The Different Types of Drugs (And Why They’re Abused)

Updated on December 5, 2019
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The profile of man and in his head lot of pills. Headache treatment.

About 11 million people worldwide inject drugs and 31 million are struggling with drug use disorders. Cannabis alone is used by over 192 million people. Many others are abusing prescription drugs, such as stimulants, opioids, and sedatives.

People use drugs for different reasons. Some resort to them when dealing with stress or depression. Others end up abusing prescription medicines without even realizing it.

Several types of drugs exist, and each has different characteristics. Their side effects vary, depending on the active substance, the amount ingested, and the length of use.

But what causes people to take drugs in the first place? And which of these substances pose the greatest risk of abuse? Read on to find out more!

What Are the Main Types of Drugs?

Most people think of cocaine, marijuana, or heroin when it comes to drug abuse.

But did you know that alcohol is considered a drug too? Some herbal teas and concoctions, such as those made from ayahuasca, fall into this category as well.

Hallucinogens, ketamine, salvia, and bath salts (synthetic cathinones) are all drugs with high potential for abuse. The same goes for tobacco and anabolic steroids, which are among the most commonly abused drugs.

Prescription opioids, for instance, are typically used for pain relief.

The problem is that millions of people end up abusing or misusing them. In 2017, the rate of overdose deaths from these medications was 6.1 per 100,000 men and 4.2 per 100,000 women.

Marijuana — One of the Most Commonly Abused Drugs

Also known as weed, hash, hemp, pot, or Mary Jane, marijuana is the most widely used drug in the U.S. According to a 2015 survey, over 11 million American adults under 25 took this drug in the past year.

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), one of the active compounds in weed, is responsible for its side effects. These may include mood swings, hallucinations, memory problems, and impaired brain function.

Prescription marijuana, on the other hand, contains little or no THC and large doses of CBD (cannabidiol). The latter doesn’t have psychoactive effects.

Most consumers use this drug to relax or deal with stress and negative feelings. Others, especially young people, do it because of peer pressure. Contrary to popular belief, marijuana may cause addiction in the long run.

The Dangers of Heroin Abuse

Nearly 950,000 Americans have used heroin in 2016. The highest abuse rates were registered among adults ages 18 to 25. 

This illicit drug carries immediate and long-term side effects ranging from dry mouth and slowed breathing to permanent brain damage. Over time, it may affect mental function and cause severe neuronal and hormonal imbalances.

Some consumers may also experience insomnia, respiratory problems, depression, sexual dysfunction, and other adverse effects. Heroin withdrawal symptoms are just as severe.

Most people snort, sniff, smoke, or inject heroin to relieve stress and mental tension. Some use it only on occasion, while others become addicted to it and feel the urge to use it daily or several times a day. 

No Drug Is Safe

Most types of drugs, including prescription opioids and stimulants, may cause addiction. The best thing you can do is to avoid using drugs in the first place.

If your doctor prescribes medications that may cause dependence, stick to the recommended dose. Don’t hesitate to ask for a second opinion and resort to safer alternatives (if any).

Remember, prevention is the best defense. Check out the rest of our blog to learn more about the different types of drugs and stay up-to-date with the latest news in healthcare!

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.