Drug abuse occurs when you’re unable to control your use of
prescribed drugs or you're using another legal or illegal substance to the
point that it interferes with your ability to function. According to the National
Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 40,000 people died from accidental drug
overdose in the United States in 2011. Each year, more than 22,000 people die
from prescription drug abuse alone.
Drug abuse also leads to other public health problems, such as:
- drunk and drugged driving
- familial stress
- child abuse
Intravenous drug users, who inject drugs, are also at risk of
contracting and spreading infectious diseases, such as HIV, AIDS, and
Addiction involves many social and biological factors, but
treatment is available. The most successful way to stop drug abuse is through
prevention and education.
Commonly Abused Drugs
Alcohol is found in beer, wine, and liquor. It’s legal for adults
over the age of 21 to purchase and drink in the United States. Your body
rapidly absorbs alcohol from your stomach and small intestine into your
One standard drink equals:
- 12 ounces of beer
- 8 ounces of malt liquor
- 5 ounces of wine
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirit or
When you drink alcohol, your brain function and motor skills
become impaired. Alcohol damages every organ in your body. It can also damage your
developing fetus if you’re pregnant.
Alcohol use increases your risk of:
- liver disease
Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder, occurs when your use of
alcohol affects your ability to work or maintain relationships. Alcohol abuse
can threaten your long-term health.
National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that over a 30-day period:
- 52.7 percent of adults, age 12 and older, used
alcohol at least once
- 11.5 percent of young adults, between the ages
of 12 and 17, used alcohol at least once
- 16.3 million Americans reported heavy alcohol
Anabolic steroids are also commonly known as:
- gym candy
Steroids are man-made substances. They mimic the male sex hormone,
testosterone. They’re taken orally or injected. They’re illegal in the United
States, but some athletes abuse them to enhance performance and build strength.
Steroids can cause serious and permanent health problems,
- aggressive behavior
- liver damage
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
Women who use steroids face additional symptoms, such as:
- facial hair growth
- menstrual cycle changes
- deepened voice
Teen users may:
- stunt their growth
- have accelerated puberty
- experience severe acne
This category of drugs refers to a wide variety of illegal drugs
that young adults often use at dance parties, clubs, and bars.
They include the following:
- Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is also known as grievous bodily harm, G, and liquid ecstasy.
- Ketamine is also known as special K, K, cat valium, and vitamin
- Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is also
known as ecstasy, XTC, adam,
clarity, and X.
- Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is also known as acid.
- Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol) is also known as roofies, rophies, roche, and forget-me
Club drugs can lead to feelings of euphoria, detachment, or
sedation. Roofies, in particular, have been used to commit sexual assaults on
They can cause:
- serious short-term mental health problems, such
- physical health issues, such as rapid heart
rate, seizures, and dehydration
They’re especially dangerous when mixed with alcohol.
Cocaine is also known as:
Cocaine is a powerful drug that leads to a strong addiction. It’s
sold as a fine, white powder. It’s injected into the veins, snorted through the
nose, or smoked. It can also be processed into crack cocaine, a cheaper product
that’s also highly addictive. In both forms, cocaine causes the user to feel
energetic and euphoric.
Cocaine use increases:
- body temperature
- blood pressure
- heart rate
Cocaine users risk:
- heart attacks
- respiratory failure
National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 1.5 million Americans age
12 and older were current cocaine users.
Heroin is also known as:
Heroin is an illegal opiate. Like morphine, a legal prescription
drug, heroin is made from the seed of the poppy plant, or opium. It’s a white
or brown powder. It’s injected into a vein, smoked, or snorted through the
nose. Users feel euphoria and experience clouded thinking followed by a drowsy
Heroin use leads to:
- heart problems
Regular heroin use leads to higher tolerance. Over time, users
may need to take more of the drug to experience its effects. This causes
addiction and severe withdrawal symptoms if the user stops taking the drug.
These drugs are also known as:
Inhalants are chemical vapors that users breathe to experience
mind-altering effects. They include common products, such as:
- hair spray
- lighter fluid
The short-term effects of these drugs cause a feeling similar to
Inhalants are extremely dangerous. They can lead to:
- a loss of sensation
- a loss of consciousness
- a loss of hearing
- brain damage
- heart failure
National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that about 546,000 people age
12 and older used inhalants.
This drug is also known as:
Marijuana is a dried mix of the cannabis plant’s:
It’s usually smoked, but it can also be ingested in a variety of
edible products. It produces feelings of euphoria, distorted perceptions, and
trouble solving problems. It’s the most commonly abused illegal drug in the
United States. In 2014, an estimated 22.2 million Americans were users of
marijuana, reports the Substance
Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Research has proven and continues to explore the effectiveness of
marijuana to treat certain medical conditions, such as glaucoma and the
negative side effects of chemotherapy. According to the National
Conference of State Legislatures, the District of Columbia and 23 states
have approved marijuana for medical use, including:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- Rhode Island
Other names for this drug include:
Methamphetamine is a very addictive drug. It’s closely related to
amphetamine. It’s a white or yellowish powder that’s snorted, injected, or
heated and smoked.
