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There are a wide variety of addictive substances that exist, but the most common types are classified under 6 main categories: alcohol, Benzodiazepines, illicit drugs, Opiates, Sleeping Pills, and Stimulants.
Alcohol is a legal controlled substance that slows down the body’s vital functions when consumed in excess. Its many forms include beer, wine, and liquor. Some of the physical effects of heavy alcohol consumption are slurred speech, loss of coordination, and slowed reaction time. Psychological effects include inhibiting judgment and lowering a person’s ability to think rationally. Typically, drinking alcohol in moderation does not signify a problem. However, consuming more than 4 alcoholic beverages per day for men – or more than 3 per day for women – can indicate an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Learn more about alcohol addiction.
Alcoholism can stem from consumption and experimentation during a person’s teen years. Knowing the symptoms and warning signs to look for can help determine if an addiction is present.
When an individual develops a tolerance to alcohol over time, they can experience withdrawal symptoms when stopping use. The symptoms of withdrawal are impacted by the amount, frequency, and duration of alcohol abuse.
There are many treatment options available to help a person overcome the toxic cycle of alcohol abuse. It’s important to recover from alcoholism under the supervision of medical professionals.
A high-functioning alcoholic is a person who is able to manage their everyday responsibilities despite an underlying problem with alcohol abuse. It is particularly difficult to identify the signs of a high-functioning alcoholic, and they might deny their struggle if confronted.
Choosing to drive while intoxicated is often a telltale sign of alcohol abuse. Sadly, getting behind the wheel after drinking can prove to be a deadly mistake. Over 30% of all car crashes in 2014 were caused by drunk driving.
While there is no cure for alcoholism, people can overcome an alcohol addiction by attending a treatment program. Treatment for alcohol abuse can help a person maintain their sobriety and manage alcohol cravings.
Chronic drinking can increase a person’s risk of developing liver disease. Those who struggle with excessive alcohol consumption will need treatment in order to avoid major health complications later in life.
Individuals with a family history of alcoholism have a higher risk of incurring alcohol abuse patterns at some point in their life. Research shows that genetics make up 40 to 60% of a person’s likelihood of developing an alcohol addiction.
Benzodiazepines, or Benzos, include pharmaceutical drugs used to treat a wide array of mental disorders including severe anxiety and panic attacks. People can build a tolerance to Benzos if they are consumed for an extended period of time, which can lead to dependency. Some people choose to take Benzos with alcohol, which strengthens their effects and can lead to overdose. Withdrawal from Benzos can include dangerous symptoms such as Grand Mal seizures, so it’s always recommended to detox from these drugs under medical supervision. Comprehensive treatment for a Benzodiazepine addiction typically includes cognitive behavioral therapy, support groups, and medications to help reduce cravings. Learn more about Benzodiazepines.
Ativan, the brand name for the drug Lorazepam, is an intermediate-acting Benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety disorders, depression, and panic attacks. Ativan is extremely potent when compared to other Benzos. Because of this, people who consume Ativan have a high risk of developing an abuse disorder.
Halcion is prescribed to treat anxiety and insomnia. As a short-acting medication, Halcion is processed through the body faster than other Benzos. As a result, people may be inclined to increase their dose in order to keep experiencing a high; this can lead to an addiction.
Klonopin has a high potential for abuse and addiction – even when prescribed to treat a medical condition. Klonopin is a long-acting Benzo, meaning that it takes longer to feel its full effects. Once Klonopin leaves the body, a person can experience severe and potentially life-threatening symptoms of withdrawal.
Librium is typically used to treat a wide array of anxiety disorders. It is often abused due to the calming effects this drug produces. Because Librium has a low potency when compared to other Benzos, many people consume it in combination with other substances to achieve a greater high.
With over 44 million scripts written every year, Xanax is the most prescribed medication in the country. It is highly addictive when taken in high doses or over an extended period of time. A person struggling with Xanax addiction will typically exhibit symptoms of fatigue and loss of motivation.
Valium is the brand name for Diazepam, which is used to treat muscle spasms and seizures. When prescribed, it’s meant to be taken on a daily basis. However, people who start taking more Valium than recommended are at risk of addiction.
