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Types of Common Drugs and Their Effects

Drug addiction

Published: July 17, 2023

Drug addiction is often misidentified as something people can just get over, creating a dangerous stigma around asking for help. Early intervention is important for recovery, but admitting you need it is hard.

Fortunately, drug addiction is treatable, and many options are available to help individuals who need it.

About Drug Addiction

Millions are battling the chronic disease of drug addiction, and the number grows every year. According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, over 37 million people ages 12 and over in the U.S. used drugs in the last 30 days of 2020.

Thousands die yearly from a drug overdose. Females are less likely than males to use illicit drugs or abuse prescription medication.

Medical Definition Of Drug Addiction

Drug addiction, a severe substance use disorder (SUD), is usually defined by whether a person’s attachment to a specific substance interferes with their ability to function reasonably, how much of a substance they use, and other factors, according to the DSM-V.

The extent of a SUD can be mild, moderate, or severe based on the evaluation of those factors. Genetics and life experiences can affect a person’s likelihood of developing a SUD, but anyone can struggle with it.

Drug Abuse Vs. Drug Addiction

Although the terms are often interchanged, there is an essential distinction between drug abuse and drug addiction. Drug abuse refers to when and how a person uses drugs. Drug addiction addresses whether a person is dependent on a substance to function.

Any use of illicit drugs is considered drug abuse whether the person using them is labeled as addicted or not since these drugs are illegal.

Drug abuse type and level vary. The DSM-V classifies the severity of SUDs based on how many criteria are met, from two to 11, with a minimum of two required for a diagnosis.

A person must meet the following criteria within a year’s time and not have been diagnosed as dependent to be diagnosed with a SUD:

  • Using without regard to risks
  • Causing adverse effects on normal relationships
  • Favoring substance use over regular responsibilities
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, excluding those for inhalant or hallucinogen use
  • Expanding tolerance to the drug
  • Increasing frequency or amount of use
  • Lacking the ability to stop use
  • Focusing more time on use
  • Struggling mentally or physically because of use
  • Avoiding normal activities to use
  • Having cravings that impact life

Levels of drug abuse can be determined by the following:

  • Mild — 2-3 criteria
  • Moderate — 4-5 criteria
  • Severe — 6 or more criteria

Other Terms For Drug Addiction

There are many synonyms for drug addiction and those who are addicted to drugs. Most are negative terms that promote stigma about the disease.

Other words for drug addiction may be:

  • Dependent
  • Strung-out
  • White plague
  • Sweet tooth
  • Cravings
  • Drug habit
  • Monkey on your back
  • Laced weed
  • Charlie Pace
  • White line fever
  • Icyhot
  • Cruel jones

Some terms for people addicted to drugs include:

  • Addict
  • User
  • Crackhead
  • Junkie
  • Stoner
  • Druggie
  • Pothead
  • Dopehead
  • Pusher
  • Onion head
  • Dooby-doo
  • Ferbert
  • Tox

These names support the idea that a person can stop using but chooses not to rather than that they have a treatable medical condition. These opinions often discourage those with a SUD from seeking help, leading to negative feelings.

Difference Between Drug Addiction & Drug Dependence

When someone cannot stop taking a substance, they are addicted. Even though the person may be fully aware of the consequences of usage, they do not have the mental ability to control resistance.

When a person’s body has become accustomed to regular use of a substance, their body experiences adverse physical symptoms if they prolong the time between usage.

These withdrawal symptoms indicate that a person is dealing with drug dependence because their physical being has become dependent on that usage and struggles to function in its absence.

The most dangerous substances that lead to dependence and withdrawal symptoms are alcohol and opioids.

List Of Commonly Abused Drugs

Substance use or drug abuse can happen with everything from illegal drugs to prescription and over-the-counter meds to common household chemicals. It can affect individuals as well as their friends and family members.

This list gives you an idea of what drugs are most often misused:

