Module 6: how drugs work: learner's workbook

6.2 How drugs affect young people differently

Page last updated: 2004

Age is one of the factors that determine how a drug will affect a user.

Drugs can affect young people differently for many reasons. For example:

  • Having less experience with a drug means a person is less likely to have developed a tolerance for it. The drug will have therefore have a greater effect.

  • The social context (e.g. excitement at a party) in which young people take drugs has an influence.

  • Since the brain continues to develop until a young person reaches approximately 18 years of age, they can be more vulnerable to the harmful effects of drugs.
Case study - Natasha and Samantha go to a party


Question - What are some possible reasons why drugs might affect young people differently from adults?

Answer - (Write your answers, then check the possible answers page.)

Case study - Natasha and Samantha go to a party

Natasha is a 16-year-old girl, slightly built and 150cm tall. She went to a party that a friend was hosting and was very excited because Jay, a boy she liked, was going to be there too. She did not have much experience in drinking alcohol and her parents never allowed her to drink alcohol at home.

Arriving at the party at 7 pm, she drank five vodka drinks in the first hour. Later in the evening, Jay turned up to the party with his arm around another girl. Natasha continued to drink three more vodka drinks and by 10 pm she became tearful and verbally abusive towards Jay and others at the party. After vomiting, she fell asleep around 11.30 pm.
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One of Natasha's friends is 16-year-old Samantha with an average build and 170cm tall. She had been to a few parties where alcohol was available and had been tipsy on several occasions. Her parents allow her to drink a glass of wine at dinner time. While she was looking forward to the party, she was quite relaxed about it. Samantha arrived with Natasha and drank three vodka drinks in the first hour, and then slowed down to one drink per hour. By midnight, when people started to leave the party, Samantha was tipsy, but felt good, having danced most of the night.


Using the list below, specify which factors led Natasha to get very drunk and Samantha to just feel tipsy?
  • Total amount of alcohol used
  • Average drinks per hour
  • Body size
  • Mood
  • Other factors


Drugs affect young people in ways that may be different from adults. This may be due to:
  • smaller body size
  • placebo effect
  • lack of experience and judgement
  • lowered tolerance
  • social context (excitement of the party)
  • the brain is still developing
  • peer influence
  • strong expectations.