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Illicit drugs include powerfully addictive and illegal substances such as Heroin and Meth. The nature of these substances can vary greatly. For example, Marijuana’s short-term effects slow down the central nervous system and interfere with a person’s reaction time and concentration. In contrast, Cocaine puts brain functioning into hyper speed and results in increased alertness and anxiety.
Even just a single use of some of these substances can spawn devastating patterns of abuse. Once a physical or psychological dependence is formed, using illicit drugs takes priority over everything else in a person’s life. People looking to quit a dangerous habit of consuming illicit substances should seek professional guidance to aid in their recovery. A licensed inpatient treatment center can provide everything a person needs to achieve and maintain sobriety, from medical detox services to therapy and 12-step programs. Learn more about illicit drug addiction.
A stimulant with effects similar to excessive amounts of Caffeine, Cocaine is most often snorted in powder form. This illicit drug is highly addictive, and continued abuse can cause severe weight loss and damage to the nasal passages.
The more potent form of Cocaine, Crack Cocaine is usually smoked through a short pipe that often causes blisters and burns on the mouth and hands. An addiction to Crack Cocaine can develop in as little as 1 use.
Ecstasy is often consumed by young adults attending parties or raves. It is a stimulant with potentially hallucinogenic effects. Many forms of ecstasy on the black market are cut with much more dangerous substances, such as Heroin and LSD.
Hallucinogens are mind-altering, psychoactive substances with a high potential for abuse. These substances are often taken by people looking to distort their perception of reality. Hallucinogens are also sometimes used to self-medicate a mental disorder, such as depression. However, taking Hallucinogens for self-medication purposes can make an underlying condition even worse.
One of the most addictive substances on earth, Heroin is a synthetic derivative of Morphine. Heroin comes as either as a powder or as a sticky gel known as Black Tar Heroin. Long-term abuse of Heroin can cause abscesses and scabs on the skin, in addition to psychological and internal damage.
Inhalants are categorized by their method of administration and include many household objects that can be abused for a brief high. Commonly abused Inhalants are nail polish remover, paint thinner, gasoline, and lighter fluid. Long-term use of Inhalants can cause severe damage, including muscle deterioration and psychological disturbances.
Ketamine is primarily used as an anesthetic for animals undergoing surgery but is often abused recreationally among teens and college students. Not only is it incredibly addictive, but it has also been used as a date rape drug. Because it is odorless and tasteless, it cannot be detected when mixed in a beverage.
As one of the most commonly abused illicit substances, Marijuana comes from the cannabis plant and is usually dried out, rolled up, and smoked. More commonly known as “weed” or “pot,” Marijuana is gaining legal recognition in some states. However, continued abuse of Marijuana can cause diminished brain function and lung damage.
A deadly and addictive substance, Methamphetamine (or Meth) is a substance that can be made from easily obtained items such as lithium batteries and drain cleaner. As a result, manufacturing Meth is extremely dangerous. Continued abuse of Meth can cause tooth decay and the appearance of accelerated aging.
Also known as Spice or K2, Synthetic Marijuana is a manufactured substance that contains an ingredient similar to Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the active ingredient in Marijuana. Because Synthetic Marijuana can be purchased legally, many people believe it is a safer alternative to Marijuana. However, Synthetic Marijuana is dangerously addictive and can produce psychoactive effects that are just as strong as its natural counterpart.
Opiates encompass prescription drugs that are used to treat acute and chronic pain. While they can be effective when taken as directed, Opiates pose a major risk of addiction among their users.
An Opiate addiction often manifests itself within a person’s drug-seeking behavior. This can involve visiting multiple doctors in order to obtain more prescriptions – otherwise known as “doctor shopping.” If drugs cannot be obtained through various doctor visits, some people turn to Heroin use as a cheaper, easier-to-get alternative. Withdrawal from Opiates can be agonizing and should never be attempted alone. Medically-assisted detox is the safest way to endure the withdrawal process. After detox, it is highly recommended to enter an inpatient addiction treatment program to ensure the lowest chances of relapse. Learn more about Opiate addiction.