  • Cocaine — Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant estimated to be used by over 21 million people globally, with the primary users concentrated on the American continents.
  • Heroin — Adults most use heroin over the age of 26 in the U.S. It affects the body similarly to prescription painkillers and is an alternative to them because of ease of access.
  • Methamphetamine — People often become addicted to methamphetamine for the dopamine release they receive on taking the drug. As of 2021, almost 17 million people admitted to using this drug at some point.
  • Marijuana — Initial use of cannabis before a person turns 18 increases the likelihood of addiction from 1 in 10 to 1 in 6. Over time, regular use can cause brain changes, such as reduced IQ.
  • Benzodiazepines — Benzodiazepines are prescription medications like Xanax, Valium, and Ativan commonly used to treat anxiety disorders and difficulty sleeping.
  • Prescription opioids — Doctors prescribe opioids less and less around the country because of the opioid addiction crisis. Many use drugs to obtain feelings of euphoria.
  • Designer drugs — Synthetic cathinones, or bath salts, are human-made versions of natural cathinone. It’s a khat plant derivative whose synthetic form is usually much more potent and used in designer drugs.
  • Amphetamines — People with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are prescribed amphetamines as part of treatment. The stimulant effects are similar to cocaine but don’t take effect as quickly and last longer.
  • Hallucinogens — People may use hallucinogens for the hallucinatory effects the drugs create — or audio or visual hallucinations and changes to sensory perceptions.
  • Inhalants — Inhaling household aerosols and gasses produce a temporary high maintained by repetitive inhalation.
  • Other prescription drugs — Medications like Ritalin and Concerta, as well as barbiturates and sleep medicines, are often abused for their effects.
  • Over-the-counter medications — When taken as directed, using over-the-counter drugs is not cause for concern. However, people have discovered that taking more OTC meds can often cause euphoria and other desired effects.
  • Synthetic marijuana — This chemical concoction is legal to consume. As with designer drugs, the manufactured version is often more potent than its natural counterpart and, therefore, can be dangerous.

Symptoms Of Drug Addiction

Understanding the warning signs of drug addiction can help you identify when someone may have developed one. Substance abuse occurs in adolescents as young as 12, so you must watch for symptoms in your children starting at an early age.

Young people may try illegal drugs because of peer pressure, as an escape, for fun, or because they have an underlying mental disorder.

Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms

Factors like age, weight, general health, type of substance used, length of use, withdrawal method, etc., contribute to the severity and kind of withdrawal symptoms a person may experience.

Some of the more common symptoms may be:

  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Blood pressure changes
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood changes
  • Cravings
  • Being tired or unable to sleep
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Aches and pains
  • Appetite changes
  • Confusion
  • Heart rate changes

Effects Of Substance Use Disorder

Using substances to the point that you’re addicted to or abusing them affects you as well as everyone in your circle. It can kill relationships and drastically change how you interact with the world around you while significantly altering your body chemistry.

Short-Term Effects Of Drug Abuse

Short-term effects vary by substance, risk factors, personal health, and more, all determining immediate signs of drug abuse.

These body systems can all be affected by drug abuse:

  • Appetite
  • Heart rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Breathing levels
  • Sleep quality and ability
  • Activity levels
  • Behavior

Health Complications Linked To Drug Addiction

A list of every health issue associated with drug addiction would be extensive, because a person’s medical and personal history affect how their body responds to different drugs.

Health complications linked to different forms of drug abuse and addiction include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Increased or decreased heart rate
  • Increased or decreased blood pressure
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Mental health problems
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Cancer
  • Brain changes
  • Risk of diseases like HIV and hepatitis
  • Nosebleeds
  • Organ damage, disease, or failure
  • Severe weight fluctuation
  • Breathing problems
  • Fatalities

Risk Factors For Drug Addiction

While nothing guarantees a person will or won’t become addicted to drugs, certain things can put you at greater risk.

Risk factors for drug addiction can be:

  • Genetics — A family history of addiction or mental health disorders, as well as gender and ethnicity, are all risk factors.
  • Environmental — A rough home life, friends who use, abuse, stress, trauma, and more can make you more likely to seek relief or escape through substance abuse.
  • Developmental — Drug use is much more likely to become an addiction in young adults, especially if combined with other risk factors.

These risk factors may make you more vulnerable to addiction, but they do not guarantee that you will become addicted. Causes, on the other hand, are factors that lead to disease. Being in a turbulent home is a risk factor for addiction. Using illegal drugs is a cause of addiction.

Diagnosing Substance Use Disorder

A health professional will run tests to determine if you have a SUD. These tests can include questions and labs that help them to assess your level of substance use.

Medical Drug Use Evaluations

A large part of what is evaluated is how much and how often a person uses drugs and whether that significantly impacts their quality of life based on the criteria outlined by the DSM-V.

Medical-Use Evaluation (MUE) is a series of options a health professional uses to outline a treatment program that will help you overcome your addiction and maintain a drug-free lifestyle wherever possible.

Drug Use Screening Tests

The U.S. Preventive Task Force recommended in 2021 to screen for drug use in adults but not adolescents in most cases.

While blood and urine tests can tell a health provider how much of a substance was in your body at the time of the test, it does not accurately depict a history of use or misuse.

That’s why questions are used more often in screening or in conjunction with labs, which can establish a baseline for maintenance purposes.

When Should You Get Help For A Drug Addiction?

Understanding drug use and addiction can be hard. You may not be aware that you or a loved one are dealing with it.

