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


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

The use of alcohol is often related to violence and physical abuse as well. Even a small amount during pregnancy can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome, which includes 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. Typically, benzos are categorized as 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 only lasts about two hours. The short lifespan can lead to chronic use, especially for someone coming down from another drug addiction or who can’t stay asleep.

Klonopin (clonazepam)—Klonopin is a traditional, long-lasting tranquilizer. Recreationally, it is often combined with alcohol to enhance the effect, though this is a dangerous combination.

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 a calming medication used to treat 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 on the rise in the U.S., street drugs are still readily available 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. They are sold packaged like bath salts, hence the name.

Cocaine—Cocaine is a street drug derived from the coca plant, and versatile enough to be snorted, smoked, injected or swallowed. 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 considered 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. They are sometimes called mind-altering drugs because of the psychedelic effect.

Heroin—Heroin is an extremely addictive, street opiate that typically comes 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 available in the U.S, and, although still federally prohibited, it is legal in some states for both medical and recreational use. The main component, THC, makes you drowsy and slows reaction time. Marijuana use is also associated with an increased appetite or the need to snack.

Meth—Meth is a highly addictive stimulant that produces a short-lasting sense of euphoria. Like heroin, meth is almost immediately addictive for some and typically 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 used interchangeably with opioid, although opioid is a broader term that 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 effects around 2.1 million people in the United States and the number of mortalities 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. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that 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, and one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the U.S. 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 the U.S. 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. On the street, it is sometimes referred to as a Chill Pill because it has a calming effect.


As the name suggests, this is a classification of drugs that have a sedative effect. They depress the central nervous system and, generally, 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 on the street, too.

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 in the treatment of insomnia. On the street, 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 will eventually lead to seizures or heart failure.

Types Of Stimulants

Adderall—Adderall is a stimulant that increases the levels of dopamine in the brain. In other words, it makes you feel good and 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 addictive the way many other drugs are, but people do get dependent on them to feel better.

Concerta—Concerta is a prescription-grade stimulant that works much like Ritalin. 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. It is often prescribed to combat the effects of ADHD. On the street, it is used to enhance stamina and increase focus.


Today, tobacco use is at the heart of some of the most preventable illnesses, and nicotine addiction is one of the most difficult to overcome. It’s believed that 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 are directly linked to tobacco use, and eight out of 10 people who develop, and eventually die from, the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) were smokers at one point in life.

Not all cancers that come from smoking affect the lungs, though. Tobacco use is connected to mouth, throat, nasal, esophagus, stomach, pancreatic, kidney, bladder and cervix cancer, too. About 40 percent of smokers 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 –