Recognizing the Dangers of Drug Abuse

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Updated 10/25/2022

Drug abuse has been plaguing the nation for decades, costing more than just health, money and a favorable reputation. For many, it also costs them their friends, marriages, jobs, peace of mind, and even their lives. Although some drugs (prescription) have the power to treat a number of illnesses and other conditions, they also have the power to do harm if used improperly. Illicit drug use has become especially problematic in the country, with an estimated annual cost of $200 billion on the substances alone and $10 billion in related healthcare expenses, including rehab. Drug abuse can and often does lead to addiction, which can result in a number of negative side effects, some of which can be fatal.

The Recovery Village Columbus offers treatment for drug and alcohol abuse and addiction, in addition to any co-occurring disorders (depression, anxiety, etc.). Intake coordinators are available around-the-clock to speak with you and answer any questions you have about treatment and programs. If you’re seeking more information about the dangers of drug abuse/illicit drug use, either for yourself or a loved one, this page provides an alphabetical list of some of the most common drugs used in the U.S.

1. Amphetamines

Amphetamines are part of a fairly comprehensive group of stimulants that includes dextroamphetamines and methamphetamines. They are highly addictive central nervous system stimulants that affect the brain. As prescription drugs, they are commonly prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), attention deficit disorder (ADD) and other disorders. Some of the most common prescription amphetamine brands include Ritalin and Adderall. These stimulants are often manufactured synthetically in what’s referred to as a “clean room,” or in one of many illegal and unregulated home labs. In the street, amphetamines are known as “uppers” (among other names), due to their ability to evoke a general sense of well-being and a noticeably high level of energy. They also reduce inhibitions and induce a heightened feeling of competency and power, which is one of the primary reasons they were introduced in a recreational setting.

Amphetamines can be ingested orally, nasally, or intravenously. Injecting or smoking the drug normally intensifies the desired sensation, giving you a “high” that lasts for a couple of minutes. One of the most toxic forms of amphetamines you can take is smokeable methamphetamine, which is a translucent rock-like drug in appearance and is considered highly addictive and toxic.

Some of the most common signs and symptoms of amphetamine abuse include:

  • Feelings of paranoia
  • An uncontrollable urge to pick at your skin
  • A combination of sensory hallucinations
  • Impaired sexual performance
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Evidence of malnutrition
  • Nerve cell damage
  • Social isolation
  • Dilation of the pupils
  • Rapid speech
  • Increase in body temperature and respiration rate
  • Discernible spike in blood pressure

Heavy use of amphetamines regularly produces psychotic episodes comparable to clinical schizophrenia.

2. Cocaine

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, cocaine use remains stable at around 1.5 million users in the United States and adults aged between 18 and 25 years are the highest group using the drug. This drug is typically distributed on the street in two distinct forms: cocaine hydrochloride and “crack.” Cocaine hydrochloride is a fine powder that is either snorted or dissolved in water before being injected, and “crack” cocaine is hydrochloride that has been processed using ammonia or sodium bicarbonate and water.

Cocaine is equally as addictive as amphetamines, and when injected, it produces an immediate and intense “high.” Snorting cocaine produces a slower “high,” but both methods induce a surge in energy and feelings of intense pleasure. One of the major issues surrounding cocaine use is that the effects are short-lived, which can create an urge to binge on the substance in order to combat the withdrawal symptoms experienced.

When a user “crashes,” they experience strong cravings for more cocaine, along with various symptoms like:

  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Extreme paranoia
  • Feelings of suspicion

Cocaine is designed to produce a sense of euphoria and does so by causing your brain to release high levels of certain chemicals that produce that mood elevation. However, the consequences of cocaine use on other parts of your body can prove very serious and even life-threatening.

3. Designer Drugs

A designer drug is a restricted drug which is only available via prescription or through a regulated pharmacy that is then modified by so-called underground chemists. Often referred to as either “party drugs” or “rave drugs,” there are numerous variations produced to create a designer drug where the molecular structure of an existing drug is altered. It’s difficult to be specific about side effects associated with designer drugs because of the variances in their composition, although drugs based on methamphetamines, for example, often produce side effects similar to those of using that drug exclusively.

Ecstasy is a high-profile example of a designer drug, but the street name for these substances can alter between where they are being distributed and who has made them. The obvious concern is that a designer drug has been created in an unregulated environment where no testing or standardization is done to confirm dosage strength and toxicity. It can often be the case that the designer drug created is far more potent and addictive than the original drug they originate from.

Another example of a designer drug are those that are based on the pharmaceutical drug Fentanyl, which was originally created as an anesthetic during surgical procedures.

The U.S government does not currently track death rates for every specific drug although the trend in overdose deaths is moving higher every year, and the rate of deaths has almost doubled in the last decade. As the data collected does record the most commonly used drugs, it can be seen that the sharpest increase in deaths has been attributed to Fentanyl use and Fentanyl analogs, designer drugs created using this as the base. These figures appear to give further credence to the suggestion that taking designer drugs can be a deadly decision, especially those that are Fentanyl-based.