Warning signs that you may need help:

  • Do you use drugs even though you are aware of the dangers?
  • Would you rather use drugs than hang out with friends?
  • Is using drugs more appealing than your daily tasks?
  • If you don’t use a drug for a little while, do you have withdrawal symptoms?
  • Do you find that your body can handle more of the drug the more often you use it?
  • Do you feel like you need larger amounts of a drug, or use it more often to get the same feelings of pleasure?
  • Is it impossible to stop using even though you want to?
  • Do you find yourself focusing more on your next hit than anything else?
  • Are everyday movements and tasks harder if you haven’t taken drugs?
  • Do you feel like you avoid things because you’d rather take drugs?
  • Are cravings taking over your life?

Drug Addiction Treatment Options

When a health provider has identified drug addiction as one of your health conditions or you have determined that you are struggling with use, it’s time to reach out for help from health care providers.

Drug Detox Programs

Detoxification can happen in several ways, whether medical, medically supervised, or self-managed. In a medical setting, symptoms are monitored to ensure that you’re receiving appropriate nutrition and medication to help manage those.

A medical detox can be inpatient or outpatient and is usually based on the results of initial evaluation. You’ll work with health care providers to decide on which treatment program is best for you based on the amount of drugs in your system and any current or past medical and psychological conditions that may affect treatment.

Trying to DIY is not recommended, as it can be extremely dangerous. A full stop on drug use frequently leads to overdose as users try to manage withdrawal symptoms themselves. They often give in and take a dose of drugs that their body is no longer used to, which causes overdose.

Drug Rehab Programs

Which drug rehab program you need will be determined by your providers once they’ve performed the initial screenings. They are usually inpatient programs where you can be monitored more closely and last one to three months.

If detoxification is needed for your addiction, that is the first step toward healing. Once your body is free of the substance and withdrawal symptoms, you enter a treatment program.

During your stay, you may receive counseling and behavioral and alternative therapies. You may also participate in support groups, group counseling, aftercare planning, and relapse prevention planning.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Sometimes, addiction needs to be treated with medication to help your body deal with the loss of the drug. Depending on what you’re addicted to, MAT may involve continuing on the drug but reducing the dosage or switching to a different drug that will help mitigate symptoms of withdrawal.

Medications used to manage withdrawal symptoms or as maintenance drugs may be:

  • Naloxone
  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine
  • Clonidine
  • Lofexidine
  • Suboxone
  • Naltrexone
  • Chlordiazepoxide
  • Diazepam
  • Lorazepam
  • Oxazepam
  • Phenobarbital
  • Carbamazepine
  • Gabapentin
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Valproate
  • Acamprosate
  • Disulfiram

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient programs are typically for individuals whose addiction is less severe and who have a good and stable home/support system. Outpatient care can also be a less expensive option.

Intensive outpatient programs (IOP) and partial hospitalization programs (PHP) are higher levels of outpatient treatment that allow you to go home while maintaining more involved activities.

All outpatient programs involve some combination of medical and behavioral approaches to provide a well-rounded solution and help prevent relapse. They can last a few weeks to several months.

Support Groups

Most support groups base their curriculums on the 12-step program associated with Alcoholics Anonymous. There is also Al-Anon, which is for family members of those addicted to substances. Alateen is specifically for young people whose friends or family members may be addicted.

Other support groups include Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, and Marijuana Anonymous.

Continuing Care

Regardless of how you’ve done the initial treatment, it’s important to continue with treatment programs to help avoid relapse.

You may seek treatment through:

  • Outpatient programs
  • Inpatient programs
  • Group counseling
  • Support groups
  • Rehab center alumni groups
  • Individual counseling

Find Help For You Or A Loved One With Drug Addiction

Drug addiction often happens before a person realizes it. It’s easy to think that you can use a drug just once or only on social occasions without becoming addicted.

Unfortunately, most of these drugs are highly addictive and provide euphoric feelings that are hard to mimic in everyday life.

But the good news is that you or your loved one can receive treatment from any number of programs. Reach out via our helpline today to get connected with your recovery program options.

Drug Addiction FAQs

What’s an easy definition of drug addiction?

A person is addicted to drugs when the need for drugs overrides all other aspects of life.

What is the process of clearing all drugs from a person’s body?

Detoxification is the process of ridding all drugs, alcohol, or otherwise harmful substances from a person’s body.

What is the most common type of substance use disorder?

Marijuana is the most-used type of drug. Its addiction rate is approximately 10% for ages 18 and over and 17% for users who start before age 18.

Can you cure drug addiction?

Drug addiction is currently identified as a treatable chronic disease. However, recent advances in the science of addiction provide hope that it may become curable.

Is addiction genetic?

No, but genetics can factor into how likely a person is to become addicted to drugs. Also, a family history of addiction can make a person predisposed toward drug use.

How to help a person with drug addiction?

The most important thing that you can do to help someone with addiction is to provide support without suffocation. Educate yourself on the condition with reputable sources and seek out your own support group.

Don’t try to force your loved one into anything or badger them incessantly — simply let them know that you care about them and are there to help.

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