Skip to site content

Drug Abuse Information

Some people are able to use recreational or prescription drugs without ever experiencing negative consequences or addiction. For many others, substance use can cause problems at work, home, school, and in relationships, leaving one feeling isolated, ashamed, or helpless. Learning about the nature of drug abuse and addiction may involve learning how it develops, what it looks like, and why it can have such a powerful hold over someone. If you're worried about your own or a friend's or family member's drug use, it's important to know that help is available.

Understanding Drug Use, Abuse, and Addiction

People experiment with drugs for many different reasons, such as curiosity, trying to have a good time, their friends or family are doing it, or in an effort to improve athletic performance. Often, drug use may begin to ease another problem, such as stress, anxiety, or depression. In many cases, there is a fine line between casual use and drug abuse and addiction. The level of casual use to problematic varies by individual and very few addicted people are able to recognize when they have crossed that line. No matter how often or how few drugs are consumed, if drug use is causing problems in one's life, such as at work, school, home, or in relationships, then it is likely there is a drug abuse or addiction problem.

Drug Addiction Impacts the Brain

Addiction impacts the brain in a variety of ways, as each drug produces different physical effects. All abused substances can alter the way the brain looks and functions. The following are examples of how addiction impacts the brain:

  • Recreational drugs cause a surge in levels of dopamine in one's brain, which triggers an increase in pleasurable feelings. The brain remembers these pleasurable feelings and wants them to continue.
  • Changes in your brain interfere with the ability to think clearly, implement good judgment, manage behavior, and feel normal without drugs.
  • Once addicted, the substance takes on the same significance as other survival behaviors, such as eating, drinking, and sleeping.
  • Addiction causes the uncontrollable craving to continue use. The desire to use grows more important than anything else, including family, friends, career, and even one's own health and happiness.
  • The urge to use is so intense that the mind finds a variety of ways to justify or be in denial of the addiction. A person may drastically underestimate the quantity of drugs they are taking, how much it negatively impacts their life, and the level of control they have over their drug use.

Risk Factors for Addiction

Why do some people become addicted, while others don't? As with many other conditions and diseases, vulnerability to addiction varies from person to person. The signs of addiction differ, but there are specific factors that may make one person more vulnerable to addiction than others. The following risk factors increase your vulnerability:

  • Family history of addiction
  • Abuse, neglect, or other traumatic experiences in childhood
  • Mental disorders such as depression and anxiety
  • Early use of drugs
  • Method of administration—smoking or injecting a drug may increase its addictive potential

Types of Drugs Abused

Adults use and abuse alcohol, illicit drugs and prescription drugs. Common categories of substances abused by adults include the following:

  • Alcohol
  • Anabolic steroids, known as "juice or roids"
  • Bath salts, known as "bloom, cloud nine, scarface, vanilla sky, white lightning"
  • Club drugs, such as MDMA, short for 3, 4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine is most commonly known as "Ecstasy" and "Molly," and sometimes called "Adam, beans, clarity, E, hug, love drug, X, XTC"
  • Cocaine/crack, known as "blow, bump, C, candy, charlie, coca, coke, snow, flake, rock, toot"
  • Dissociative anesthetics, such as phencyclidine/PCP and ketamine, known as "angel dust, boat, cat, K lovely, love boat, vitamin K"
  • Hallucinogens such as LSD (mushrooms), known as "acid, buttons, shrooms, yellow sunshines"
  • Heroin
  • Inhalants, such as gasoline or ammonia for huffing and known as "laughing gas, snappers, poppers, whippets"
  • Marijuana, sometimes called "grass, herb, Mary Jane, pot, skunk, and weed" and is smoked in a joint, blunt, bong, or pipe
  • Methamphetamine (Meth) known as "chalk, speed, tina;" (crystal meth) known as "crank, fire, glass, go fast, and ice"
  • Tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco

Prescription drug abuse is when someone takes a medication in a way not intended by prescribed for a different reason (like getting high) or when someone takes a medication that was prescribed for someone else.

  • Depressants are called "A-minus, barbs, candy, downers, phennies, red birds, reds, sleeping pills, tooies, tranks, yellows, yellow jackets, zombie pills"
  • Opioids are called "happy pills, hillbilly heroin, OC, oxy, oxycotton, percs, vikes"
  • Stimulants are called "bennies, black beauties, hearts, roses, skippy, speed, the smart drug, uppers, vitamin R"
  • Common prescription drugs include Adderall, Alprazolam, Ambien, Ativan, Clonazepam, Hydrocodone, Klonopin, Lorazepam, Methadone, Opiate, Oxycodone, Oxycontin, Painkillers, Percocet, Suboxone, Subutex, Tramadol, Valium, Vicodin, Xanax

Adapted from: The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving www.ihs.gov