Alcohol, drugs and sex. Sound like fun? Well, they can be, and often are. But they can also carry risks, especially when they’re mixed together.
Drink and drugs both go hand in hand with socialising. People usually do these things at parties, hanging out with friends, at bars or at clubs. Why? Because drink and drugs can make you feel more relaxed, confident, and less inhibited. When you’re feeling this way in a social situation, it’s more likely that you’ll meet someone you like and want to hook up with – maybe even have sex with. The trouble is, that person may be someone that you wouldn’t have gone near if you’d been sober. Even worse, you might be so drunk or high that you forget (or simply don’t bother) to use a condom, which could lead to unwanted pregnancy, or a sexually transmitted infection (STI) being passed on.
“We had sex at New Year, which was very blurred as we were both extremely drunk… I do remember that we didn’t use anything and I was not on the birth control pill.” – 17 year-old girl
“I got really drunk a couple of weeks ago and ended up having unprotected sex… it is the first time I had sex and I am really worried.” – 17 year-old boy
Do alcohol and drugs make sex better?
A lot of people seem to think this, but in many cases it’s not actually true. Drink and drugs might make you feel less nervous about sex – but then if you need these things to feel comfortable, you’re probably not with the right person, or you may not be ready to start having sex yet.
“My boyfriend wants me to do sex things with him but the only way I can manage is when I get drunk because otherwise I am too scared or embarrassed.” – 16 year-old girl
What’s more, sexual performance can actually diminish after a night out. Alcohol is an anaesthetic. It numbs the genitals’ nerve cells, making it more difficult to reach orgasm. Alcohol can also make it harder for boys to achieve an erection. Drugs can have a similar effect. Some people take drugs like ecstasy (E, MDMA), cocaine (coke, charlie, blow) and amphetamines (speed) to make them more sexually excited, to make them ‘last longer’ in bed, or because they think they will have a more pleasurable orgasm. However these drugs can actually cause erection and orgasm problems. You may hear stories about people having sex for hours while taking drugs, but that’s probably because they can’t reach orgasm – it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re having better sex!
What does alcohol actually do to you?
Alcohol is a depressant. This means that it temporarily slows down your central nervous system (the brain and the spinal cord), which controls your bodily functions, blocking out some of the messages trying to get through to your brain. Your reactions slow down and you may feel more relaxed and less anxious. Keep on drinking and you eventually become intoxicated – i.e. drunk, wasted, hammered, sloshed. At this point people often get blurred vision, slur their speech and become uncoordinated. Sometimes people get friendly, happy and carefree when they’re drunk, at other times they may become aggressive or angry. It depends on their personality, and what situation they’re in. Their ability to react to the world slows down, and this is why people are told not to drink and drive.
Some people find it fun to get a bit drunk and lose their inhibitions once in a while. At the same time, it’s generally harder to make sensible judgements when you’ve been drinking – which is why alcohol is famous for making people say or do things that they later regret!
Because alcohol loosens you up so much, it’s not uncommon for people to run into trouble when they’re drunk, getting into fights or accidents. In the U.S. for example, around 5,000 people under 21 die every year from alcohol-related injuries.3
How about drugs?
Drugs vary greatly in strength and the effect that they can have on you. Some drugs are depressants (like alcohol), and make you drowsy and more relaxed. Marijuana (weed, pot, cannabis) falls into this class. Marijuana is one of the most common drugs used by teens and is often perceived to be relatively safe, but this isn’t necessarily the case. The strains of marijuana available today are generally much stronger than those around during the hippie era of the 60’s and 70’s, which is when the drug gained its reputation as a harmless herb. While smoking a spliff can make you feel more chilled out, it can also induce feelings of anxiety and paranoia, or simply make you feel sick. There’s also increasing evidence linking regular marijuana use to long-term mental health problems such as memory loss and depression in some people.
Other drugs are stimulants. They make you feel more awake and alert, and give you loads of energy. Ecstasy, speed and cocaine are examples of stimulants. These drugs increase your heart rate, body temperature and blood pressure. They can make you feel confident and euphoric. In high doses though, they can make you feel confused or dazed, overheat, have a heart attack or even suffer brain damage.
