Need help now? Call our 24/7 confidential hotline:800-923-9141

Types of Common Drugs and Their Effects

Want to Help Seniors?

Please help us grow our network by volunteering for support groups.

Types of addictive drugs

Drugs are defined as any substance which enters the body and causes a physiological response. Typical responses include alteration of physical and mental behavior. The term itself does not have negative connotations, as it refers to medicinal substances.

However, because medical substances, as well as others, can be abused to create desired highs and physiological alterations not approved of by doctors, the term has been commonly used to describe addictive substances.

Common Types of Drugs

There are hundreds of kinds of drugs available to users. These drugs are created and sold illegally, but many commonly abused drugs are available on an over-the-counter basis, including certain pain relievers found in common cold medicine. Some of the more popularly abused drugs include:

  • Alcohol
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Cannabis
  • Depressants
  • Hallucinogens
  • Illegal or Illicit Drugs
  • Opiates
  • Sleeping Pills
  • Stimulants


Alcohol is a liquid produced from the fermentation of plants and fruits. Consumption of alcohol results in intoxication. Intoxication happens when ethanol enters the bloodstream through the consumption of alcohol. When ethanol reaches the brain and binds with glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid, which causes slowed reactions and depressive symptoms. These symptoms are part of the science behind addiction.

Alcohol is commonly abused due to its availability and legality as a controlled substance. Enjoyed in moderation, consumption of alcohol does not indicate an addiction. However, if consumed in excess daily, it can indicate a psychologically-based addiction.

Typically, a male alcoholic will drink more than four alcoholic beverages per day, whereas a female alcoholic will drink more than three per day. Take note that occasional drinking in excess does not necessarily indicate alcohol use disorder, however, more than occasional or daily excess drinking could.

It is possible to be addicted to any alcohol, including beer and wine. Although hard alcohol produces a faster intoxication due to its higher alcohol content, beer and wine if consumed in high enough quantities can be just as intoxicating. Studies have shown different types of alcohol produce different addictive side effects. Gender use in advertisements also has an impact on who uses types of alcohol. Women, for instance, are more likely to be addicted to wine because of the way it is marketed.

Alcohol Addiction – Symptoms and Signs

Despite the popular portrayal of alcohol addiction in media, this addiction is nuanced and has many different underlying symptoms and signs. Abuse of this substance is generalized as behavior that negatively affects the user.

Addicts can exhibit symptoms as mild as very bad hangovers or as severe as hospitalization due to an accident and/or alcohol’s impact on the body. For most addicts, alcoholism will show up as binge drinking or heavy alcohol use in their early twenties.

Signs of early alcohol addiction include poor coordination, poor judgment, headaches, blackouts, nausea, disorientation, consistent intoxication, incoherent words or conversations, bloodshot eyes, and an increased intake of alcohol.

Later alcohol addiction symptoms include anemia, cardiovascular disease, cirrhosis, depression, dementia, gout, high blood pressure, and pancreatitis. It is important to combat alcohol addiction in the early stages to avoid any of the more severe problems encountered in the advanced stages of alcoholism.


Once a problem with alcohol has been identified it is time to put a stop to it and begin the detox period. Unfortunately, the alcohol addicted experience withdrawal symptoms as any other substance abuse sufferer might experience. Alcohol addiction withdrawals can be fatal if not supervised by a medical professional.

Getting a loved one or friend into a medical center to supervise the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal is critical. These symptoms include anxiety (often severe) disorientation, hallucinations, headache, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, nausea, seizures, sweating, tremors, and vomiting.

Treatment and Rehabilitation

Although many opt to treat alcoholism from home, the rates of successful treatment and rehabilitation increase when supervised by a medical team.

Having a good support system can increase a patient’s motivation and willingness to change, which can ultimately make or break the outcome of their rehabilitation. Almost all treatments start with a supervised detox and then some form of counseling.

For those who are very motivated to overcome addiction, outpatient alcohol counseling involves continued meetings with a rehabilitation counselor to discuss triggers and psychological factors behind the healing process.

Many opt for inpatient rehabilitation, however, which involves committing the alcoholic to a treatment center for 30-90 days. There, the focus solely on building up healthy life habits and combatting relapse. Alcohol addiction treatment requires continued maintenance to be successful.

Alcohol Addiction Assessment

If a person notices common signs of alcoholism in someone they know, they are encouraged to refer that person to a doctor for an alcohol addiction assessment.

This assessment will determine if the suspected person is suffering from addiction and what stage of alcoholism they are at. Additionally, it will better help medical professionals treat any of the subsequent symptoms of addiction.

