Drug abuse is far-reaching in the United States, especially with more types of drugs being abused every day. According to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 27.0 million people ages 12 and above reported past-month drug use in 2014.
Drugs, which can also be referred to as substances, come in many different forms and are abused in many different ways, causing a variety of damaging or even harmful side effects. One of the greatest risks associated with all drug abuse is the tendency for it to lead to addiction or physical dependence.
Drugs may be illicit, or manufactured or sold illegally, prescriptions that were diverted for illicit use, or even prescriptions which a person began abusing without being fully aware of the abuse. In any case, drug abuse demands immediate attention and proper treatment to prevent potentially long-term side effects, addiction, and risk of overdose.
Commonly Abused Stimulants
Central nervous system (CNS) stimulants, commonly called “uppers,” work by stimulating the body. Stimulant drugs increase alertness, attention, and the rate of certain body functions, including blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate.
Illicit stimulants include illegally manufactured methamphetamine (meth), cocaine, and crack cocaine, among others. Prescription stimulants include amphetamines and methamphetamine.
Amphetamines are usually prescribed to treat conditions like narcolepsy (a sleeping disorder), ADHD, or asthma. When taken as prescribed, stimulants can help a person focus, stay alert, and even open breathing passageways. When amphetamines are abused, a person may experience a number of side effects, including increasing heart and breathing rates to dangerous levels.
Methamphetamine, or meth, is a prescription stimulant sold under the brand name, Desoxyn. It is rarely prescribed for long-term use, as the drug has highly addictive properties and comes with dangerous side effects. Meth is also manufactured illicitly in clandestine labs and sold on the streets. As SAMHSA explains, “chronic meth abusers experience anxiety, confusion, insomnia, paranoia, aggression, visual and auditory hallucinations, mood disturbances, and delusions.”
Cocaine is a stimulant which causes powerful side effects: euphoria, increased energy and alertness, increased sense of confidence, and sexual arousal. Cocaine abuse produces an immediate and intense “high,” often followed by just as intense a “low,” characterized by anxiety, insomnia, restlessness, agitation, and irritability.
Prolonged use of cocaine can lead to harmful consequences and permanent damage to the cardiovascular, respiratory, and central nervous systems.
Crack cocaine is cocaine that has been processed with an agent to transform it into a solid, smokable form. Smoking crack is dangerous because smoking of a drug causes it to take effect more quickly, meaning heightened risk of developing addiction. The Center for Substance Abuse Research explains, “a person can become addicted after his or her first time trying cocaine.”
One use of crack cocaine is so potent, it could lead to overdose, and may cause increased body function rates, anxiety, paranoia, or violent behavior. Prolonged use of crack cocaine can lead to severe depression, heart problems, stroke, psychosis, and more.
Ecstasy (MDMA) is a synthetic drug first made popular in the nightclub scene, and which is now abused on a larger scale. Ecstasy works in the brain by affecting three important chemicals: dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, and causes short-term effects like nausea, blurred vision, muscle cramping, and involuntary teeth clenching.
Long-term effects of ecstasy abuse may be more severe; in the weeks following even moderate abuse of the drug, a person may experience aggression, anxiety, depression, impulsiveness, irritability, sleep problems, and trouble concentrating.
Sometimes called synthetic marijuana, human-made synthetic cannabinoids are liquid, mind-altering chemicals used either as a vapor for e-cigarettes and inhaled or sprayed on plant leaves and smoked. Common synthetic cannabinoids include K2 and Spice. These drugs affect the same receptors in the brain as marijuana, causing similar side effects: improved mood, feelings of relaxation, altered perception, and symptoms of psychosis.
Long-term abuse of these drugs can result in increased blood pressure, reduced blood flow to the heart, kidney damage, and seizures.
Consequences Of Stimulant Abuse
Different stimulant drugs of abuse will affect the body and brain in different ways. The long-term health effects or effects to a person’s life will be determined by a number of factors, including drug of abuse, severity of abuse, presence of psychological addiction or physical dependence, duration of abuse, and genetic, environmental, and personal factors.
Common consequences of stimulant abuse, addiction, and dependence may include:
- heart failure
- overdose or death
Commonly Abused Depressants
Depressant drugs affect the central nervous system, like stimulants. Unlike stimulants, depressants work to slow body functions, and are commonly called, “downers.” Prescription depressant medications work to treat such conditions as anxiety, insomnia, and certain mental health disorders.
