Drug abuse and addiction is a complex issue that has permeated the culture and touched the lives of many. In 2015, substance abuse resulted in over 307,000 deaths; that’s twice as many as reported just 15 years earlier. Today, addiction involves a variety of abused substances including alcohol, prescription drugs, and illicit drugs.


Alcohol is one of the most abused substances in America. About 30% of men and 16% of women admit to binge drinking at some point in their lives. An estimated 28 million people get behind the wheel of a car while under the influence of alcohol each year.

The use of alcohol can lead to violence and physical abuse as well. Even a small amount during pregnancy can lead to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome include developmental problems, lung disease, and heart defects.


Benzodiazepines, or benzos, are what most people refer to as a tranquilizer. There are currently 15 FDA-approved benzos in the U.S. Their widespread availability make them the perfect target for abuse. Benzos range from ultra-short acting like Versed, short-acting, such as Ativan, or long-acting, like Valium.

Types Of Benzos

Ativan (lorazepam)—Ativan is a short-acting, sedative-hypnotic drug used to treat anxiety. It causes anterograde amnesia, too, so a person coming out of it has no memory of what’s happened in the last few hours.

Halcion (triazolam)—Halcion is a central nervous system depressant that creates a hypnotic “floaty” feeling that lasts about two hours. The short lifespan can lead to the chronic use of this depressant. As a result, someone coming down from another drug addiction or who can’t stay asleep may become addicted to Halcion.

Klonopin (clonazepam)—Klonopin is a traditional, long-lasting tranquilizer. Combining Klonopin and alcohol to enhance effects is common when abused.

Librium (chlordiazepoxide)—Librium is a sedative and hypnotic used to treat withdrawal symptoms for people addicted to another drug. It comes as a powder in capsule form, so it is easy to snort or inject.

Xanax (alprazolam)—Xanax is a short-acting, but potent, tranquilizer prescribed for panic disorder. A person addicted to this benzo might take up to 30 pills a day to just maintain their high.

Valium (diazepam)—Valium is treated for a variety of conditions including insomnia or alcohol withdrawal syndrome. A person with a valium addiction might take as many as 40 pills each day.

Illicit Substances

Although the abuse of prescription drugs is increasing in the U.S., street drugs are still easily accessible in this country. It’s estimated that around 24.5 million people over the age of 12 use an illicit drug at least once a month.

Types Of Illicit Substances

Bath Salts (PABS)—Bath salt is a term that describes recreational designer drugs. A designer drug mimics the effect of a mainstream drug, but without the legal issues associated with using it. Bath Salts (PABS) packaged much like actual bath salts, hence the name.

Cocaine—Cocaine is a street drug derived from the coca plant. Versatile enough to be snorted, smoked, injected or swallowed, cocaine is very addictive. Different methods of administration lead to different effects.

Crack cocaine—Crack cocaine, or crack, is a hard, rock-like substance derived from cocaine laced with baking soda or ammonia. People using it vaporize the rocks in a glass pipe and inhale the drug. Crack is the sound the rocks make as they heat up.

Ecstasy/Molly—Ecstasy, and Molly are two very similar street drugs created from MDMA or methylenedioxymethamphetamine. Both are designer stimulants that offer hallucinogenic effects, which is why they are commonly used as party drugs.

Hallucinogens—Hallucinogen is an umbrella term for drugs like LSD or DMT. A hallucinogen is a psychotic drug that leads to hallucinations and strong emotional sensations. These drugs are often referred to as mind-altering drugs because of the psychedelic effect.

Heroin—Heroin is an addictive, street opiate. Heroin can come in a white powder or brown or sticky black powder. The addiction comes from the effect of the drug on the reward system of the brain. It is estimated that one in every four people who try heroin become addicted to the drug.

Inhalants—Inhalants tend to be household items like spray paint, aerosol whip cream, cleaning fluids, and colored markers. As the name suggests, people inhale these substances to get a quick buzz. They are popular among young people because they are easy to get.

Marijuana—Marijuana is the most used illicit drug in the U.S. Although still federally prohibited, it is legal in some states for medical and recreational use. The main component, THC, makes you drowsy and slows reaction time. Marijuana use has also been known to increase appetite.

Meth—Meth is an addictive stimulant that produces a short-lasting sense of euphoria. Like heroin, meth is almost immediately addictive for some and usually smoked in a pipe, like crack.

Synthetic marijuana—Synthetic marijuana is a legal product that contains a chemical similar to THC. It doesn’t always work as planned, though. Manufacturing of synthetic marijuana is inconsistent and can lead to unpredictable results.


The term “opiate” refers to drugs made from opium, a substance harvested from the poppy plant. Opiate is often interchangeable with opioid, although opioid is a broader term. The term “opioid” covers both natural and synthetic drugs that bind to the opioid receptors in the brain. The recreational use of opioids has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S.

The abuse of opioids such as heroin, morphine, and prescription painkillers, affects around 2.1 million people in the United States. The number of mortalities in America from overdoses is growing exponentially. Often the abuse starts with a prescription painkiller. When the drug becomes unavailable, the next best thing is street heroin. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a person who abuses painkillers is 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin.

Types Of Opiates

Codeine—codeine is a commonly prescribed painkiller that comes in tablet or liquid form. It is also the main ingredient in most prescription-grade cough suppressants. Although less potent, codeine provides many of the same effects as stronger narcotics, like morphine.