LSD (acid, trips) and magic mushrooms are examples of another class of drug called hallucinogens. They change your perceptions of reality, and can make you see, hear or feel things that aren’t really happening. These hallucinations might be funny or enjoyable, but they can also be very scary and upsetting. You hear all sorts of stories about people having ‘bad trips’, where they’ve freaked out after taking hallucinogens, and in some cases these bad trips can have long-lasting effects.
Heroin is one of the strongest and most dangerous drugs available. It’s highly addictive and easy to overdose on, which often leads to death. Since heroin is often injected into the body, users risk becoming infected with blood-borne diseases such as HIV if they share needles with other people.
Everyone I know is drinking, taking drugs or having sex…
It might feel as though this is true, but it probably isn’t. Most teens don’t drink, and even a lot of adults choose not to. It’s even less common for people to do most other recreational drugs. As for sex, although a lot of teens brag about losing their virginity young, they’re not always telling the truth: the average global age for first having sex is around 19, and in some countries it’s as high as 23.4 The point is that if you don’t want to drink, take drugs or have sex, then you’re certainly not alone.
“If you only want to try drink, drugs or sex because of peer pressure, then this is totally the wrong reason”
A lot of teens feel pressured into trying alcohol, drugs and sex by their friends, schoolmates and other people of the same age group – their peers. When this happens, it’s called peer pressure. Peer pressure is the pressure that you feel to be like everyone else and fit in. It can be about all kinds of things, from fashion to dating and beyond. It’s not always a bad thing, and it plays a big role in helping to shape our identities, how we talk, act and dress. But peer pressure can also cause people to do things that go against their will or beliefs – and with drink, drugs and sex, this is often what happens.
You might find yourself at a party where everyone’s drinking or taking drugs, and feel like people will think you’re a loser if you don’t join in. Or you might feel like you’re not cool because you’re still a virgin, and so have sex with someone simply because you don’t want to feel like you’re the only person who hasn’t.
“I remember a party with my sister. I was very scared, thinking: I have to drink. These people are so much older. I have to impress them.” – Megan
QUOTE> “When I was in year 9, my friends pressured me into smoking marijuana or “pot”. I really didn’t want to but I thought life is short, and I gave into peer pressure. The first time, I suddenly spaced out and got high. I didn’t know what to do, I wanted to beat people up. I hated it, but I kept on trying it whenever we were at parties.” – Simone
“At 16 I was not ready to lose my virginity, I didn’t have a steady boyfriend, I had little confidence in myself and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. All my friends were having sex. They acted as if losing your virginity was no big deal. It is! Trust me! I now know that I lost my virginity to the WRONG guy! He was a sleaze and I was just another girl to him.” – Fi
At the end of the day, you can be in control. You may have your own reasons for wanting to try drink, drugs or sex, but if you’re only doing these things because of peer pressure, then this is totally the wrong reason. It’s not always easy to say ‘no’, but if the people you’re with are really your friends, they’ll respect your decisions. Stand your ground and do what feels right for you, not anyone else.
“You don’t need to drink just because somebody’s telling you to drink. You have your own ways. That’s what you got to tell them: My way is to stay the way I am, and I don’t want to drink. If they can’t respect that, then you need to leave them.” – Ilton
“One morning, I had a wake up call and decided to not hang around these friends. I knew after this whole experience with pot, I would not give in to peer pressure again. My experience helped me realize what not to do.” – Simone
I’m only having a few drinks. That’s fine, right?
It might be, but you should still be careful. Alcohol tolerance varies greatly between different people, and for some, a few drinks is all it takes to get drunk.
Even if you’re only planning on having a small amount of alcohol, or sticking to soft drinks, you still need to keep your wits about you. It’s possible that someone could spike your drink with ‘date rape’ drugs like Rohypnol or GHB, which take as little as 15 minutes to kick in and can wipe out your memory of what happens in the next eight hours, leaving you open to sexual assault and rape. The most common drug used to spike people’s drinks is actually alcohol. Extra alcohol can be added to people’s drinks without them knowing, or attackers may simply buy someone more and more drinks until they get drunk beyond the point where they know what they’re doing. They might put vodka into someone’s drink for instance, or buy them double measures of spirits when they’ve only asked for singles.
