Drug Abuse Treatment, Symptoms, Effects and Recovery

By The Fix staff 01/21/15

Drug Abuse Symptoms, Effects and Recovery

Drug Abuse

The National Institute on Drug Abuse closely monitors emerging drug trends throughout the country in addition to providing updated information on the risks and effects of many different types of drugs, including both illicit and legal substances. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, provides detailed information on the prevalence and incidence of substance-use disorders in the five primary age ranges. For each class of drug, the SAMHSA further defines the recent time period in which people have used drugs.

Prevalence of Drug Abuse

According to data collected by SAMHSA, more than 18 million individuals above the age of 18 used illicit drugs within the past month in any given year based on the averages found in the report released in 2009. Furthermore, the same report found that 5,942,000 individuals had used illicit drugs in the past year while 5,316,000 of these people failed to get needed drug abuse treatment. According to the Mayo Clinic, more than 2.5 million people die each year either as a direct result or condition related to drug abuse.

The scope of the tragedy of drug abuse demands knowledge of a wide range of information about drugs. You need to understand the symptoms, causes, testing, and treatment options for addressing substance use disorder. Furthermore, you need to understand that some legal substances, such as tobacco, alcohol, and the ongoing feud of legality over synthetic compounds, can have detrimental effects nearing those of illicit drugs.

Classes of Drugs

Each class of drugs contains a unique set of properties that can have mild to severe health effects according to the National Institute of Health.


The addictive chemical in tobacco, nicotine, is found in cigarettes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco. While the FDA regulates age limitations to the sale of tobacco products, it still poses several health risks, such as increased blood pressure, heart and respiratory rates, cardiovascular disease, cancers of the mouth, lungs, respiratory system, stomach, kidneys, bladder, and problems for pregnant women.


Alcohol is another highly addictive, yet legal, substance and carries several side effects in low levels versus high levels of dosage. The low dosage effects include euphoria, decreased inhibitions, and relaxation. However, in high doses, the person consuming alcohol may experience drowsiness, slurred speech, vomiting, sexual dysfunction, lack of coordination, violence, depression, hypertension, addiction, alcohol poisoning, emotional distress, nausea, and liver and heart disease.


This class of drugs includes marijuana, hashish, and hemp, which are schedule 1 narcotics and commonly smoked or swallowed. Several states, Washington and Colorado, have enacted laws allowing the recreational use of marijuana; however, this gesture does not exude the potential side effects of use of cannabinoids.

The most common side effects or symptoms of cannabis use include euphoria, relaxation, difficulties in sensory perception, difficulty in maintaining balance and coordination, increased heart rate, increased eating habits, problems in memory or learning, panic attacks, problems with other, pre-existing mental health disorders, slowed reaction times, addiction, and even possible psychotic symptoms. Hallucinations, delusions, or extreme paranoia can be the most common signs of psychosis.


Opioids include heroin and opium, which are characterized by the active ingredients: diacetlymorphine and laudanum respectively. The common side effects for opioids are euphoria, drowsiness, problems with coordination, dizziness, confusion, nausea, sedation, slowed breathing, endocarditis, addiction, overdose, and a feeling of heaviness in the body.


This class of drugs includes cocaine (cocaine hydrochloride), amphetamine (biphetamine, dexedrine), and methamphetamine (desoxyn). All three of these drugs are schedule II substances as classified by the FDA.

Stimulant side effects increase heart rate, blood pressure, metabolism, euphoria, energy, mental alertness, and body temperature. Furthermore, stimulant use can result in tremors, decreased appetite, irritability, anxiety, paranoia, aggressive behavior, psychosis, insomnia, stroke, seizures, addiction, nasal discharge when snorting cocaine, or severe dental problems from smoking methamphetamines

Club Drugs

Club drugs include MDMA, flunitrazepam, and GHB. MDMAs cause mild hallucinogens, increased physical sensations, emotional feelings of empathy, decreased inhibitions, anxiety, perspiration, chills, muscle cramping, insomnia, difficulty in memory recall, and hypertension.

Flunitrazepam causes sedation, confusion, memory problems, and dizziness. GHB induces drowsiness, headache, pain, disorientation, unconsciousness, coma, or seizures.

Dissociative Drugs

Dissociative drugs refer to ketamine, PCP, salvia divinorum, and dextromethorphan (DXM). The primary side effects for this class of drugs include out-of-body sensations, impaired muscle abilities, tremors, memory loss, nausea, and moderate tremors. Each of these substances can cause euphoria, act as a painkiller, and produce aggressive behaviors. Ketamine overdose will result in death.