Alcoholism and Genetics

Genetic predisposition to alcoholism is possible according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Genes exist that both increase and decrease offspring risk for alcoholism, which leads to the statistic that genes equate to approximately 50% of risk factors for becoming an alcoholic.

Environmental factors can also influence the rate of alcoholism in families, so children of alcoholics should take caution and drink in moderation, but do not necessarily need to avoid alcohol entirely unless their doctor suggests otherwise.


Benzodiazepines are pharmaceuticals prescribed to treat psychological and physical issues like anxiety, alcohol withdrawal, sleeplessness, muscle tenseness and pain, seizures, and panic disorders.

Unofficially they are known as Benzos. Benzos are not usually prescribed as long-term solutions to problems unless necessary, as the body eventually builds up a tolerance to them. Abuse of benzos also usually results in the abuse of other mind-altering substances.

Euphoria and relaxation are the most commonly described highs that happen as a result of Benzo abuse. Because of the buildup intolerance, this high eventually gets less and less, and users seek alternative ways to obtain that high.

Most often, these are mixed with substances that impact the central nervous system. Many who are addicted to this drug take them with alcohol to heighten the effect. Doing this can result in overdose and death, so it is especially important for those suspected of a benzodiazepine addiction to seek help right away.

Types of Common Benzodiazepines


Prescribed as Xanax and Niravam, this benzo is used to treat a variety of psychological disorders. Most commonly treated issues include anxiety and panic disorders.


This is prescribed as Librax and is used to treat anxiety as well as the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.


Lennox-Gastaut syndrome is a severe form of epilepsy which is rare and occurs in early childhood. Clobazam, also known as Onfi, is used to treat it.


Also known as Klonopin, this benzo is used to treat a variety of neurological disorders that impact both the mind and the body. Commonly treated disorders include seizures, nerve pain, and anxiety.


Used to treat both psychological and physical issues, this drug is also known as Traxene. It treats alcohol withdrawal, partial seizures, and anxiety.


One of the most abused benzos, diazepam is commonly known as Valium. It treats medical issues ranging from anxiety to muscle and seizure issues.


ProSom, its prescribed name, is most often used for short-term relief from insomnia.


Known as Dalmane, this substance is used to treat short-term insomnia.


Widely known as Ativan, Lorazepam is used to treat both psychological and physical issues including anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. It is also used for medical sedation.


This is used most commonly for preoperative sedation and anesthesia, though is sometimes also used as a seizure treatment. It is commonly known as Versed.


Prescribed as Serax, this benzo is used for the treatment of alcohol withdrawal and anxiety.


This drug is used in the short-term treatment of sleeplessness and insomnia. It is commonly known as Restoril.


Also used in the short-term treatment of insomnia, this drug is known as Halcion and is widely abused.

Illicit Drugs

Illicit drugs are any mind-altering substances that are grown or made and distributed illegally. These drugs are classified as illicit and are illegal to possess, take, and sell because of their highly dangerous and addictive qualities. Frequently, these drugs are made with common household chemicals, as is in the case of methamphetamines, inhalants, and ecstasy.

Illicit drugs made from plants and natural sources, such as some hallucinogens and marijuana, do have addictive elements to them, as well. Although regulation surrounding marijuana is loosening, it is still illegal in many states and federally is considered an illicit drug.

Symptoms of illicit drug usage vary greatly depending on what drug is being used, and it can be hard to detect the early stages of use because of the secrecy surrounding usage. However, some symptoms include:

  • Altered consciousness (all drugs)
  • Appetite Loss (meth)
  • Anxiousness (hallucinogens, meth, inhalants)
  • Attention problems (ecstasy, hallucinogens, heroin, meth)
  • Drowsiness (heroin, inhalants, ketamine)
  • Euphoria (ecstasy, hallucinogens, meth, ketamine)
  • Flushed skin (heroin)
  • Hyperactivity (meth)
  • Poor dental hygiene (heroin, meth, inhalants)
  • Poor personal hygiene (meth, inhalants)
  • Poor judgment (meth, inhalants)
  • Runny nose (heroin, inhalants)
  • Skin itching or picking (heroin, meth)
  • Small pupils (heroin, meth, ketamine)
  • Watery eyes (heroin, marijuana)
  • Weight loss (heroin, meth, inhalants)

