Drugs of Abuse

Substance abuse and addiction have reached epic proportions in the United States. The exact causes of this crisis are not completely clear, but the most predominant theories are that addiction is the result of a genetic predisposition or that the person lacks the willpower to say no to drugs or alcohol. The truth is, addiction is a complex disorder caused by a combination of contributing factors. No one deliberately chooses to become an addict, but many of the drugs of abuse available today can cause addiction after only one or two uses.

Since 1990, there has been a steady increase in the number of deaths from substance abuse disorders. For instance, in 1990, a shocking 165,000 substance-related deaths were reported.  In 2015 the number had risen to 307,000 deaths. Of these deaths, alcohol-related problems were the highest (137,500), followed by opioid use disorders (122,100) and then amphetamines (12,200), and finally cocaine use disorders (11,100). According to NIDA, an estimated 48 million people over the age of 12 admitted to using prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons in their lifetime.  

Most Common Drugs of Abuse

Common Drugs of Abuse
Drugs Commonly Abused

Addictive substances, whether legal or illegal, can cause serious harm to a person’s physical and emotional health.  Prolonged addiction can also cause a person to lose their job, home, family, and friends.  Additionally, many addicts pay the ultimate price, loss of life.  

When looking at the above statistics on addictions, it becomes apparent that alcohol is still the number one killer. But, the variety of dangerously addictive substances on the market today is increasing. Hundreds of new “designer drugs” are available on the streets and legal prescription medicines are more powerful than ever before.  Many prescription drugs have increased in price causing some opiate-dependent people to turn to heroin, which is much cheaper and more potent.  

Besides alcohol and heroin, the most commonly abused drugs today include the following:

  • Methamphetamine:  Known as meth or crystal meth.  It is a stimulant that causes increased energy and alertness.  It can also improve concentration and boost self-esteem. Used medically to treat ADHD and obesity (Desoxyn).  Illicit abuse of this drug for the euphoric effects has caused a meth epidemic in the US.
  • Opiates: These drugs carry a high potential for being physically and psychologically addictive.  Opiates are derived from opium which is found in the poppy plant. Medical uses include controlling chronic pain from surgery or diseases such as cancer.  The drugs work by changing the way the brain reacts to pain and pleasure.  Over time, the brain can no longer produce the natural dopamine a person needs, and more of the drug is required to get the desired effects. Because high doses of an opiate can induce euphoric effects, recreational use of opiates is rampant.  Opiate addiction is referred to as an epidemic in the US today.  A few examples of opiates include Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, Morphine, Codeine, and Hydrocodone.
  • Stimulants:  Stimulants are a class of drugs that are used to increase alertness and energy. They are used medically for treating ADHD, depression, obesity, asthma, and neurological disorders. Some people abuse stimulants to counteract the effects of alcohol or sleeping pills. Many college students abuse the stimulant, Adderall, to help them stay awake for long periods to cram for exams. Examples of these drugs include caffeine, nicotine, cocaine, amphetamines, methamphetamine, and some prescription drugs such as Ritalin, Adderall, Desoxyn, Vyvanse, and more.
  • Marijuana:  Derived from the Cannabis plant, marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit substance available today.  Although it is not considered as deadly as many other illicit drugs, marijuana abuse can cause a person to experience poor judgment, impaired motor skills and slow reaction time.  Studies show that smoking this drug can cause lung problems or cancer in chronic users.  Other names for this substance include pot, hash, grass, and herb.  Currently, medical marijuana use is legal in 29 states in the US.
  • Hallucinogens:  Also known as dissociative drugs, they include LSD, Mescaline, Psilocybin (acid), DMT, and mushrooms. People use hallucinogens to enter into a more enlightened mode of thinking or being and to detach from reality for awhile. Severe side effects can include increased heart rate, high blood pressure, heart or lung failure, convulsions, or coma.
  • Cocaine:  This addictive stimulant is abused for the effect of increased energy and alertness. When the drug is withheld the user experiences withdrawal symptoms such as exhaustion, trouble concentrating, inability to feel pleasure, restlessness, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Chronic cocaine use can cause permanent damage to nasal tissues.  Although cocaine has some medical use as a local anesthetic, possession or use of the drug is illegal in the US.
  • Prescription Drugs:  These drugs include stimulants, opiates, and benzodiazepines.  Highly addictive and dangerous, these drugs are widely abused, causing thousands of overdoses and deaths globally.  Many of these substances cause addiction even when used as directed for prolonged periods.  Prescription drug abuse is considered a global epidemic.
  • Club Drugs:  These drugs are more popular with young people because they are easy to obtain and inexpensive.  Club drugs such as Ecstasy, GHB, and Rohypnol are used to increase alertness and energy, allowing the user to dance all night without getting tired.  Dangers include dehydration, exhaustion, hyperthermia, liver and kidney failure, heart failure and death.
  • Inhalants: Most commonly used by young teens, inhalants abuse can cause sudden death due to respiratory failure.  Huffing, or inhaling the chemicals in household products such as paint thinner, cleaning fluids, polish remover, airplane glue, and many others produce an instant high.  Users experience agitation, excitement, disorientation and other symptoms similar to alcohol intoxication.  

The prevalence of drug abuse today has reached unprecedented levels.  According to ASAM (American Society of Addiction Medicine), the number of deaths from overdose or other drug-related problems in 2015 rose to 52,404.  Opioids are responsible for 20,101 of those deaths, and 12,990 of deaths were attributed to heroin abuse.

Treatment for Drug Abuse and Addiction

Finding the best addiction treatment facility for your needs can be a daunting task because of the many options available today.  We can help you find the right program with our comprehensive directory of treatment centers. The important thing is for you or your loved one to get into treatment as soon as possible, and with our knowledge and vast resources, you’ll spend less time struggling with indecision.  Call our toll-free number today and let us help you get started on your drug-free future.