse of alcohol is associated with dropping out of school, unemployment and social isolation.

Physical health problems. Persistent heavy drinking can produce a range of physical health problems, including liver disease and brain damage.

Marijuana Facts

A. Yes, marijuana can be addictive. A user may feel the urge to smoke marijuana again and again to re-create the “high.” Repeated use could lead to addiction—which means the person has trouble controlling their drug use and often cannot stop even though they want to.

An estimated 30 percent of users may develop some degree of problem use—use that causes problems with a person’s health, school, or other aspects of life, also known as a marijuana use disorder. Such a disorder is called an addiction when the person can’t stop using marijuana even though it gets in the way of daily life. People who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 are 4–7 times more likely than adults to develop a marijuana use disorder.

A. Chemistry. Marijuana’s main psychoactive chemical is delta-9-tetrahydro-cannabinol, commonly known as THC. Due to the variety of strains, potency, and the effects it can produce, marijuana can be categorized as a depressant, a hallucinogen, or a stimulant, making it difficult to predict how individuals may react.

Here are the generally accepted short-term physiological effects of each drug class:

  • Depressants make individuals feel tired, slow, relaxed, unfocused, uncoordinated and unable to think clearly.
  • Hallucinogens may cause abnormal visual or auditory experiences, unusual thoughts, or altered awareness.
  • Stimulants can lead to anxiety, agitation, and increased heart rate.

A. The answer to this question depends on many factors—including their family history (genetics), the age they start using, whether they also use other drugs, their family and friend relationships, and whether they take part in positive activities like school or sports. (environment). More research needs to be done to determine whether people who use marijuana for medical reasons are at the same risk as those who use it recreationally.

Yes, we've created a visual to help convey important information for parents looking for facts and tips on how to talk with their children about marijuana.

Click here to print/view our latest infographic:  "Marijuana Use and Parenting: What You Need to Know".


Rx Medications Facts

A. Prescription drugs are often strong medications, which is why they require a prescription from a medical professional in the first place. When they are misused, they can be just as dangerous as drugs that are made illegally. Even when they are not misused, every medication has some risk for harmful effects, sometimes serious ones. Doctors consider the potential benefits and risks to each patient before prescribing medications and take into account a lot of different factors, described below. People who abuse drugs might not understand how these factors interact and put them at risk.

  • Personal information. Doctors take into account a person's weight, how long they've been prescribed the medication, and what other medications they are taking. Someone misusing prescription drugs may overload their system or put themselves at risk for dangerous drug interactions that can cause seizures, coma, or even death.
  • Form and dose. Doctors know how long it takes for a pill or capsule to dissolve in the stomach, release drugs to the blood, and reach the brain. When misused, prescription drugs may be taken in larger amounts or in ways that change the way the drug works in the body and brain, putting the person at greater risk for an overdose.
    For example, when people misuse OxyContin, a dose that normally works over the course of 12 hours hits the central nervous system all at once. This effect increases the risk for overdose.
  • Side effects. Prescription drugs are designed to treat a specific illness or condition, but they often affect the body in other ways, some of which can be dangerous. These are called side effects. For example, OxyContin stops pain, but it also causes constipation and sleepiness. Stimulants may increase a person’s ability to pay attention, but they also raise blood pressure and heart rate, making the heart work harder. These side effects can be worse when prescription drugs are not taken as prescribed or are misused in combination with other substances—including alcohol, other prescription drugs, and even over-the-counter drugs, such as cold medicines. For instance, some people mix alcohol and depressants, both of which can slow breathing. This combination could stop breathing altogether.

Heroin Facts

A. When heroin enters the brain, it attaches to molecules on cells known as opioid receptors. These receptors are located in many areas of the brain and body, especially areas involved in the perception of pain and pleasure, as well as a part of the brain that regulates breathing.
Short-term effects can last for a few hours, and during this time people feel drowsy, and their heart rate and breathing slow down. When it begins to wears off, people experience a depressed mood and often crave the drug to regain the good feelings.
Regular heroin use changes the functioning of the brain. Using heroin repeatedly can result in:

  • tolerance: more of the drug is needed to achieve the same “high”
  • dependence: the need to continue use of the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms
  • substance use disorder: a devastating brain disease where, without proper treatment, people have trouble stopping using drugs even when they really want to and even after it causes terrible consequences to their health and other parts of their lives. Because of changes to how the brain functions after repeated drug use, people who are addicted crave the drug just to feel “normal.”

Sources: National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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