Drug and Substance Abuse
Medically reviewed by L. Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on Aug 16, 2018.
Drug abuse: a national epidemic
The abuse of drugs or other substances, whether they are illegal drugs or prescription opioid drug, alcohol, or tobacco is one of the nation's most pressing public health issues.
Drug abuse occurs when people willingly consume illegal substances or legal, prescription drugs for the purpose of altering their mood, or getting “high”. Regular drug abuse may lead to drug addiction or other bodily harm. Drug abuse usually involves selling, buying or abusing these substances, which can lead to arrest, criminal charges, and imprisonment.
The term “drug abuse” is often associated with illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin, or marijuana. More recently, dangerous designer drugs such as bath salts or club drugs such as ecstasy have become increasingly popular. And even legal substances such as tobacco and alcohol are linked with dangerous abuse.
- Designer drugs are synthetic chemicals altered in often unknown ways to produce substances that may be more potent, and frequently more dangerous. Designer drugs may resemble the effects of other illegal drugs, because the chemical formula of a designer drug is manipulated, they often cannot be classified as illegal until state or federal regulations are changed.
- Club drugs might be used by youth in all-night “rave” or dance parties, at bars and at concerts for their psychoactive effects.
- Alcohol and tobacco
- Prescription opioids
Surveys from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) 2017 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey have reported that the rates of alcohol and tobacco use by the nation’s youth are declining, as well as use of most illicit substances such as heroin, prescription opioids, MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly), methamphetamine, amphetamines, and sedatives. Marijuana use in 2017 declined among 10th graders with no changes among 8th and 12th graders compared to five years ago, despite the more lenient recreational marijuana laws in some states. However, an increase in lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) use in high school seniors was evident.
Abused substances are not always illegal
Drug abuse can also occur with legal prescription drugs used in illegal ways, as is seen with the ongoing opioid epidemic. The levels of prescription narcotic abuse in the U.S. surpasses the abuse of many illegal drugs. The unlawful use of steroids as performance enhancing drugs like anabolic steroids seen in college-level, Olympic and professional sports has resulted in a unique set of international anti-doping standards.
Alcohol and cigarette tobacco (nicotine) use, although declining in teenagers, remains as some of the most abused substances in the U.S.
- Chronic liver disease like cirrhosis
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
- Lung cancer
are the ultimate outcomes of many of the legal substances that are frequently illegally abused in the nation.
Overview of drugs of abuse
The following documents detail common drugs or other substances of abuse. Sections may include:
- Extent and methods of abuse
- Typical user experience
- Health and pregnancy hazards
- Addiction treatment options
- Bath Salts
- Devil's Breath
- Fentanyl (Abuse)
- Gray Death
- PCP (Phencyclidine)
- Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms)
- Speed (methamphetamine)
- Synthetic Marijuana (Spice or K2)
- TCP (Tenocyclidine)
- U-47700 (Pink)
- National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Monitoring the Future Survey: High School and Youth Trends. 2017. Accessed August 16, 2018 at https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/monitoring-future-survey-high-school-youth-trends
Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.