The user can experience long-term wakefulness. They may also increase
their physical activity, which can lead to physical symptoms like increased:
- heart rate
- body temperature
- blood pressure
If used for a long time, it can lead to:
- mood problems
- violent behavior
- severe dental problems
Many people are prescribed medication for pain and other conditions.
Prescription drug abuse occurs when you take a medication that’s not prescribed
for you or you take it for reasons other than those prescribed by your doctor.
Some people can become addicted, even when they’re using the drug as
These drugs may include:
- opioids for pain management, such as fentanyl,
oxycodone, or hydrocodone (Vicodin)
- anxiety or sleep medicine, such as alprazolam (Xanax)
or diazepam (Valium)
- stimulants, such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) or
amphetamine and dextroamphetamine (Adderall)
Their effects differ depending on the medication, but abusing
prescription drugs can lead to:
- depressed breathing
- slowed brain function
It may lead to long-term physical dependence and addiction. The
illegal use of prescription drugs has grown over the past few decades. This is
partially because they have become more widely available. The focus of law
enforcement has also been on illicit drugs.
Stages of Drug Abuse
Public health experts usually break up drug abuse into stages:
- In the experimental use stage, you use the drug
with peers or for recreation.
- In the regular use stage, you change your
behavior and use the drug to fix negative feelings.
- In the daily preoccupation, or risky use, stage,
you’re preoccupied with the drug and don’t care about your life outside of your
- In the dependent stage, you’re unable to face
your life without using the drug. Your financial and personal problems
increase, and you may also take risks to obtain the drug that result in legal
Treating Drug Abuse
What to Look for in a Treatment Program
It’s important to find a program that follows these principles of
- Addiction is complex but treatable.
- There’s no single treatment that works for
- Treatment is readily available.
- Treatment focuses on your multiple needs.
- Treatment addresses your mental health. Your treatment
needs are regularly evaluated to ensure your treatment is meeting them.
- It’s critical to remain in treatment for an
adequate amount of time. Voluntary and involuntary treatment can be effective.
- Drug use is monitored during your treatment
because relapses can and do happen.
Treatment programs should check for and monitor infectious diseases
while providing risk-education counseling. This encourages you to act
responsibly so you don’t contract or spread infectious diseases.
Depending on the drug you’re addicted to, the first stage of
treatment is often medically assisted
detoxification. This process is one in which supportive care
is provided as the drug is cleared from your bloodstream.
Detoxification is followed by other treatments to encourage
long-term abstinence. Many treatments involve both individual and group
counseling. These are given in outpatient facilities or inpatient residential
Medications are also helpful to reduce your withdrawal symptoms
and encourage recovery. In heroin addiction, for example, your doctor may
prescribe a drug called methadone. It can ease your recovery and help you cope
with the intense withdrawal stage.
Preventing Drug Abuse
The best way to avoid drug abuse is to prevent initial use and
addiction. Efforts usually focus on encouraging youth to avoid peer pressure.
Community prevention programs work in schools, with teachers, and with
community members to educate and provide information and support.
Parents play an important role in preventing their children from
using drugs. You should:
- talk openly with your children about
- find and share fact-based information about
drugs and drug abuse
- build a strong family bond that provides a supportive
environment for your children
Resources, Phone Numbers, and Support Groups
The following are resources you can use to get help:
- Above the Influence provides
information targeted at youth and young adults regarding drug use, peer
pressure, and treatment options. Visit http://www.abovetheinfluence.com.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration (SAMHSA) offers free resources or referrals
to treatment. If you have questions or need help, call the 24-hour helpline at 800-662-HELP.
- The National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teenagers provides
information and research for teenagers and young adults about drug abuse. Visit
- The National Association for Children of
Alcoholics provides information and resources for children of alcoholics. Call
888-55-4COAS (888-554-2627) or visit http://www.nacoa.org.
- Al-Anon provides confidential groups
and meetings across the United States for adult friends and family members of people
who have drinking problems. Call 888-4AL-ANON (888-425-2666) from 8 a.m. to 6
p.m. Eastern Time, Monday-Friday, or visit http://www.al-anon.org/home.
- Al-Ateen provides confidential
groups and meetings across the United States to help teenagers and young adults
cope with a friend or family member’s alcohol use. Call 888-4AL-ANON
(888-425-2666) from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday-Friday, or visit http://www.al-anon.alateen.org.
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
offers meetings and support groups for people interested in recovering from
alcohol addiction or abuse. Visit www.aa.org.
- Narcotics Anonymous (NA) offers
meetings and support groups for people interested in recovering from narcotic
addiction or abuse. Visit www.na.org.