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Abuse of Illicit Drugs

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Effects of Addiction

If you or someone you love is dealing with an addiction, you need to recognize the signs of drug abuse.

Types of Illicit Drugs, Cocaine, Ecstasy, Hallucinogens, Heroin, Inhalants, Ketamine, Marijuana, Methamphetamine, Effects of Illicit Drug Abuse, Rehab is Your Best Chance


There are approximately 22 million users of illicit drugs in the United States. This category of drugs is made up of some of the most prevalent and commonly abused substances in the world. Illicit drugs refer to drugs that are not only illegal but also highly addictive. Heroin, marijuana, and meth are all considered illicit drugs.

While there is an element of choice when a person first uses one of these drugs, it quickly turns into something that is out of their control. Addiction is not voluntary—in fact it is a complex medical condition with both genetic and environmental factors. Quitting after developing one is significantly harder and is not up to a person’s willpower.

Addictive substances rewire the person’s brain and change the way it works. This affects a person’s decision-making as well as their behavior. Unlike prescription medications, illicit drugs have no medical use.



Types of Illicit Drugs


Substance abuse disorder is a common problem. In fact, there were 19.8 million marijuana users aged 12 and up back in 2013. That same year, the number of people who used meth in the US reached 595,000. Studies show that rates of illicit drug use are highest among those aged 18 to 25.

These statistics paint a picture of a very serious substance abuse problem. In order to fully understand the effects of addiction, it is important to take a closer look at some of the most common types of illicit substances, and how they affect the person using them.



Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant that is made from the leaves of the South American coca plant. It normally comes in a powder form and is commonly snorted or injected by recreational users. Street names for cocaine include blow, bump, coke, and snow. A more pure and potent form of cocaine is known as crack.

Crack cocaine typically comes in solid blocks or crystals. Once it is smoked, it reaches the brain and creates a short-lived yet intense high.


Ecstasy is considered a party drug or rave drug. It is very popular among high school students and young adults. This is because it has psychoactive effects that cause enhanced sensory perception. It also lowers a person’s inhibitions. In a rave, the high caused by ecstasy enhances the social experience. Ecstasy is most commonly taken in pill form or dissolved in water. It can also be snorted or injected.


Hallucinogens are psychoactive or mind-altering drugs. When taken, they cause severe auditory and visual hallucinations. While it is less likely for people to develop an addiction to this type of drug compared to other illicit drugs, abuse of these substances can still lead to adverse health effects. LSD, PCP, mushrooms, and salvia are all examples of hallucinogens.


Heroin is synthetically derived from the opium poppy plant, meaning it is effectively classified as an opioid. This makes it similar to the many prescription opioids available in the market. However, heroin is an extremely addictive substance that has no approved medical uses.

It comes in the form of white or brownish powder, but it can also come in the form of a black tar-like substance. The latter is called black tar heroin. Heroin is commonly injected, but it can also be snorted, smoked, or taken orally.


Inhalants are household items that are not meant to be inhaled. This refers to cleaning supplies, spray paints, and markers. Some people inhale these substances through the nose or mouth in order to achieve a high. It goes without saying that inhaling these substances can be very dangerous to a person’s health. It may lead to heart failure and even death.


Ketamine is only used as an anesthetic in veterinary practice. Some people abuse this drug to get high. When abused, ketamine can cause hallucinations, sedation, and confusion.


Marijuana is one of the most commonly abused illicit substances. Its main psychoactive ingredient, THC, causes temporary euphoria followed by drowsiness, slowed reaction time, and increased appetite.


Methamphetamine, also known as meth, is an extremely dangerous stimulant. It can cause a user to become instantly addicted. While the drug can cause euphoria for a limited period of time, long term abuse can lead to psychosis, severe dental problems, paranoia, and violent behavior.

Effects of Illicit Drug Abuse

If a person continues abusing a certain illicit drug for an extended period of time, they will likely develop tolerance for the substance. This means that in order to achieve the same high, they will have to take a higher dosage. This puts them at risk of overdose, especially when abusing some of the more potent illicit drugs.

They will gradually develop physical dependence, which means that their body has adjusted to the constant presence of the drug. Once they are dependent on the drug, they will not be able to quit because of intense cravings and severe withdrawal symptoms.

If they attempt to quit all of a sudden, their withdrawal symptoms will cause them to relapse. Withdrawal symptoms may range from moderate to severe. Heart palpitations and seizures are common examples of withdrawal symptoms, particularly for long term drug users.

It is therefore very dangerous to quit without proper medical assistance. Addicted individuals need to go through a detox process in order to wean them off of the drug.

Over time, the person may also develop psychological dependence on the substance. This is characterized by drug-seeking behavior and the compulsive need to take the drug. They will feel like they need the drug just to “feel normal”. While there is a desire to quit, they will not be able to.

Most addicted people recognize the negative consequences of their drug use. But addiction itself prevents them from stopping on their own.

Addicted individuals may also prioritize the drug over everything else. They will neglect their responsibilities, their relationships, and their loved ones in favor of the drug. They may get in trouble with the law or get into an accident. They may also lose interest in hobbies and activities that they used to enjoy.

Many illicit drugs pose serious and life-threatening health risks—even when taken in small doses. In fact, there are drugs that can cause addiction after a single use. Heroin is one such drug that poses a high threat of addiction and subsequent overdose. The number of deaths related to heroin and other opioids has substantially increased in the last decade. The number of opioid-related deaths grew by more than 4 times from 2002 to 2017.

If someone in the family is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, it is important to seek help. A combination of medical detox and behavioral therapy can go a long way in the fight against substance abuse. But because every individual is affected by addiction differently, a comprehensive program tailored to their specific needs is necessary. Look for a nearby addiction treatment facility today and find out how drug treatment programs work.


Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.

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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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