At least 21 million Americans have a drug or alcohol addiction problem. However, not enough are getting the treatment they need to help them regain control of their lives. Research found that in 2018, only 11 percent received the treatment they needed. 


Substance abuse can occur with both illicit and prescription drugs. While each class and category of drugs produces a different biochemical response within the body, addiction is typically quantified by physical and psychological dependency. These factors may vary in severity depending on factors such as duration, substances used, and physical composition.  Knowing how drugs affect the body, signs of substance abuse and addiction, and what recovery options are available can be life-saving. Learn more below.

Types of Drugs 

Drugs are typically categorized by the effect they have on the body. Pharmaceutical drugs are classed by type, strength, and medical use, while illicit substances may be categorized in broader terms. Overall, there are seven major drug types:

Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants 

CNS depressants work by slowing down the activity in one’s brain. More specifically, they affect the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors of the brain, causing a relaxing effect. Depressants are commonly used to treat conditions such as insomnia, anxiety, or stress disorders.

Substances which fall into this category are sedatives, tranquilizers, and hypnotics. Sedatives are often prescribed to ease symptoms of irritability or excitement, while tranquilizers can treat anxiety or muscle spasms. Hypnotics help to induce sleep if you struggle to sleep naturally. Some central nervous system depressants include:

  • Alcohol 
  • Benzodiazepines 
  • Barbiturates 
  • Anti-anxiety tranquilizers 
  • GHB 
  • Rohypnol

Depressant misuse and abuse often stems from a desire to quiet difficult thoughts and emotions or relieve stress. However increased tolerance leads to an increased need, causing some to seek more powerful substances.

Central Nervous System Stimulants 

Contrary to Central Nervous System depressants, stimulants invigorate the brain and nervous system. They promote increased production of certain biochemicals like dopamine and serotonin, elevating mood and leaving one feeling energized and alert. Stimulant abuse may also cause a sense of euphoria and reduced inhibitions.

Conditions they’re often used to treat are excessive sleepiness, ongoing fatigue, or obesity. Some examples of CNS stimulants include: 

  • Cocaine 
  • Crack 
  • Amphetamines 
  • Phendimetrazine 
  • Phentermine 
  • Modafinil 
  • Atomoxetine 
  • Methamphetamine

Misuse of stimulant drugs can lead to serious, potentially fatal health conditions including heart attack and stroke. 


There are two categories of hallucinogens: classic hallucinogens and dissociative drugs. Both alter one’s thoughts, feelings, and awareness of surroundings. They warp the user’s sense of reality, which may lead to visual or auditory hallucinations. Some may also experience an out-of-body experience.

While some hallucinogens are extracted from plants and mushrooms, others are man-made or synthetic. They can be used in multiple ways which include being swallowed as pills, swallowed as a liquid, injected, inhaled, or snorted. 

Examples of hallucinogens include:

Classic hallucinogens 

  • LSD 
  • Peyote 
  • Ecstasy 
  • Psilocybin 
  • DMT 
  • 251-NBOMe
  • Salvia 

Dissociative Anesthetics 

  • PCP 
  • Ketamine 
  • Dextromethorphan

Hallucinogen abuse can cause lasting psychological damage, including persisting perception disorder, which causes flashbacks to hallucinations experienced while under the influence. Physical side effects include increased heart rate and blood pressure, tremors, rapid changes in body temperature, and seizures.

Narcotic Analgesics (Opioids)

Opioids are a class of drugs that interact with the pain receptors in the central nervous system. Both naturally derived and synthesized, opioids cover a large array of both illicit substances and prescription pain medications. Opioids bind to specific neurotransmitters in the central nervous system, blocking pain signals and alleviating pain. They also produce feelings of relaxation and euphoria if misused.

Opioids are highly addictive, contributing in large part to the current substance abuse epidemic affecting the United States. Research shows at least 2 million Americans suffer from an opioid-related substance abuse problem. Some common narcotic analgesics people are addicted to include:

  • Codeine 
  • Demerol 
  • Fentanyl 
  • Hydrocodone 
  • Hydromorphone 
  • Meperidine 
  • Heroin 
  • Morphine 
  • Methadone 
  • Vicodin 
  • Oxycontin 


Inhalants are substances that produce chemical vapors that can be intoxicating when inhaled. They produce a mind-altering or psychoactive effect by affecting one’snervous system and slowing down brain activity. There is a wide range of inhalants, but the common denominator between all of them is that they are inhaled. Inhalants are commonly abused due to ease of access. Because they often don’t look like illicit substances, suspicion often isn’t raised. 

Categories of inhalants include: 

  • Volatile solvents 
  • Aerosols 
  • Gases  
  • Nitrites 

Common effects of inhalants are distorted speech, dizziness, euphoria, and hallucinations. If misused, they may lead to brain damage, seizure, and death.


Three plants fall under the cannabis umbrella which includes Sativa, Indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. The main active chemical in cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which produces the ‘high’ smokers seek. As a mood altering drug, cannabis is often used to relieve stress, anxiety, and insomnia. However, it is important to recognize that it affects all areas of the body, including one’s hand-eye coordination, depth perception, and reaction time. Cannabis can impair one’s ability to operate a vehicle as much as alcohol consumption.

Although some are of the belief that marijuana isn’t addictive, it is possible to develop a marijuana use disorder. This occurs as one becomes physically and psychologically dependent on marijuana use to feel normal and function on a day to day basis.

Left unchecked, addiction may have detrimental effects on one’s life. Beyond health risks, substance abuse disorders damage relationships, social standing, and may lead to legal and financial struggles.

If you or someone you love is experiencing drug addiction, recovery is possible. Discovery Point Retreat offers a full continuum of care for overcoming substance abuse to lead a healthy, happy life. Contact us today for more information.