4. Ecstasy

Although it might still be thought of as a designer drug, ecstasy has entered the mainstream over a period of time as it gained the attention of more people. The full chemical name for the drug is methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), and it’s considered a synthetic drug that acts as both a hallucinogen and a stimulant. The drug is designed to stimulate the central nervous system and is taken in pill form, costing anywhere between $10 and $20 for each pill.

One of the most damaging aspects about ecstasy is that it has the effect of depleting the levels of serotonin in your brain. Serotonin affects your behavior and mood, and also regulates your sleep pattern, as well as your eating habits and thought processes. You can be exposed to serious dehydration problems using ecstasy and some users have been known to die of heat stroke. As ecstasy is derived from methamphetamine, the side effects are almost the same when using this drug, although there are some additional potential consequences, such as experiencing psychiatric disturbances, feelings of anxiety and panic, blurred vision and muscle tension.

5. Herbal Ecstasy

Herbal ecstasy has been marketed as a legal over-the-counter alternative that delivers a natural “high” without the major issues attached to the hard drugs they are seeking to replicate. The sensation of feeling relaxed, but energetic and slightly tingly, is produced using a herbal concoction that includes caffeine and ephedra. Chinese medicine has been prescribing ephedra for hundreds of years as a way of treating respiratory problems, causing most users to believe that it is safe to consume without any adverse side-effects.

However, the FDA has warned that they have received reports of adverse reactions that include incidents of liver failure, strokes, raised blood pressure and even death. This is believed to be caused by increased dosages of the ephedra and high levels of caffeine being ingested, causing an increase in blood pressure. Overdosing on herbal ecstasy could create a health risk despite its perceived “harmless” status.

6. Heroin

Obtained from opium, heroin is a derivative of morphine, and current versions of the drug can be anywhere between 40 percent and 70 percent pure. This is a very addictive drug, and purity levels have risen substantially since the 1980’s when heroin was typically only about 4 percent pure, which explains why those who currently use it are far more likely to become addicted.

Heroin affects the brain’s pleasure systems and is a depressant, or “downer,” blocking the user’s usual ability to perceive pain. The drug is taken in a variety of different ways:

  • Injection into the vein (known as “mainlining”)
  • Injected into a muscle
  • Smoked in a water pipe or as a rolled cigarette
  • Inhaled as smoke through a straw (a process known as “chasing the dragon”)
  • Inhaled through your nostrils in powder form

The “hit” is almost instantaneous and only takes a few seconds to reach the brain. It’s common to develop a tolerance level to the drug and need a larger quantity to experience the same reaction.

There are numerous short-term and long-term effects and consequences attached to heroin use, and once you become addicted, it often becomes extremely hard to quit. The health consequences are severe, and you can suffer from collapsed veins, heart infections, lung disease, and death.

Opioid misuse is a definite risk factor to be aware of as prescription opioid medicines such as OxyContin® and Vicodin® offer similar effects to heroin, with some patients misusing these pain relievers and becoming more at risk of addiction to heroin itself. Naloxone can sometimes be prescribed for an opioid overdose, but in terms of heroin addiction, it is often a case of finding the best treatment approach that most closely matches the needs of each patient, as there is specific addiction treatment that works for everyone. Medicines such as buprenorphine and methadone can be effective, as they replicate the process that heroin uses to attach to the opioid receptors in your brain but in a weaker dosage, producing reduced cravings and lessening withdrawal symptoms.

7. LSD

This is undoubtedly one of the most common hallucinogens around, and despite the fact that other drugs have subsequently become available, it still remains one of the most potent mood-changing chemicals known. LSD is commonly known by its street name of “acid” and is mainly sold in tablet or capsule form. Taking LSD can cause you to experience feelings of anxiety, confusion, panic, and a feeling of loss of control. Those who use it sometimes report experiencing flashbacks years after stopping LSD use. It is not considered an addictive drug because it does not have the same ability to induce the same compulsive drug-seeking behavior witness with many other drugs. There are a number of known side effects attached to LSD use, and although it is generally considered less harmful than other drugs like cocaine and heroin it can cause certain psychological problems that can be very distressing.

8. Marijuana

The history of marijuana or cannabis use is evolving in the United States and other parts of the world, and although this drug is classed as illegal under federal law, individual states do not always choose to conform. Medical marijuana has been legalized in some states, but it should be noted that all forms are generally considered psychoactive drugs. It can be damaging to your lungs and pulmonary system, and the smoke can contain some of the same carcinogens used in tobacco products. There is also the risk that long-term users might develop a psychological dependence on the drug. There are also a number of known side effects and consequences that you have to consider.

9. PCP

Phencyclidine (PCP) is a white powder that has a noticeably bitter chemical taste, and when it is taken in its raw form, it is either eaten, smoked, or snorted. PCP is often mixed with other drugs such as LSD, marijuana, and methamphetamine. It has a variety of different street names, and the side effects can last for a couple of days, although getting “high” on PCP does also has the capacity to cause death from respiratory arrest.

Getting the facts about drugs, and understanding the physical and mental health consequences of using them can make a real difference. If you would like information on drug abuse or addiction, call The Recovery Village Columbus to speak with someone who can help.

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