Other Compounds

Anabolic steroids and inhalants are classified as other compounds; however, anabolic steroids do not produce any mind-altering effects. Anabolic steroids can cause unexplainable blood coagulation, changes in cholesterol levels, acne, aggression, stunted growth, prostate cancer, breast enlargement, reduced sperm count, menstrual changes, or development of opposite gender characteristics.

Prescription Drugs

The abuse of prescription drugs has grown exponentially in recent years, and they are the most commonly used substances by teenagers after alcohol and marijuana. Each prescription has its own set of side effects when used improperly, and many prescription medications produce euphoric effects and have the potential for overdose.


The Mayo Clinic identifies two primary causes resulting in drug abuse: environmental influences and genetic predisposition. Furthermore, drug use can result in lasting changes in brain function that changes a person's ability to feel certain emotions or engage in critical thinking applications. Environmental factors include the manner in which a person was raised and the use of drugs in social situations with peers. Genes can play a role in how quickly a person becomes addicted to the effects of a specific drug.

Risk Factors for Drug Abuse

Several risk factors provide insight into which populations will be the most likely people to abuse substances. Some of these risk factors include the following:

  • Family History - A person with a family history of addiction will be more likely to have the genes causing rapid addiction.
  • Gender - Being male puts you at a greater risk for having a substance use disorder. However, the Mayo Clinic reports that women tend to progress in the course of addiction faster than males.
  • Presence of Another Mental Health Disorder - Since many drugs mimic the effects of psychoactive medications, a person with a mental health disorder will be more likely to try illicit or legal drugs to treat his problems with proper mental health treatment.
  • Peer Pressure - Social situations can influence a person to use drugs when he would have otherwise not engaged in the substance abuse.
  • Lack of Family Involvement - Believe it or not, the presence and engagement of your family members plays a vital role in whether you may develop an addiction to drugs. Speculation leads people to believe that a stronger support system will allow someone who tries drugs will be less likely to repeat the behavior.
  • Using a Drug Known to Be Highly Addictive - Depending upon the class of the drug, some drugs will cause addiction at a fraction of the rate of other drugs. This should not be taken as a free pass to use drugs that do not cause rapid addiction as they can become the stereotypical "gateway" drugs often mentioned in the media.

Drug Abuse Treatment

Drug abuse treatment involves a variety of options, either on an outpatient or inpatient basis. Medications and psychotherapy can provide assistance in overcoming the effects and problems during drug abuse treatment.


Most medications for the treatment of drug abuse act primarily upon the symptoms and side effects of withdrawal and detoxification. For alcohol, opioids, or other strong drugs, the detoxification process may require medical supervision to ensure the body does not begin to exhibit the signs of shock. Some drugs can cause stroke, heart attack, difficulty breathing, and psychotic symptoms when the substance is forced to leave the body through monitored withdrawal.

Furthermore, medications can assist in the addressing the cravings for the drug. Other medications reduce the anxiety, depression, hallucinations, or other symptoms of drug withdrawal.


Once the initial, and possibly life-threatening, phase of detoxification is complete, a person with a substance use disorder will benefit from psychotherapy. Several different forms of psychotherapy exist for the treatment of drug abuse, but the most common form of behavioral therapy used remains cognitive behavioral therapy.

During cognitive behavioral therapy, the person with the addiction is actively involved in the healing process by identifying situations and thought processes that lead to the want and feelings for drugs.

Drug Abuse Rehab

In some cases, an extended stay in a drug abuse rehab center may be required, especially when highly addictive drugs have been used. Some of the most common highly addictive drugs include amphetamines and cocaine. During the course of treatment in an inpatient drug abuse rehab, outside stimuli will be limited to help prevent a person from attaining drugs or becoming involved in the same social situations where drugs were being used. However, some drug abuse rehabs operate on an outpatient basis, where a person may receive advice from weekly meetings, therapy sessions, and referrals to local assistance resources for food, housing, treatment of other medical conditions, and continued support in recovery.

Nearly a dozen classes of drugs plague society, and many of these drugs have become a common factor in life. However, the addictive properties of drugs does not translate into lifelong use, and treatment options exist to help those with drug abuse problems break free from the constraints of chemical dependency.

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