Known for their sedative effects (extreme feelings of calm and relaxation), depressants are often abused to elicit these effects. Some people abuse depressants to counteract the effects of drugs with opposite side effects, such as stimulants.
Alcohol is a legal substance, yet is still highly abused in the United States. Many people may be unaware of how quickly use of alcohol or binge drinking can turn into problem drinking (abuse), which can lead to addiction. In moderation, alcohol may not be dangerous to a person’s health, yet misuse of alcohol can lead to a number of consequences.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states, “drinking too much—on a single occasion or over time—can take a serious toll on your health.” Consequences of drinking too much may include damage to various organs, including the brain, heart, liver, and pancreas, as well as increased risk of development of several types of cancer.
Benzodiazepines, commonly called “benzos”, are prescription drugs typically prescribed for treatment of conditions like anxiety and insomnia. Due to the highly addictive nature of the drugs, they are usually only prescribed for a short period of time. Commonly abused benzodiazepines include Ativan, Valium, Restoril, and Xanax, among others.
Benzodiazepines can quickly lead to physical dependence, causing withdrawal symptoms which may provide the reason for a person’s continued abuse. Benzodiazepines are often abused for the euphoric effects they produce, and may also cause a person to become tolerant to their effects, resulting in increased risk of overdose with each instance of abuse.
Barbiturates are a class of depressant drugs which have largely been replaced in medical use by benzodiazepines, due to the highly addictive, potent nature of the drugs. However, barbiturates are still used to treat some conditions, including seizures.
Perhaps the biggest risk associated with barbiturate abuse is that the difference between a safe dose and a lethal dose is very small, meaning each time a person abuses barbiturates they risk not only overdose, but sudden death.
Consequences Of Depressant Abuse
Depressants may be useful in treating certain conditions when used as directed. Abuse of the drugs, though, can lead to a number of consequences, which vary according to the substance, duration and severity of abuse, and other factors.
Some consequences of depressant abuse may include:
- increased risk of high blood sugar and diabetes
- low blood pressure
- memory impairment
- death due to withdrawal symptoms (dependence)
Commonly Abused Opioids
Opioids include pain-relieving medications, like OxyContin and Vicodin, the illicit drug, heroin, and illicit opioid combinations commonly sold on the street. Whether licit or illicit, opioid drugs work in the brain by binding to opioid receptors and producing an altered sense of perception to pain. When abused, the drugs produce heightened feelings of euphoria.
Opioid abuse is rampant in the United States, even prompting an administrative declaration of a public health emergency. Opioids are highly addictive, and quickly produce physical dependence, leading to withdrawal symptoms which keep addicted individuals in a cycle of abuse.
Heroin is a highly addictive, illicit opioid. Many people who begin abusing opioid prescriptions turn to heroin when they are no longer able to obtain a prescription. Heroin may be viewed as a less expensive alternative to someone who is struggling with addiction or dependence, yet heroin may present even more dangers.
Heroin sold on the street may be laced with other potent opioids, like fentanyl, or with harmful additives. People buying heroin can never be certain the drug is heroin alone, meaning abuse of the drug leads to increased risk of overdose or health risks with each use. Side effects of heroin include insomnia, nausea and vomiting, and going “on the nod,” an intermittent state of consciousness and semi-consciousness, among others.
Prescription opioids come with a high risk of abuse, even when taken as directed. With high instances of prescriptions written for opioids, more people are abusing the medications all the time. In addition to risk of addiction and physical dependence, prescription opioids may produce an increased sensitivity to pain, nausea, constipation, vomiting, and development of tolerance.
When a person becomes tolerant to the effects of opioids, he or she may take more of the drugs to get the same euphoric effects. Yet increasing frequency or dosage of the drugs is dangerous, as many opioid drugs are highly potent and need to be taken exactly as directed.
Illicit opioids include opioids that are manufactured illegally—such as heroin and designer drug combinations, like gray death and u-47700—as well as legal prescriptions which have been diverted for illegal use. Some designer opioid drugs may contain several opioids, and the more opioids a single drug contains, the more potent the drug and the higher the risk of overdose with just one use.
Prescription opioids are often abused by a person who was prescribed the drugs for a legal purpose or by family members or friends who took the prescription of someone close to them. Abuse of illicit opioids is not only illegal, but dangerous due to the heightened risk of overdose and addictive nature of the drugs.