Types of Illicit Drugs

• Cocaine: A drug that comes in a powdery white form, cocaine is often referred to as a “classy drug” because of its popularity with celebrities. It can also be referred to as blow, coke, and snow.
• Crack Cocaine: While still made from the same plant that cocaine is made from, this type of cocaine is far more potent and comes in a crystallized or rock form. It is also smoked rather than snorted.
• Ecstasy: A drug that comes in the form of pills or tabs, it is referred to as a party drug and is very popular among younger crowds at nightclubs and festivals. It heightens the senses and lowers inhibitions.
• Hallucinogens: These types of drugs are often described as “natural”, coming from plants and working with mind alteration. They are used in spiritual circles and can still cause addiction.
• Heroin: This drug comes in powder form and can be smoked, snorted, or injected. It comes from the opiate poppy plant and addictions can quickly escalate to dangerous levels.
• Inhalants: Very popular among kids, inhalants are any household chemicals that provide highs when breathed in. These can include paints, glues, and cleaning products and long-term use results in very dangerous side effects.
• Ketamine: This drug causes hallucinations and sedation, which provides a unique high to abusers.
• Marijuana: Grown from the cannabis plant and commonly dried and smoked, this high is becoming popular due to increasing legalization. Although addiction to this is less common, it can happen.
• Meth: Users can become addicted to meth with just a single use, and this causes extreme Euphoria and hyperactivity.
Synthetic Marijuana: This is often sold as a legal alternative to marijuana in places where it is illegal, but it produces a much more intense high and can heighten addictions.


Opiates are any type of prescription drug that is most commonly used to deal with pain. In the past, opiates had been overprescribed, which eventually lead to widespread abuse of these pain prescriptions.

Now, alternatives are being considered in the treatment of chronic pain with the knowledge that abuse of these drugs results in an intense and hard-to-cure addiction.

Withdrawal symptoms are so severe that they can cause pain and self-harm, so if an opiate addiction is suspected or known it is critical to seek medical help. Inpatient help is usually required for this sort of addiction treatment due to its severity.

Opiates are obtained illegally or in large quantities by patients who “doctor shop”, or who receive more than one prescription for an opiate for the same problem. They get these multiple prescriptions filled at different pharmacies and therefore get higher and higher amounts.

Types of Opiates


Very easy to obtain, codeine is found in cough and flu medicines such as Tylenol. Drinking cough medicines, something teens often partake in, can lead to more serious opiate addictions down the road.


This is most prescribed in the hospital for pain. Euphoria and dreamlike states are some of the ways Demerol highs are described.


This opiate has one of the highest risks of overdose, which is why it is usually only prescribed for serious conditions like cancer pain treatment.


Commonly used for post-op pain management, this is also one of the most popularly abused opiates available today. If combined with other opiates or illicit drugs it can lead to death.


This is one of the most well-known opiates because almost anyone who gets their wisdom teeth removed receives this for pain management.


Methadone is used in the treatment of heroin addiction and withdrawal symptoms. When properly used, it has high success rates, but abuse is becoming more and more common.


Morphine has been used widely since the early eighteen-hundreds. It provides highly potent pain relief but is widely abused for its euphoric high.


Potentially the most abused opiate painkiller in the United States, this is used to treat pain.


This was banned by the FDA in 2010 because of its potentially dangerous side-effects but was used to treat moderate pain before the ban.

Although perceived to be less addictive than many of the above listed, this pain reliever and muscle relaxant provides many of the same highs as other opiates.


Stimulants were never created to be addictive. These medications were used to treat attention deficit disorders, such as ADHD and ADD initially.

They trigger focus within the brain, and allow the side-effects of these disorders to dissipate, which in turn allows those with the disorders to complete daily tasks like schoolwork, housework, and professional work. However, when abused, the high created by these medications creates a sense of excitement, hyper-focus, and pleasure.

It increases the levels of dopamine found in users, which if therapeutically used is desired, but if abused can create physical problems.

Abuse of these medications is particularly tricky, as it can be written off as an increased sense of focus and drive. However, abuse of this drug can lead to tolerance, and it can quickly become impossible for addicts to function without stimulants.

Medically supervised detox and therapy, which might include inpatient therapy, is the best route of treatment for stimulant addiction.

Types of Stimulants


Possibly the most abused stimulant, this drug is prescribed to those who have ADHD to help them focus.


While antidepressants alone might not create a high, they can heighten the impact of other highs, which in turn can be dangerous.


This drug mimics cocaine in the way it impacts the body. This drug has very physical withdrawal symptoms.


If abused, this drug can cause prolonged withdrawal symptoms and an inability to function without it.

Diet Pills

Diet pills are prescribed over the counter to help people lose weight effectively. However, if these are abused, they can lead to euphoric highs and extreme addiction.


Most commonly prescribed to children with ADD or ADHD, this drug is effective in enhancing attention.

Anabolic Steroids

Steroid abuse is commonly used by athletes who want to enhance their performance. The unfair standards among competitions in combination with the highly addictive nature of steroids is why they are banned at so many athletic events.