Codeine is most often found in over-the-counter and prescription-grade cough medicines. Because of its easy accessibility, many people don’t perceive Codeine to be as dangerous as other Opiates. In some cases, Codeine can act as a gateway drug to harder substances down the road.
Demerol is a highly potent Opiate with growing rates of addiction. While a prescription of Demerol is legal, it is rarely prescribed outside of intensive hospital care. It has similar effects of other Opiates like Morphine, putting users in a dreamlike state when abused.
As one of the more powerful Opiates, Dilaudid is mainly prescribed to patients diagnosed with cancer or serious injuries. It is abused for its intense calming and euphoric effects; however, Dilaudid comes with a high risk of overdose.
Fentanyl is known to be up to 100 times stronger than Morphine and is used primarily to treat pain after surgery. Recreational use of Fentanyl is especially dangerous when combined with other Opiates or Heroin. Fentanyl causes the respiratory system to slow down, leading to overdose and potentially even death.
Hydrocodone is commonly prescribed for pain relief following oral surgery. However, taking this Opiate without a prescription is illegal and constitutes abuse. Abusing Hydrocodone over an extended period of time, or in large amounts, can evolve into an addiction.
Methadone is widely known for its common use of treating a Heroin use disorder. Despite its intended legal use, Methadone is still an extremely potent Opiate with highly addictive qualities. Methadone should only be taken under the careful supervision of a physician.
Morphine is primarily prescribed to hospital patients recovering from surgery or diagnosed with cancer. However, a black market for Morphine exists due to its intensely pleasurable effects. A person suffering from an addiction to Morphine may compulsively seek out and abuse the substance despite legal ramifications.
Oxycodone is a powerful painkiller and among the most abused prescription medications in the United States. Many people unknowingly kickstart an addiction by taking their regularly prescribed dose. Once a tolerance is established, using or obtaining Oxycodone may be prioritized over personal obligations and social activities.
Propoxyphene, otherwise known as Darvon or Darvocet, was once prescribed for moderate pain relief. The FDA banned Propoxyphene in 2010 after recognizing its lethal side effects. Users who abuse Propoxyphene experience a rush of euphoria followed by heavy sedation.
Tramadol is used to treat moderate pain from medical conditions such as fibromyalgia. It is perceived to be less addictive than other Opiates and is therefore commonly prescribed by doctors. As with any other Opiate prescription, the risk of addiction is still at large.
Sleeping Pills fall under a category of prescription medications known as sedative-hypnotics. Many individuals assume they cannot develop a Sleeping Pill addiction; however, becoming addicted is easier than most may think.
A dependency on Sleeping Pills often begins forming when a person increases their prescribed dose without consulting their physician first. They may believe that taking more pills will improve their quality of sleep. Over time, a person will feel the need to take larger amounts each time in order to fall asleep; this often leads to an overwhelming addiction.
When a person who is dependent on Sleeping Pills tries to quit cold turkey, their body may experience withdrawal. Symptoms of withdrawal can be uncomfortable, which is why professionals suggest going through the process at a medical detox center. Further treatment at an inpatient rehab center or outpatient program can address the psychological impact of an addiction to Sleeping Pills. Learn more about Sleeping Pill addiction.
Ambien is generally prescribed for short-term insomnia. Most cases of Ambien dependence start when a person takes more than their recommended dosage to fall asleep faster. An addiction to Ambien can form in as little as a few weeks.
Amytal is the brand name for the Barbiturate Amobarbital. Because of its level of potency, Amytal is used as a pre-anesthetic for surgeries and to treat chronic sleep disorders. It produces effects that feel similar to alcohol intoxication, which causes users to abuse the medication and subsequently become addicted.
Many people mistakenly believe that Lunesta is a non-habit forming medication. However, Lunesta is a highly potent Sleeping Pill that can cause a spiraling addiction. Some people who develop a Lunesta dependency will mix the medication with other substances in order to increase its sedative effects.
Sonata is a fast-acting Sleeping Pill that remains in the body for about an hour. This makes Sonata a prime target for accidental abuse, as people might take too much in order to help them sleep. While Sonata isn’t as potent as other Sleeping Pills, its long-term use can lead to an addiction.
