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Commonly Abused Drugs

Types of Drug Abuse

Those struggling with drug addiction share some similar challenges but depending on the types of drug(s) they’re using, how much they’re taking, how frequently, and in what combination with other addictive substances, the signs, symptoms and effects could be quite different.

No matter the type of drug, the impact of continued drug abuse and addiction can lead to life-ending or altering problems, overdose, physical complications, psychiatric problems, family turmoil, legal problems, jail, child custody issues, unemployment, etc. The faster someone gets help to end their drug abuse or addiction, the more likely they are to have a chance at a full recovery and a new beginning.

All drugs are not the same, but they can all be deadly especially if combined.

Here are some of the most common types of abused drugs:


Stimulants, also commonly referred to as “uppers,” are highly addictive drugs that increase your heart rate and brain function and raise the levels of nervous activity in the body. Many stimulants are listed as Schedule II drugs because they are highly addictive and have the potential for severe physical and psychological dependency. Extended use of stimulants can cause severe damage. They can provide a euphoric and calming sensation along with elevated mood as a result of an increase of dopamine levels within the brain. Stimulants can be snorted, injected or taken orally. The effects last from a few minutes to a few hours depending on the type of stimulant taken. Some stimulants like nicotine and caffeine are legal and can be purchased in stores. Other prescribed stimulants are usually given in low doses over short periods of time of use. Any stimulant use can lead to an addiction even if the dose is small and prescribed.

/Effects of Stimulants

The short-term effects of stimulants can include:

  • Euphoria
  • Increased arousal
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Unusual behavior
  • Enhanced energy
  • Accelerated alertness
  • Calming sensations

Extended Effects of Stimulants

Stimulant addiction and abuse over an extended period can cause severe, life-threatening effects on the entire body:

  • Overdose
  • Heart Attack
  • Brain Damage
  • Organ damage or failure
  • Sudden death
  • Tachycardia
  • Tremors
  • Tooth decay
  • Insomnia

/Some of the most widely abused stimulants include:

  • Adderall – A commonly prescribed drug used to treat those with ADHD and narcolepsy that is commonly abused by teens due to its effects of increased concentration and confidence.
  • Anabolic Steroids – Synthetic drugs that are similar to testosterone. Often abused by athletes or those wishing to build muscle fast. Use or possession of it without a prescription is illegal..
  • Cocaine – A white powder that is usually snorted, injected, or placed in the mouth in the gums to created heightened feelings of euphoria, excitement and very rapidly increased energy. Brings the user a very intense high that goes away within an hour, which leads to a very dangerous and rapidly escalating addiction..
  • Concerta – A prescription medication usually used to treat lack of focus and/or hyperactivity. It is in the same class as Ritalin, but the chemical make-up is like cocaine. The drug produces intense cravings like cocaine, making it a very highly addictive drug..
  • Crack Cocaine “Crack” – Is a highly addictive drug made by mixing cocaine and baking soda to develop small crystalized rocks. Widely available, less expensive than cocaine, and causes an extreme high. The first use causes enough strain on the heart to cause a heart attack or stroke..
  • Dexedrine – A prescription drug used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy that is similar to Adderall and chemically similar to Meth, which leads to a severe dependence and withdrawals..
  • Ecstasy “MDMA” – Also called “Molly” or the “rave drug” given its popular use with teens and young adults at music festivals, raves, and parties. The drug increases the individual’s pleasure center and levels of dopamine, which leads to a decreased amount of dopamine later, thus driving the desire to take more of the drug..
  • Methamphetamine “Crystal Meth”- An extremely addictive drug that comes in the form of either a white powder or small blue-white crystals. The extreme feeling of euphoria and high energy from the overabundant supply of dopamine in the brain from one high can last for hours. Meth, however, has extraordinarily severe negative physical and mental health consequences for users.
  • Ritalin – A Schedule II prescription drug used by professionals as well as athletes that comes in small tablets to heighten alertness and productivity. It is highly addictive, and a very popular drug abused by teens and young adults.


/LSD Lysergic acid diethylmide “Acid”– A hallucinogen manufactured from lysergic acid, which is found in ergot, a fungus that grows on rye and other grains. Can be taken orally by tablet, capsule clear liquid or absorbed through the mouth via decorated tissue paper squares that liquid has been added to. Causes the user to feel rapid emotional swings and distortion of their ability to recognize reality or communicate with others, raises blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature.

