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Drug Guide

Addiction is a chronic, multifaceted brain disease. Whether someone is addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, they are typically unable to control their behaviors and actions, and cannot think rationally or make sensible decisions. In many cases of addiction, the substance the addict is using is activating his or her brain’s reward center. In response, the addict experiences feelings of pleasure and euphoria, and a rush of neurotransmitters flood the brain. In order to continue having this same feeling of pleasure, an addict will return again and again to his or her drug of choice and may increase the dosage. This dosage increase can occur because he or she has become accustomed to the substance and needs more of it to experience the same side effects. Over time, addictive substances will change the structure of and the chemicals within an addict’s brain. This will create specific addiction-related behaviors, in addition to withdrawal signs and symptoms if the substance is taken away.

There are many types of addictive substances, such as alcohol, and illicit, prescription and synthetic drugs. Let’s take a closer look at each category, and the effects each substance can have on an individual:


It is believed that alcohol has been used for thousands of years for a variety of reasons. Depending on the beverage, alcohol levels can vary. This level of alcohol, combined with the size of the individual consuming it, and even what foods may have recently been eaten, can all affect how quickly alcohol enters the bloodstream. Short-term side effects of consuming alcohol can become noticeable in as little as 10 – 15 minutes of ingestion and can include:

  • Slurring of speech
  • Lowering of body temperature
  • Decrease in heart and breathing rate
  • Drowsiness

Alcohol is ultimately processed by the liver, but until then, it will stay in the individual’s bloodstream. This blood alcohol level will increase if someone consumes alcoholic beverages quicker than their liver can process the substance. In addition, this blood alcohol level is used by the legal system to determine whether or not an individual is legally intoxicated. Also, keep in mind the short-term effects of alcohol can be increased if it is consumed with other mind-altering substances, whether illegal or legal. Other substances can also affect how slow or quick alcohol is processed through the liver.

Long-term side effects of alcohol consumption can result in negative consequences to someone’s physical and mental health. These affects can include:

  • Damage to the heart, including stroke, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and heart attack.
  • Liver damage, such as fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis and inflammation of the liver.
  • Damage to the pancreas, including swelling and pancreatitis.
  • Compromised immune system.
  • Cancer, including throat, esophagus, liver, breast and mouth.

You may be wondering if someone is addicted to alcohol. Behaviors to look out for include someone being unable to stop drinking, shirking responsibilities and giving up once beloved hobbies, solely concentrated on getting more of the substance, continued drinking despite the negative effects his or her drinking is creating.

Alcohol addiction is a serious medical condition, and detoxing from the substance should never be attempted without the help of medical professionals. While withdrawing from most substances can be difficult and frightening, alcohol detox can be especially intense and can produce life-threatening symptoms. The safest place for someone to detox is in an addiction treatment and rehabilitation center.

Illicit Drugs

Some types of addictive substances may fall under the category of illicit drugs. These would include drugs and/or substances considered illegal to manufacture, distribute and use without approval from the government. In addition, certain household chemicals and prescription medications that are being misused will also fall under the illicit drug category. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular illicit drugs and how they affect the user:

  • Depressants – The category of depressants includes Quaaludes, benzodiazepines and barbiturates. These types of drugs are specifically used for anxiety, convulsions, and as anesthetics. They have the ability to suppress the central nervous system and can cause mild to severe side effects including fatigue, irritability, sedation, dizziness, confusion, shallow breathing and in some cases, respiratory arrest.
  • Opiates – Drugs such as heroin, opium, morphine and codeine all fall under the category of opiates, and are created from the opium poppy plant. Synthetic opiates have also been made with chemical structures almost identical to naturally created opiates. These synthetic options however can be manufactured to be much stronger and can produce more intense side effects. Opioid drugs, when prescribed and used properly, are used as anti-anxiety, analgesics, and cough suppressants. They are highly addictive and can cause the following side effects: slowed heart rate, euphoria, hallucinations, livery damage, heart infection, kidney infection, and delusions.
  • Stimulants – Drugs such as amphetamines and cocaine would fall under the category of stimulants. They will speed up the user’s central nervous system, and work directly on dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. This will create feelings of pleasure and euphoria. When properly prescribed, stimulants can help someone with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or narcolepsy. However, non-medical use and abuse of these drugs can carry life-threatening risks and side effects, including psychosis, increased heart rate, paranoia, and brain hemorrhage, stroke, tremors, seizures, and heart problems.
  • Hallucinogens – If you have heard of LSD, PCP, mescaline or psilocybin mushrooms, you are familiar with drugs in the hallucinogenic category. Any of these drugs will alter someone’s mind and how they perceive things around them. Because these drugs directly interact with someone’s brain chemicals, side effects typically include a distorted awareness of time, awkward movements, sweating, panic, detachment from reality, paranoia, unusual experiences involving one’s senses, intense emotions and feelings.
  • Marijuana – This popular drug is derived from the cannabis sativa plant and is made up of THC and CBD. THC works on cannabinoid receptors found in the brain, and when activated, produce the feeling of getting “high.” Side effects that can come along with using and abusing marijuana include anxiety, depression, learning impairments, memory problems, paranoia, psychosis, panic and schizophrenia.

Illicit drugs all have addictive potential, and this addiction can wreak havoc on an individual’s life. In addition to health problems, addiction can seep into one’s relationships, and financial and employment status. It can also open the door to contracting STDs, HIV, hepatitis, etc. due to partaking in risky behaviors.

