Different Types of Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is characterized by a pattern of use that causes significant impairment or distress, in addition to any one of these additional diagnostic criteria: using substances in situations where it endangers the user; a failure to fulfill major obligations at work, school or home; having multiple drug-related legal problems; or continuing to use substances regardless of the problems it causes in the user's life. The different types of substance abuse have various features depending on the type of drug abused.

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Stimulant Abuse

Stimulants include illegal drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as legal substances such as nicotine, caffeine and over-the-counter stimulants. This stimulation reinforces the drugs' abuse, as users attempt to feel good through increases of dopamine and norepinephrine and to avoid the "crash," medically known as dysphoria, that occurs after stimulant use depletes the levels of these neurotransmitters in the brain. Abuse of stimulants depletes energy and creates intense drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Stimulant abuse and addiction develop quickly.

Depressant Abuse

Depressants include opiates such as heroin, morphine and opium, as well as sedative-hypnotic medications such as Xanax, Ativan and Valium. Depressants slow down the central nervous system, diminish inhibitions, create relaxation and decrease pain. Opiate abuse carries a high risk of overdose and addiction, as well as health problems. Abuse of sedative-hypnotic drugs easily creates psychological and physical dependence as well. Abuse of these drugs in combination with alcohol can be lethal 2.

Psychedelic Abuse

Psychedelic abuse includes using indole psychedelics such as:

  • ketamine
  • or "Special K,"
  • PCP
  • notes "Uppers
  • Downers
  • All-Arounders." (MDMA, or ecstasy, acts both as a psychedelic and as a stimulant, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse

4) Psychedelics, called hallucinogens in the medical literature, distort the user's perceptions, thoughts and sensations. Abusers who have underlying mental health issues face particular risks as these substances can trigger latent mental health problems.

Marijuana Abuse

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, users of more potent marijuana may experience giddiness, illusions and hallucinations 3. Because of the impairment in coordination and thinking, driving and other activities while under the influence pose a risk. Tolerance quickly develops so that those abusing marijuana need higher doses to achieve the same high. Long-term marijuana abuse may cause respiratory problems and immune system suppression. According to Inaba and Cohen, longer-term abuse may also stunt emotional maturity and learning, and it can increase anxiety and even cause temporary psychosis.

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol affects every organ in the body, and it is the oldest and most widely used psychoactive substance, notes the National Institute on Drug Abuse 24. Alcohol abuse includes binge drinking and other problematic patterns of drinking which fall short of addiction but meet the criteria for abuse. Alcohol abuse differs from alcoholism primarily in the lack of withdrawal symptoms when an alcohol abuser stops drinking. However, alcohol abuse creates significant distress or impairment in the abuser's life.