/PCP – phencyclidine – Also called “Angel dust,” PCP is a dissociative, hallucinogenic drug that was developed as an intravenous anesthetic that has been discontinued due to the serious adverse effects. It causes the user to feel detached from reality, to hallucinate and feel paranoia and anxiety. PCP can cause vomiting, dizziness, violence, seizures, coma and death. PCP comes in a white or colored powder, tablet, capsule or liquid and can be injected, snorted, swallowed or smoked.

/Psilocybin – A hallucinogen in certain types of mushrooms that grow in parts of South America, Mexico, and the United States. Fresh or dried mushrooms with long, slender steps are topped by caps with dark gills. They can be eaten, brewed as tea or added to other foods. Effects include feeling an altered perception of time, hallucinations, the inability to tell fantasy from reality, panic, muscle relaxation, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, problems with movement.

/Salvia “Magic Mint”– A dissociative drug that is an herb in the mint family native to southern Mexico. It is often smoked, chewed or brewed as a tea from fresh or dried leaves. The effects include feeling short-lived, but intense hallucinations, having altered visual perception, body sensations, mood swings, feelings of detachment from your body, sweating.

/Mescaline / Peyote – A hallucinogen found in disk-shaped “buttons” in the crown of several cacti, including peyote. Fresh or dried buttons or capsules can be swallowed, chewed or soaked in water and drunk as a tea. Causes euphoria, hallucinations, enhanced perceptions and feelings, increased heart rate, blood pressure, anxiety.


Anyone who takes opioids can become addicted to them – even with a prescription. Once you’re addicted, it can be hard to stop without help. You’re not alone. According to the CDC, as many as 1 in 4 patients receiving long-term opioid therapy in a primary care setting struggles with opioid addiction.

Opioids are narcotic, painkilling drugs that are so highly addictive that they are classified by the Drug Enforcement Agency as Schedule II, III+ because they have a chemical origin that is like that of heroin. Opioids can cause euphoria, are often used nonmedically and frequently lead to overdose deaths because they slow down or can stop a person’s breathing. They can be taken in tablet, capsule, suppository and liquid form and can be swallowed, snorted or injected. Opioids are usually prescribed to treat severe pain often following injury or surgery or for health conditions such as cancer. There has been a significant increase of misused and abused opioids, even with prescriptions, nationwide leading to an opioid epidemic and one of the largest public health crises facing the United States.

Possible health effects: Opioids can significantly slow or stop a person’s breathing leading to death from overdose; other effects include nausea, sleepiness, physical dependence, constipation, euphoria, confusion, depression, itching and sweating, low levels of testosterone that can result in lower energy, strength and sex drive. Every day in the United States more than 130 people overdose on opioids according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.


More than 72,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2017, up nearly 7% from 2016 according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

/Listed below are frequently abused, misused and addictive opioids:

  • Codeine – Codeine has many street names as it is often mixed with soda and other flavorings. It can be taken by tablet, capsule or liquid and can be swallowed or injected.
  • Fentanyl – Fentanyl is a synthetic, Schedule II opioid pain reliever approved for treating severe pain, typically associated with advanced cancer. It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is Commonly found in transdermal patches, lozenges, sublingual tablet, films or buccal tablet. Often injected, smoked or snorted.
  • Hydrocodone /Vicodin – Hydrocodone is a Schedule II opioid commonly found in capsule, liquid or tablet form that is most often swallowed, snorted or injected by users.
  • Hydromorphone or Dilaudid – A Schedule II opioid drug that is commonly prescribed for severe pain following surgery or injury, it comes in liquid or suppository form and is commonly injected or given rectally.
  • Meperidine / Demerol – A Schedule II opioid drug that that is commonly prescribed for severe pain following surgery or injury, it comes in tablet, dispersible tablet, or liquid form and is commonly swallowed or injected.
  • Morphine – A Schedule II and III opioid drug that is commonly prescribed for severe pain following surgery or injury in the form of a tabled liquid, capsule or suppository. It can be injected, swallowed or smoked.
  • Oxycodone / OxyContin / Percodan/ Percocet – Oxycodone is a Schedule II prescription opioid drug that is commonly prescribed for moderate to severe pain following injury or surgery, that has become widely abused, comes in capsule, liquid, or tablet form and is most frequently swallowed, snorted, or injected.
  • Heroin “Horse or Smack” – An illegal, highly addictive opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance extracted from the seed pod of various opium poppy plants. It is often injected smoked or snorted. Causes euphoria when taken. Heroin is often used along with other drugs or alcohol which is especially dangerous because it increases the risk of overdose. Can also cause slowed breathing and heart rate as well as vomiting.
  • Marijuana (Cannabis) – “Pot” – Marijuana, also known by many other street names, is made from the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa, and the main mind-altering chemical in marijuana is THC or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. Marijuana’s leaves are usually dried, and they are smoked, or eaten when mixed in food or brewed as a tea. The effects include a euphoric feeling and enhanced sensory perception followed by relaxation, slowed reaction time, drowsiness, difficulty with balance and coordination, increased appetite and heart rate, problems with learning and memory and anxiety.