Demerol—demerol, like codeine, is a drug prescribed for pain. Like most opiates, the person using it develops a tolerance to the drug. Over time, it becomes less effective and they take more of it to compensate for the pain, and to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Dilaudid—dilaudid is a very powerful opioid analgesic made from morphine and used most often in a structured setting, like a hospital. After several weeks of abuse, the tolerance builds up, meaning withdrawal starts once it wears off. People addicted to Dilaudid tend to focus on the next dose to avoid getting sick.

Fentanyl—fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 100 times stronger than morphine. It is at the heart of the current opioid epidemic. Since it is synthetic, cheap dealers will cut more expensive drugs with fentanyl to save money, which can lead to overdoses.

Hydrocodone—hydrocodone is the ingredient in a number of strong painkillers, typically provided after dental surgery or to manage the pain from an injury. It is sometimes combined with ibuprofen or acetaminophen, and sold under brand names like Vicodin. On the street, the pills are sometimes crushed into powder and snorted or injected.

Methadone—methadone is a synthetic opioid used to treat opiate addictions. The drug acts the same way as heroin, but without the same serious withdrawal symptoms.

Morphine—morphine is a natural opiate used to manage severe pain. On the street, it is often referred to as Miss Emma or monkey.

Oxycodone—Found under the brand names OxyContin or Percocet, oxycodone is a powerful narcotic painkiller. Oxycodone is one of the most common drugs prescribed in America. Abuse of this medication leads to addiction in people who have chronic pain that is difficult to control.

Propoxyphene—Propoxyphene is an analgesic that is no longer available by prescription in America. It can lead to overdose or heart problems like arrhythmias.

Suboxone—Suboxone is used by medical personnel to reverse the effects of an opioid like heroin. It prevents the painful withdrawal symptoms by blocking opiate receptors and curtailing the urge to use.

Tramadol—Tramadol is a prescription opioid painkiller given for moderate discomfort. Even taken as directed, tramadol can lead to addiction. This opioid is sometimes referred to as Chill Pill because of its calming effects.

On the street, it is sometimes referred to as a Chill Pill because it has a calming effect.


As the name suggests, this classification of drugs has a sedative effect. They depress the central nervous system and slow things down. They are highly addictive and a growing problem in the U.S. It is estimated that around 2 percent of the adult population uses a sedative at some point. About 10 percent of them become addicted.

Sedatives are also used to “come down” from stimulants. A person who takes a stimulant may feel too jittery, and a sedative dulls that edge.


Types Of Sedatives

Ambien—Ambien is a sedative-hypnotic marketed to be a “safer” option than benzos, like Xanax. Although not as habit-forming as benzodiazepines, a person taking Ambien to help them sleep may become addicted in a few weeks.

Amytal—Amytal is the brand name for amobarbital and a sedative-hypnotic drug. It works by depressing the central nervous system, slowing brain activity to promote sleep. Amytal is known to create a buzz that makes this drug a popular choice for abuse.

Lunesta—Lunesta has a milder sedative effect than other drugs in this class but is just as addictive. Long-term abuse can lead to insomnia and anxiety.

Sonata—Sonata is a nonbenzodiazepine hypnotic used for treating insomnia. Sonata is often called a downer or sleep-easy.


The use of stimulants is rising in the U.S., in part because the drugs are used to treat certain childhood behavioral problems, such as hyperactivity. They have always been popular on the street for adults looking for ways to stay more alert. The improper use of a stimulant has side effects, though. Stimulant abuse can lead to paranoia, hostility and mood swings, increased blood pressure, and an irregular heartbeat. Chronic use can lead to seizures or heart failure.

Types Of Stimulants

Adderall—Adderall is a stimulant that increases the levels of dopamine in the brain. The increase of dopamine in the brain makes you feel good. Adderall is often used as a substitute for cocaine.

Anabolic steroids—Anabolic steroids have more to do with how one looks than how they feel. They are used to get fit and build muscle.

Antidepressants— Antidepressants are not like many other addictive prescription drugs. They don’t produce the same  “high”, but people can become dependent on them to feel better.

Concerta—Concerta is a prescription-grade stimulant that works much like Ritalin.  Concerta’s effects are similar to cocaine when used recreationally. It leads to a feeling of energized euphoria, improving concentration and performance.

Dexedrine—Dexedrine is the brand name for the prescription stimulant dextroamphetamine, typically prescribed for ADHD or narcolepsy. It improves focus while making you feel calmer.

Diet pills—This is a broad term the relates to both over-the-counter products and prescription medications. They often suppress the appetite to encourage weight loss.

Ritalin—Ritalin is a central nervous system stimulant that works similar to amphetamines.


Tobacco use is at the heart of some of the most preventable illnesses, and nicotine addiction is one of the most difficult to overcome. Studies have shown that about 19 percent of adults in this country still light up daily. That’s about one in every five adults and teenagers.

Medical science has determined that nine out of 10 known cases of lung cancer have been directly linked to tobacco use. Eight out of 10 people who develop Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), were smokers at one point in life.

Not all cancers that come from smoking affect just the lungs. Tobacco use is linked to developing mouth, throat, nasal, esophagus, stomach, pancreatic, kidney, bladder and cervix cancer. About 40 percent of smokers may develop diabetes, as well.

Recovering From Substance Abuse

The best chance of living a drug-free life is to reach out and get help. Generally, treatment starts with detox and withdrawal management. From there, the various treatment modalities like long-term residential, short-term residential, and outpatient programs provide both treatment and support. Structured environments help those with an addiction get back to living lives that are sober and fulfilling.



The Lancet

National Institute on Drug Abuse

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Heroin

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services – BeTobaccoFree.gov