Detoxing from any of these drugs is possible, and a life without addiction can take place. Detox and rehabilitation centers can help an addict safely withdraw from any of the above-mentioned substances. Once detox has been successfully completed, rehabilitation will begin which consists of intensive counseling, learning about cognitive behavior therapy, identifying one’s triggers, and being introduced to relapse prevention techniques.

Prescription Drugs

With the National Institute of Drug Abuse estimating almost 100 people dying every day in America because of prescription drug abuse, it is crucial to discuss this class of drugs when speaking about addiction.

Some of the dangers surrounding prescription drugs involve the fact that many people, especially teens and young adults, view these drugs as safer options to try because they are legal and given by a physician. The reality is these drugs are also highly addictive and can produce serious and/or life threatening side effects. Let’s take a look at some of the most often used and abused prescription drugs:

  • OxyContin – This is a narcotic opioid medication that is typically used to relieve moderate to severe pain. While it will help relieve various levels of pain, it can also make it’s user sedated, slower to react, and can create a euphoric feeling. OxyContin is highly addictive, and side effects from the medication can include low blood pressure, depression, seizures, slow breathing, respiratory arrest, respiratory failure, hallucinations, liver damage, heart attack, coma, and death due to overdose.
  • Adderall – This drug is a commonly prescribed stimulant, which can help patients living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and narcolepsy. Adderall improves someone’s ability to focus and can also produce feelings of euphoria. When someone abuses the drug and/or uses it for non-medical reasons, side effects such as increased heart rate, arrhythmias, hallucinations, delusions, aggression, and psychosis can occur. In recent years, Adderall is being used and abused more often by high school and college students who take the drug in order to study for long periods of time, and to help them increase their concentration.
  • Xanax – This benzodiazepine is used in patients dealing with anxiety and panic disorders. When taking the drug, users will experience a calming, sedative effect and may experience feelings of euphoria. Xanax is one of the most widely prescribed medications, with over 50 million prescriptions written by physicians annually. Side effects, which can include slow coordination, rage, mania, confusion and memory loss, can occur in users. In addition, complications from Xanax result in over 125,000 people going to the emergency room every year.
  • Vicodin – Another opioid narcotic drug, Vicodin is commonly prescribed to help patients relieve moderate to severe pain. While the drug is meant to be taken orally, those who abuse it will often crush and snort the pill in hopes of feeling its effects more quickly. In addition to relieving pain, Vicodin will sedate the user and provide feelings of euphoria. It is highly addictive, and users can experience intense cravings for the drug. Other side effects may include mood swings, lethargy, paranoia, inability to focus, and confusion.

The organization Drug Free World estimates over 2,500 young men and women, ages 12 to 17, abuse a prescription pain medicine each day in America. These drugs are also the cause of the largest death percentage from drug overdoses. Drugs most commonly involved in these overdoses include depressants, opioids and antidepressants, followed by heroin, cocaine, and amphetamines.

There is help available for prescription drug abuse, and some rehabs are specifically focused on recovery for young adults. If you or someone you know is addicted to any prescription medication, reach out to a detox and rehab facility near you to get on the road to recovery.

Synthetic Drugs

Synthetic drugs continue to grow in popularity and are increasingly popular in club/dance scenes. They are often sold at gas stations, bars, on the street, online and during concerts. Many of these drugs contain unfamiliar and unsafe compounds that have the ability to produce severe and/or life threatening effects on the body. And while the DEA considers these drugs illegal, it has not slowed the use or sale of these substances.

  • MDMA – This synthetic drug is more commonly called Molly or Ecstasy, and is considered a psychoactive drug that offers stimulant-like and hallucinogenic effects. In most cases, MDMA is taken by mouth via a tablet or capsule. Users will feel euphoria, an increase in energy, warm sensations on their body, and an increased empathy and emotion for others. Side effects of the drug will remain for up to 6 hours after consumption. This drug causes the brain’s neurotransmitter activity to increase. Because of this, serotonin floods the brain and can cause intense after effects when a depletion of serotonin occurs. These effects may include insomnia, intense drug cravings, anxiety and depression. The user may also experience nausea, fainting, chills, sweats, and heart rate or blood pressure issues. Depending on how much of the drug is taken, hyperthermia, heart failure, liver/kidney failure, and death can also occur.
  • Synthetic Marijuana – This herbal substance is produced with chemical compounds and often sold under the name K2 or Spice. While it can produce similar side effects of real Marijuana, synthetic Marijuana is typically more potent and can cause intense side effects. These include seizures, increased heart rate, paranoia, panic, anxiety, increased blood pressure and vomiting.
  • GHB – Also a popular drug among young adults, GHB is considered a depressant and slows down the processes that occur between a user’s central nervous system and brain. This drug can produce very sedating side effects at small doses, and anesthetic qualities at higher doses. It is often called the Date Rape Drug because it can produce drowsiness, difficulty in speaking, temporary amnesia, loss of consciousness and coma.

Whether you or someone you know is addicted to alcohol, or illicit, prescription or synthetic drugs, help is available. Rehabilitation facilities are equipped to help addicts undergo a safe detox, in addition to counseling, therapy and other recovery services. Reach out to a certified drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in your area to learn more about programs and therapies that can help you break free from the grip of addiction.