Prescription stimulants include Amphetamines and Methylphenidates. Typically, stimulants are used to treat mental disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They are generally used to enhance performance rather than to achieve a high.
Stimulants work by activating the central nervous system, inciting feelings of excitement and increasing physical and cognitive function. When a person uses these substances, they feel a rush of intense pleasure caused by a surge of dopamine. A tolerance can build up over time from frequent stimulant use, which can signify the early stages of an abuse disorder. In order to overcome an addiction to stimulants, detox at a treatment center may be required before transitioning into therapy and group support. Learn more about stimulant addiction.
Adderall is the most commonly prescribed stimulant for treating symptoms of ADHD. People who habitually use Adderall to increase their productivity and improve their mental focus have the highest risk of becoming addicted.
Unlike other addictive prescription medications, Antidepressants don’t produce a “high” or cause intense cravings. In fact, people who have clinical depression typically won’t feel its full effects for over a month. The true danger lies in other substances a person chooses to abuse while taking Antidepressants, such as alcohol or Benzodiazepines.
Concerta is a prescription stimulant similar to Cocaine. People who develop a dependence on Concerta will feel strong compulsions to seek out the drug in any way they can. Individuals who cannot obtain more of the drug may experience withdrawal symptoms, which are sometimes referred to as the “Concerta crash.”
Dexedrine is an Amphetamine with a high potential for abuse and addiction. After repeated use of Dexedrine, the brain cannot function normally without the drug. Side effects of Dexedrine include insomnia, blurred vision, and dizziness.
Diet Pills include a number of over-the-counter and prescription supplements designed to help users lose weight. Aside from their appetite-suppressant effects, diet pills can cause elevated energy levels and feelings of euphoria, which increase the likelihood of abuse and dependency.
As a central nervous system stimulant, Ritalin increases alertness and concentration. It is effective in treating ADHD among children; however, Ritalin also comes with a high potential for abuse. Those with other types of mental disorders, such as bipolar, run the risk of experiencing negative side effects from using the drug.
Anabolic Steroids are synthetic substances that mimic the hormone testosterone. They are commonly abused by people wanting to increase athletic performance. While they don’t produce the same euphoric “high” as other addictive substances, frequent use of Anabolic Steroids can lead to an addiction.
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As of 2016, an estimated 28 million people around the globe are battling a substance use disorder. Yet only a small portion – 10% – are getting the treatment.
There is a multitude of reasons why people put off treatment. Some feel ashamed to admit they need help due to the social stigma that surrounds addiction. Others don’t want to leave their career, family, or other obligations behind.
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While it’s completely understandable to have concerns, an addiction can worsen over time if left unaddressed. Avoiding confronting your addiction through a process like rehab can have long-term consequences such as:
Confronting your addiction head on might be the scariest thing you’ve ever done. But you don’t have to do it alone. Help is available. You can get help finding a treatment center as well as understanding insurance and post-rehab care options. Aftercare options include halfway houses, support groups, and one-on-one therapy. Contact a treatment provider to discuss the entire recovery process and what to expect.
Last Edited: February 1, 2022
Jeffrey Juergens earned his Bachelor’s and Juris Doctor from the University of Florida. Jeffrey’s desire to help others led him to focus on economic and social development and policy making. After graduation, he decided to pursue his passion of writing and editing. Jeffrey’s mission is to educate and inform the public on addiction issues and help those in need of treatment find the best option for them.
Clinically Reviewed: July 9, 2019
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.
David embarked on his journey into sobriety in June of 2005, which led him to his current career path as a Certified Professional Addiction Recovery Coach in private practice in Greater Nashville. David is also a public speaker and the author of two books. David is cohost of the weekly Positive Sobriety Podcast, as well as being a frequent contributor to various articles and recovery based materials. As a member of the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC), David works closely with Nashville area treatment centers, nonprofit recovery organizations, and consulting with faith-based groups trying to bridge the gap between the recovery communities and faith-based organizations who wish to understand addiction.
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