Commonly Abused Drugs

Alcohol – Many people put alcohol in a different category from other drugs because of its legality. However, alcohol is one of the most commonly abused drugs out there and can be deadly. Do not be fooled; alcohol is a drug. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. In low doses, alcohol causes euphoria, mild stimulation, relaxation, and lowered inhibitions. In higher doses, alcohol causes drowsiness, slurred speech, nausea, loss of coordination, visual distortions, impaired memory, sexual dysfunction, and loss of consciousness. Alcohol affects every organ in a drinker’s body and can damage a developing fetus if a woman drinks while she is pregnant. It is carried through the bloodstream to the brain, stomach, internal organs, liver, kidneys, and muscles. Drinking too much alcohol can result in seizures and death.

Marijuana- Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in the U.S. Marijuana is usually smoked, but it can be incorporated into food products and eaten. Short-term effects of marijuana use include euphoria; slowed reaction time; problems with memory and learning; distorted perception; difficulty in thinking and problem-solving; impaired balance and coordination; increased heart rate and appetite, anxiety, and panic attacks. In the long term, marijuana use can cause chronic cough and respiratory infections as well as mental health problems and addiction.

Opiates – This category includes street drugs like heroin and opium as well as prescription painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone. Opiates can be taken orally, snorted, injected or smoked. Short-term effects of drugs in this category include euphoria; drowsiness; impaired coordination; dizziness; confusion; nausea; sedation; feeling of heaviness in the body; and slowed or arrested breathing. Taking a large amount of opiates can repress breathing to the point of fatal overdose. Opiates are very addictive.

Cocaine- Cocaine is a powerfully addictive central nervous system stimulant that is snorted, injected, or smoked. Short-term effects of cocaine include increased heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, metabolism, feelings of exhilaration, energy, mental alertness, tremors; reduced appetite; irritability, anxiety, panic, paranoia, violent behavior and psychosis.  Health risks of using cocaine include weight loss, insomnia, cardiac or cardiovascular complications, stroke, seizures and addiction.

MDMA and Ecstasy- These are synthetic, psychoactive drugs with hallucinogenic and amphetamine-like properties. MDMA is the active ingredient in Ecstasy, but Ecstasy is often cut with other drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines. Short term effects of these drugs include mild hallucinogenic effects; increased tactile sensitivity; empathic feelings; lowered inhibition; anxiety; chills; sweating; teeth clenching; and muscle cramping. . Many problems users encounter with MDMA are similar to those found with the use of amphetamines and cocaine including psychological difficulties such as confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving, severe anxiety, and paranoia. These symptoms can occur during drug use and up to a week afterwards. Health risks for this type of drug include sleep disturbances, depression, impaired memory, hyperthermia and addiction. Recent research findings also link MDMA use to long-term damage to those parts of the brain critical to thought and memory.

Methamphetamine- Methamphetamine has become a prevalent drug in some parts of the US because it is inexpensive and can be produced using household ingredients. Its short-term effects and health risks are essentially the same as those for cocaine (see above). However, methamphetamine also causes a condition known as “meth mouth.” Meth mouth is an informal name for advanced tooth decay attributed to heavy methamphetamine use.