/Benzodiazepines or “Benzos” are a class of drugs made up of prescription sedatives or tranquilizers that are prescribed for patients that suffer from a variety of conditions like anxiety disorder, panic disorder, insomnia, muscle spasms and seizures. They can also be prescribed for panic caused by hallucinogens, or as part of a treatment plan for alcoholism or alcohol use disorder. Because of their highly addictive nature, benodiazepine use can become abuse and then turn into addiction quite easily. Often, those who abuse benzodiazepines will combine them with opioids and or alcohol because of the increased sensation or high.

Benzodiazepine abuse or addiction is also referred to by the mental health community by the term hypnotic, sedative or anxiolytic use disorder. While you or your loved one may have a prescription and a legitimate medical reason to use them initially, the sedative effects of these drugs and their highly addictive properties makes them very easy to abuse and can easily lead to physical and psychological addiction. Developing a dependency on benzodiazepines can result in withdrawal symptoms or even seizures if you stop taking them abruptly. Withdrawal symptoms can develop within a few days from last use and can be hard to distinguish from anxiety. Nearly one-third of overdoses on opioid drugs also involve benzodiazepines.

Side-effects to be aware of include:

Though benzodiazepines have a calming effect on you or your loved one, they are highly addictive with serious physical, psychological and behavioral side effects and symptoms that become worse with chronic abuse and addiction:

  • Headaches
  • Weakness
  • Blurred vision
  • Lack of motor skills
  • Poor decision-making abilities and judgment
  • Mood changes
  • Anorexia
  • Insomnia
  • Memory problems
  • Anxiety
  • Doctor shopping or Asking friends, family, colleagues, and/or classmates for their benzodiazepine pills
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coma
  • Wanting to cut back on the volume of abuse but not being able to do so
  • Risk-taking behaviors, such as driving after abusing benzodiazepines
  • Combining benzodiazepines with alcohol or other drugs
  • Overdose Death – most often occurs when combined with other drugs or alcohol

It can be difficult for you or your loved ones to identify a dangerous symptom or a common symptom with benzodiazepine addiction. Withdrawal from benzodiazepines can be particularly dangerous especially if they’re combined with other drugs or alcohol. If you notice any serious symptoms, the best practice is to get help immediately by going to the emergency room or contacting your doctor.

Recognizing Signs of Unhealthy Drug Use


Changes in behavior:

It can be hard to recognize the signs of drug use in the people we care about. It can be difficult especially to see the difference between normal teenage behavior and signs of drug use. Some possible signs that might indicate your loved one is using drugs include:

  • Changes in behavior: Have you noticed extreme changes in behavior or in relationships with family and friends? Does your loved one take extreme steps to keep you from entering a room; hide things or to keep where they’re going with friends secret?
  • Physical Health changes or issues: Have you noticed that your loved one’s appearance has changed? Have they stopped grooming or caring about how they look? Has there been a change in their energy and motivation, weight loss or gain or are their eyes red?
  • Problems at school, work or with friends: Have you noticed that your loved one is frequently missing school or work? Are they less interested in school or work? Have you noticed a drop in their grades or work performance?
  • Money concerns: Has your loved one been requesting money without reasonable explanations? Have you discovered that money is missing or has been stolen? Have you discovered that items are missing from your home (that could have been sold to support drug use)?

What are signs of a drug overdose?

Understanding and recognizing the signs of a drug overdose could save your life or the life of someone you love. Know the signs:

Drug overdose signs typically include dilated pupils, changes in or trouble breathing, changes in body temperature, lips and fingertips can turn a blue color, nausea and vomiting, confusion and disorientation/violent behavior, irregular heart rate and chest pain, seizures and/or convulsions, violent behavior, unconsciousness, or death.

What should I do if I think someone has overdosed?

/If you think someone may have overdosed on drugs, stay calm and call 911 immediately. Check the person’s heart rate and breathing and check to see if the person is conscious and can answer questions and respond to you. If you know how to provide CPR and are trained, provide it if necessary. If you know what the person has taken and overdosed on, make sure you tell the emergency operator. Stay with the person until help arrives. If you know the person overdosed on opioids and they have NARCAN (naloxone) available, tell the 911 operator and administer it immediately with their guidance.

It’s important to know the signs of a drug overdose and what to do in the event of an emergency.