Unfortunately, in today’s America, addictive substances are all around us and surprisingly accessible, contributing to the increase of teen and young adult abuse and addiction epidemics.
But even with increasing news and social media coverage, many are unaware of some of the most commonly addictive and abused drugs. It is especially important that parents and guardians be aware of what these are, along with their symptoms, so that they can discuss them with their kids and be on the lookout for evidence of their use.
The following are the six most commonly used and abused drugs in the US today.
Hallucinogens, the most commonly abused ones of which are Ecstasy (also known as Molly), are perception- or mind-altering drugs.
When used, abusers see, hear and feel vivid colors, images, sounds and sensations that seem very real but which are not. During the high, users can experience temporary psychosis, and events and emotions that are traumatic and which last for long periods of time.
Short-term side effects include:
- increased heart rate
- increased body temperature
- increased blood pressure
- loss of appetite
- sweating, tremors
- dry mouth
- extreme mood alterations (extreme euphoria to extreme depression and even violence)
Long-term side effects are very serious as repeated use damages the brain. They include:
- persistent psychosis (a continual upset of emotions, sensations, etc.)
- persistent hallucinations
- extreme apathy and passivity
- difficulty with speech
- memory loss
- violent behavior
- depression and panic attacks
Other common hallucinogens include PCP, psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline, and peyote.
While heroin is technically an opioid, which has its own category below, it is listed here because of its stand-alone popularity. It is a substance that naturally occurs in certain types of Asian poppy plants and is related to many prescribed opioid pharmaceuticals.
Heroin has many street names, including “Smack,” “Black tar,” “Junk,” “Horse” and “Ska.” It is often referred to as the King of Narcotics and is one of the most, if not the most, addictive drugs in the world.
Short-term symptoms of heroin include:
- Disinterest in activities once enjoyed
- Failure to uphold familial, social, occupational, or personal responsibilities
- Withdrawal and isolation
- Wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts to hide needle marks
- Considerable weight loss
- Bruising and scabbing skin
Besides many serious social consequences of continued use, such as dissolved relationships, imprisonment, loss of job, child custody, etc., there are also long-term physical and mental health consequences, including:
- Scars from continuous injection
- Contraction of diseases such as hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, etc.
- Permanent cognitive damage and impairment
- Clogged blood vessels
- Organ damage
- Disruption to sexual and reproductive organs
- Heart attack
There are many other short- and long-term consequences, and it is clearly a very destructive substance. Deaths from heroin have jumped significantly, with more than 13,000 people dying from overdoses in 2016.
Many are at first surprised by this category, but they are basically sedatives and tranquilizers that are typically prescribed to enable sleep or to treat anxiety.
Commonly abused pharmaceutical sedatives in this line include barbiturates, like phenobarbital, and sleep aids like Lunesta and Ambien. The tranquilizers are usually benzodiazepines, like Xanax and Valium, but muscle relaxers and other anti-anxiety meds are frequently abused as well.
The abuse of these types of drugs is somewhat newer in the realm of drug abuse and is on the rise. Some short-term side effects to look out for include:
- Confusion and poor concentration
- Slowed breathing and pulse
- Slurred speech
- Physical disorientation and lack of coordination
Long-term side effects can include:
- Breathing difficulties
- Chronic fatigue
- Sleep problems
- Sexual problems
Because of how prevalent anxiety and insomnia have become, the pharmaceuticals are literally everywhere and all too easily accessible, especially to teens and young adults who suffer increasingly from anxiety.
Cocaine, one of the more well-known drugs, is a very powerful stimulant. For the user, it increases their sense of well-being, can lift their mood and increase alertness and energy.
Cocaine has many street names, including “Coca,” “snow,” “blow,” “Charlie,” “flake,” “rock,” “candy,” and others.
There are many dangerous side-effects to cocaine use, including:
- Raised heart rate
- Raised blood pressure
- Slowed movements
- Chills, nausea and vomiting
- Dilated pupils
- Muscle weakness
- Disinterest in previously enjoyed activities
- Failure to uphold responsibilities
Cocaine does seem to be on the rise yet again. In 2012, there were approximately 1,800 first-time users a day from the ages of 12 and up.
2. Opioids / Pain Relievers
Opioids are drugs created from poppy, or synthetic versions of such substances, used to alleviate pain.
Prescription drugs are the most common form of abused opioid, a problem that has significantly increased in the last decade or so, when both doctors and pharmaceutical companies became a bit too eager to prescribe large quantities to patients suffering injury or pain.
For those who use it purely for its high, it creates a euphoric experience along with increased excitement. But even for those who are legitimately prescribed the medication, they can easily become addicted and dependent on the pain-relieving and numbing effect.
The prescription of these powerful, addictive drugs is becoming more regulated and restricted, but the rate of abuse is still extremely high.
Legalization of medical and even recreational marijuana in certain states has led many to the false assumption that marijuana is safe. However, this is not at all true for young users.
Marijuana, also known as grass, Mary Jane, weed, reefer, kif, and numerous other names, is composed of dried leaves, seeds, stems, and flowers of Cannabis. It is the most commonly abused illicit drug (in the states where it is still illegal).
Studies have now shown that especially on those under the age of 21, the use of marijuana wreaks permanent damage on the brain, specifically on memory and learning functions, and can actually reduce the size of the areas of the brain responsible for these functions.
Key symptoms to keep an eye out for include:
- Slow movements
- Increased lethargy
- Increased chatter and sociability
- Increased appetite
- Unwarranted laughter and euphoria
If you or a loved one are suffering from addiction to a substance, whether one of the above, or even to alcohol, or some other substance, seeking help from a larger, well-trained support system is your best option.
SOBA New Jersey’s Addiction Treatment Center applies a holistic approach to any addiction, understanding that there are many factors which lead to substance abuse. Don’t try to fight this battle alone.