The intention of drink spiking isn’t always sexual assault. Sometimes it might be done as a joke, out of anger or spite, or to rob you. It happens to both boys and girls and is alarmingly common in some countries.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t go out and enjoy yourself; if you take a few simple precautions, you should be OK. Make sure you never leave your drink unattended. If you do have to leave it for a while, give it to a friend that you know and trust. Don’t swap or share drinks and think twice about accepting a drink from someone you don’t know well. If you suddenly start to feel unusually drunk or unwell without knowing why, it’s possible that your drink has been spiked; ask a trustworthy friend to help you and take you home. In the same way, if one of your friends starts acting strangely then keep an eye on them.
Another thing to remember is people who are looking to take advantage of you don’t always have to spike your drink – they may simply wait till you get drunk or high of your own accord. If you are going to drink, the key is not getting so out of your head that you don’t know what you’re doing! If you do think you’re going to get wasted, always make sure that you’re surrounded by trustworthy friends who will look out for you.
I’m going to do drugs, but only once…
It’s human nature to want to experiment once in a while, and in many cases this can be harmless. But it’s worth bearing in mind that there are lots of people out there who say “only once” and end up doing drugs regularly or even getting addicted. No one starts taking drugs with the intention of becoming an addict or using them regularly. It’s always a case of “I’ll just try them” or “I’m just an occasional user”. But often people enjoy the experience so much that they stop thinking about the risks and start using regularly. Before they know it, the drugs have caused changes to the structure and function of their brains, and they feel the urge to keep taking those drugs.
“It hit me like a tidal wave. It was incredible… it was no wonder I wanted to feel that way again soon. Before long I started popping ecstasy every other saturday night… soon I was using every Thursday, Friday and Saturday… All this partying took its toll on me. My body ached from the hours of dancing. My eyes were bloodshot with big, dark circles around them. I was always sick and depressed. I began to hate everything… Now it seemed that even ecstasy couldn’t numb the pain. So I began to move on to other drugs.”
Another thing to remember is that you only have to take some drugs once for them to have a serious effect, or even kill you. There are many cases where people have died after doing drugs like ecstasy, solvents (inhalants) or heroin for the first time.
We’ll fool around, but won’t go all the way with sex…
It can be fine if you and your boyfriend/girlfriend want to experiment with touching one another, or try pleasuring each other without having full on sex. Just remember that oral sex can lead to STIs being passed on if you don’t use a condom, as can anal sex.
Sometimes people make the mistake of thinking that if a couple start having unprotected sex, but stop before the boy ejaculates (comes), then this will prevent pregnancy. This isn’t necessarily true. Before and while he has sex, a boy’s penis releases a lubricating liquid called pre-come, and this substance can contain sperm. Even if a small amount of this substance gets inside the vagina, it can be enough to make a girl pregnant.
If you use a condom when necessary then, in most cases, you should be fine.
The final word
We’re not going to tell you that you shouldn’t drink, take drugs, or have sex, and equally we’re not going to encourage you to do these things – it’s ultimately up to you to assess the risks and make decisions in the context of your own life. What we will say that is that if you are going to drink, take drugs or have sex, be aware of the problems they can cause and take measures to minimise the risks to yourself and those around you.
- If you’re going to drink, do it responsibly and make sure you’re around people you can trust.
- If you’re going to do drugs, the same applies, and you should also make sure that you know the score about what you’re taking.
- With sex, make sure that you use a condom to prevent STIs and pregnancy, or if you’re with a regular partner who you’re certain doesn’t have an STI, other birth control methods that can prevent pregnancy.
- Keep in mind the law. Almost all recreational drugs are illegal, and they usually carry heavy penalties. The legal drinking age varies between countries but is generally at least 18, and 21 in some countries, such as the U.S. Laws about sex also differ between countries, so make sure that you know the age of consent.
- Combining drink and drugs with driving is illegal in almost every country and is always a bad idea.
- Don’t let peer pressure dictate your de
cisions. Work out what’s best for you as an individual, and stand up for yourself. If you don’t want to drink, take drugs or have sex, then that’s perfectly fine, and you shouldn’t let anyone tell you differently.