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What Are the Different Types of Drugs?

Different Types of Drugs | Just Believe Recovery Center
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There are four main categories of drugs, classified according to their primary effects. These categories include the following:

  • Stimulants
  • Depressants
  • Opioids
  • Hallucinogens

Also, there are a few substances that do not fit squarely into these categories. An example is MDMA (ecstasy, Molly), which has properties of both a stimulant and a hallucinogen.


Stimulants are highly-addictive drugs that increased activity in the CNS (central nervous system). They make individuals feel more alert, energetic, hyperactive, and talkative. They can be very dangerous in high doses and, in some instances, can be lethal. Chronic use can also induce psychotic symptoms and paranoia. Withdrawal and “comedown” symptoms can include anxiety, irritability, and insomnia.

The most common stimulants are cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamine. Cocaine is an illicit drug derived from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America. Cocaine is often found in powder form that is usually snorted or rubbed onto the gums. Crack cocaine has been processed into a rock-like crystal and is typically smoked through a pipe or similar apparatus.

Amphetamines are often found in legal forms, such as Adderall, a medication used to treat the symptoms of ADHD and narcolepsy. For an individual with a legitimate medical need for Adderall, the drug induces a calming, focusing effect when used as prescribed. Amphetamines also have a high potential for addiction, however, and are frequently abused for non-medical purposes. They can make the user feel more focused and alert, and also lead to an increased heart rate and feelings of energy.

Methamphetamine (meth) is mostly found illicitly, but it does have some minimal medical use. It is most often found in the form of a rock-like crystal, also commonly referred to as “crystal meth.” It is usually smoked but can be administered in other ways. Meth is highly addictive and dangerous, and the chemicals used to manufacture it are incredibly toxic and highly combustible.

If used long term, cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamine can lead to a variety of health problems and unwanted consequences, including severe heart and respiratory problems.

Someone abusing stimulants will likely appear alert, energetic, hyperactive, and talkative. The user might also have a lack of appetite and a reduced need for sleep. Drug paraphernalia may include pipes, aluminum foil, baggies, vials, and rolled-up dollar bills.

Depressants (Sedatives)

Different Types of Drugs | Just Believe Recovery Center

Depressants reduce activity in the CNS and can make an individual feel euphoric, relaxed, and drowsy. They can be very addictive and, in excessive doses, may cause heavy sedation and perilously slow respiration and heart rate.

Popular sedatives include alcohol and benzodiazepines. Next to tobacco, alcohol is the most often abused substance in the United States as it is easily accessible and legal for individuals over age 21 to consume.

Alcohol is made through a process known as fermentation and comes in several forms, including beer, wine, and liquor. Alcohol abuse can lead to life-threatening health complications, including brain damage, liver disease, falls, and auto accidents.

Alcohol, like other depressants, reduces activity in the CNS. This effect can induce feelings of sociability, confidence, relaxation, and lowered inhibitions. It can also cause physical reactions, including poor coordination, impaired memory, and a decreased ability to enact sound decisions.

Alcohol is also a carcinogen, and long-term increases the risk of a variety of cancers, including those of the mouth, throat, breast, esophagus, liver, and colon. Many health professionals contend that any level of alcohol consumption can be detrimental to one’s health.

Benzodiazepines are sedative drugs prescribed by physicians to treat a variety of conditions, such as anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. Common benzodiazepines include alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), and diazepam (Valium). They are most often administered in pill form but can also be crushed and snorted.

Those who misuse them can do so by using them too often or in amounts above a doctor’s directions. They are also frequently products of drug diverse, so those without a prescription may obtain them to self-medicate or experience feelings of relaxation and sedation. Benzodiazepines are relatively fast-acting and have the potential for dependence and addiction. A regular user can develop tolerance and dependence upon benzodiazepines rapidly, even if they are not abusing them.

Side effects of benzodiazepines include depression, drowsiness, and confusion. Signs that a person could be misusing them include adverse changes in mood and behavior. The individual may be tired, lethargic, or disoriented, similar to being drunk on alcohol. Slurred speech and poor coordination may also occur.

Opioid Painkillers

Opioids and opiates work on specific neurochemicals in the CNS to alter a person’s perception of pain. They can also induce euphoria and cause drowsiness. These drugs are very addictive and hazardous to use in excessive doses and can lead to profound CNS depression and death.

Opioids include prescription medications, such as hydrocodone (Norco, Vicodin) and oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), as well as illicit drugs such as fentanyl and heroin. These substances are derived from, or chemically comparable to alkaloids found naturally in the opium poppy.

Most prescription opioids are typically administered as oral tablets if a doctor prescribes them. However, they also come in liquid form, as a transdermal patch, or in a lozenge or lollipop. When misused, they can be crushed and smoked, snorted, or diluted in water and injected into veins.

Opioids attach to receptors in the body and brain, which reduce pain and induce euphoria, especially when misused (e.g., taking the wrong dosage). Side effects of opioids can include depression, confusion, nausea, and constipation.

Opioids can also cause increased tolerance as well as chemical dependence. These conditions can compel users to take escalating doses to experience relief and prevent withdrawal symptoms.

Signs that an individual could be abusing opioids include changes in mood, behavior, and circle of friends, among others. A person who is actively abusing opioids may seem out of it, drowsy and disoriented. Heroin use especially is associated with an effect known as being “on the nod.” When this occurs, the person alternates in and out of consciousness and can fall asleep while sitting or standing. Slurred speech and slow movements are also common effects.

Drug paraphernalia can include needles, vials, rubber tubing, and burnt spoons. As noted, when an individual ingests opioids in excessive doses, their heart rate and respiration may become profoundly depressed. They may even stop breathing altogether, which, if left untreated, will lead to death. Symptoms of overdose may include pinpoint pupils, cold and clammy skin, respiratory depression, and unconsciousness/coma.


Different Types of Drugs | Just Believe Recovery Center

Hallucinogens are substances that are usually illegal and can induce mind-altering effects and visual and auditory hallucinations. An individual may have feelings of depersonalization and detachment from the environment. They may also have delusions, an altered perception of space and time, and spiritual/religious experiences.

The adverse effects of these drugs can include nausea, paranoia, anxiety, panic, and psychosis. Hallucinogens are not generally considered to be addictive in the chemical sense, but they can be habit-forming, and in some cases, emotional dependence may develop. Common hallucinogens include LSD, magic mushrooms, ketamine, mescaline, and peyote.

Depending on the substance, hallucinogens can be ingested as a pill, placed on the tongue, or consumed as a tea. They can also be inhaled, snorted, and injected. An individual using hallucinogens may appear to be encountering visual and mood disturbances, paranoia, hallucinations, and reduced ability to concentrate or reason.

Treatment for Drug Addiction

If you or someone you love is abusing any of the substances listed above, we urge you to seek professional help today. Just Believe Recovery offers customized, integrated programs that feature services vital to the process of recovery. These services include psychotherapy, individual and group counseling, group support, substance abuse education, aftercare planning, and more.

Call us today if you are motivated to break free from the cycle of addiction and reclaim the fulfilling life you deserve!

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