Consequences Of Opioid Abuse
Consequences of opioid abuse can affect all aspects of a person’s life, and may be devastating for some. Withdrawal symptoms may be severe, if not life-threatening, keeping a person using the drugs again and again. Long-term effects of opioid abuse can lead to chronic constipation, permanent changes to the brain, and cardiac arrest with too high a dose.
Commonly Abused Hallucinogens
Hallucinogens are drugs which cause hallucinations, or extreme distortions of a person’s perceptions of reality. Some occur in nature, including certain plants and mushrooms or their extracts, and some are synthetic, such as LSD.
While the drugs are abused for the effects they produce (a detachment from reality), they may cause a number of severe side effects which may include symptoms of psychosis, such as effects to a person’s ability to think or communicate with others.
Consequences Of Hallucinogen Abuse
Long-term effects of hallucinogens vary according to the drug, and whether the person abused the drug long enough to develop tolerance or addiction to them. Some people who abuse hallucinogens may experience prolonged and persistent psychosis (sometimes years after abuse has stopped) or Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD), which is characterized by continued visual disturbances, hallucinations, and symptoms usually associated with neurological disorders.
Dissociative drugs, such as PCP, are a class of hallucinogens which also alter perceptions of reality by distorting perceptions of sight and sound. Use of dissociative drugs can also cause a sense of floating and detachment from reality (dissociation). Side effects from these drugs may include anxiety, impaired motor function, and memory loss.
Consequences Of Dissociative Abuse
The long-term effects of dissociative drug abuse hasn’t been thoroughly examined. Reports of prolonged PCP use have shown tendency for the drug to cause tolerance, psychological addiction, and symptoms of withdrawal. Other reported effects include anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and persistent speech issues.
While many substances of abuse can be abused through inhalation, the drug class “inhalants” refers to substances abused only through inhalation. Many of these are substances which are readily available, making abuse more accessible, though no less dangerous.
Commonly abused inhalants include aerosol sprays, gases, nitrites, and solvents.
Consequences Of Inhalant Abuse
Inhalants are abused because they produce an immediate feeling of euphoria. Other short-term effects include speech impairment, dizziness, and lack of coordination. Consequences of inhalant abuse may be severely damaging, and may include:
- bone marrow damage
- brain damage
- delayed behavioral development from brain damage
- loss of hearing
- liver and kidney damage
Marijuana is a psychoactive (mind-altering) drug abused in several different ways. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that “marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug (22.2 million people have used it in the past month) according to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.”
The drug is often abused for the feelings of euphoria and relaxation it tends to produce, but marijuana may also cause anxiety, fear, and paranoia. Some people also experience an acute form of psychosis when using the drug. Marijuana is a highly-debated drug due to its consideration in many states for medical use, but the NIDA reports that marijuana use can cause cognitive impairment and lead to psychological addiction.
Consequences Of Marijuana Abuse
One of the largest consequences of marijuana abuse is memory impairment, which occurs because THC, one of the chemicals found in marijuana, alters the part of the brain responsible for memory formation. Marijuana can result in a number of side effects, ranging from nausea and vomiting to increased blood pressure and heart rate, yet long-term consequences are often difficult to determine as many people abuse the drug with other substances.
Long-term use of marijuana may lead to tolerance and psychological addiction, which may lead to dependence on the drug.
How To Find Treatment For Drug Abuse
Treatment for drug abuse, addiction, and dependence should be comprehensive, working to treat all aspects of health affected by the substance use disorder. Areas of health affected will vary from person to person; addiction affects everyone differently.
People who abuse multiple substances may need more intensive treatment, people who abuse potent substances which foster physical dependence may require a medical detox program, and people who have a co-occurring mental health disorder will have needs specific to treating both disorders at the same time.
For most types of drug addiction, inpatient treatment programs will provide the best recourse for addiction treatment. Inpatient rehab centers provide licensed and experienced staff, ongoing support, round-the-clock care, evidence-based treatment methods, and a safe, peaceful environment for healing.
Learn more about drug addiction and individualized treatment programs at The Bluffs today.
Medical News Today—Barbiturates
National Institute on Drug Abuse—DrugFacts: MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly), Hallucinogens and Dissociative Drugs, Heroin, Inhalants, Marijuana, Synthetic Cannabinoids
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration—Benzodiazepines
U.S. Food and Drug Administration—Opioid Medications