Drugs of Abuse

Why Does Drug Use Begin?

There are many social, environmental, and hereditary factors that can influence an individual’s choice to begin using drugs. Below is a short list of possibilities:

Environmental and cultural factors play a role in who has access to drugs and alcohol. These factors also play a role in the acceptance and promotion of use.
Drugs are sometimes seen as a way to escape from the stress or anxiety of daily life. Their “numbing” effects help to ease the emotional/physical pain that the individual is experiencing.
Drugs and alcohol can be used as a way to self-medicate other mental and physical illnesses.
Children and adolescents mirror the behavior they see in role models, i.e. parents, older siblings or family members. If a role model is abusing drugs or alcohol, a child may perceive this as an approval of use.
The search for acceptance – peer pressure to try drugs and alcohol from other youth or even adults is often the very influencing.
Chaotic home environments can lead children to turn to drugs. Children of alcohol and other drug-dependent parents are at higher risk for developing substance abuse problems.

What is the Nature of Drug Abuse?

Regardless the reason for its beginnings, the pattern of drug use, then abuse seems to follow predictable stages.
Stage 1 – Experimentation: A person tries a drug, often beginning with alcohol or marijuana, and has either a positive or negative reaction. The nature of the reaction influences whether a person will move on to the next stage. A “normal” person who experiences a bad hang-over from drinking or paranoid hallucinations while using drugs is less likely to try those substances again.
Stage 2 – Recreational or social use: During this stage, a person will use a drug if it is readily available is a social setting. The individual does not actively seek the substance and will not use it if alone.
Stage 3 – Abuse:An individual develops a relationship with the substance. It begins to serve a purpose for them: emotional relief, a euphoric feeling. The individual may begin to seek the substance. There is still a “trade-off” with the substance, however. The person is likely to quit when the negative consequences of using the substance (physical, emotional or relational consequences) begin to outweigh the benefits to them.
Stage 4 – Addiction: Addiction is characterized by the continued use of a substance, despite negative consequences. (See the Addiction Fact Sheet for more information).

What Are the Drugs of Abuse?

Drugs are used and abused because of their distinct effects on the mind and body. Below is a list of commonly abused drugs, a description and a short list of their effects on the body (ranging from short to long-term):

Description: Marijuana is a plant that is typically smoked. The drug blocks the messages going to the brain, which alters perceptions, emotions, hearing and coordination. It is the most widely used illicit drug in the United States and tends to be the first illegal use.
Effects on the body:

  • altered perceptions
  • reduced ability to concentrate
  • reduced hand-eye coordination
  • euphoria
  • laughing
  • hunger
  • sleepiness
  • impaired short-term memory
  • increased heart rate
  • decreased social inhibitions
  • bloodshot eyes
  • dry mouth and throat
  • paranoia and hallucinations
  • enhanced cancer risk
  • decrease in testosterone levels for men resulting in low sperm count
  • diminished or extinguished sexual pleasure
  • psychological dependence.

Description: One cigarette contains 4,000 chemicals, 200 of them are known poisons. Many of these chemicals make cigarettes high addictive. While many young people try cigarettes as experimentation, one-third are addicted by the time they are 20 years old.
Effects on the body:

  • diminished or extinguished sense of smell and taste
  • frequent colds
  • cough
  • gastric ulcers
  • chronic bronchitis
  • increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • emphysema
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • cancer of the mouth
  • larynx
  • pharynx
  • esophagus
  • lungs
  • pancreas
  • cervix
  • uterus and bladder
  • physical and psychological dependence.

Description: While drinking alcohol in moderation has not been shown to be harmful, prolonged use and use while driving can be deadly.
Effects on the body:

  • slurred speech
  • unsteady walk
  • relaxed inhibitions
  • distorted vision and hearing
  • reduced hand-eye coordination
  • altered perceptions and emotions
  • impaired judgment
  • hangovers
  • loss of appetite
  • stomach ailments
  • skin problems
  • sexual impotence
  • liver damage
  • heart and central nervous system damage
  • memory loss.

Methamphetamines(known as “speed,” “meth,” or “crank”)
Description: Methamphetamine is a stimulant that is normally found in pill form or in a powdered form, used for snorting or injecting. It is a stimulant drug that is gaining popularity in the club scene.
Effects on the body:

  • euphoria
  • irritability
  • confusion
  • tremors
  • increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • insomnia
  • increased physical activity
  • decreased appetite
  • anxiety or paranoia
  • respiratory problems
  • extreme anorexia
  • convulsions and cardiovascular problems
  • irreversible damage to blood vessels in the brain, producing strokes.

Cocaine and Crack Cocaine
Description: Cocaine is a white powder that is snorted through nasal passages or injected intravenously. Crack is a smokable form of cocaine. Both are stimulants and highly addictive. Even first time users of the drug may experience seizures of heart attacks, which can be fatal.
Effects on the body:

  • brief intense euphoria
  • excitement
  • restlessness
  • feelings of well-being followed by depression
  • erratic behavior
  • hallucinations
  • confusion
  • increased blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate and body temperature
  • heart attacks, strokes and respiratory failure
  • hepatitis or HIV through shared needles
  • brain seizures
  • reduction in the body’s ability to resist infection
  • losing touch with reality.

Description: Hallucinogenic drugs include PCP, LSD or acid, and mushrooms, among others. This category of drugs distorts the perception of reality and effects can last for up to 12 hours.
Effects on the body:

  • altered mood and perceptions
  • focus on detail
  • anxiety and panic
  • nausea
  • unpredictable and violent behavior
  • increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • sleeplessness and tremors
  • lack of muscle coordination
  • incoherent speech
  • decreased awareness of touch and pain that can result in injury
  • depression, anxiety and paranoia
  • flashbacks
  • coma, heart and lung failure.

Description: Inhalants are substances that are sniffed or huffed and give the user an immediate head rush. The category includes a variety of chemicals, many of which are found in consumer products, like household cleaners. The use of inhalants can result in death, even for first time users, from asphyxiation or suffocation.
Effects on the body:

  • heart palpitations
  • breathing difficulty
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • decrease or loss of smell
  • nausea and nosebleeds
  • violent behaviors
  • irregular heartbeat
  • nervous system damage
  • irreversible brain damage

Additional Resources:

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration
Alcoholics Anonymous
Narcotics Anonymous

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