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Types of Drugs

There are many different types of drugs, and they can all affect the body in varying ways. Learn more about drugs and their effects here.


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost three hundred million people last year abused drugs with psychoactive effects. Of those people, about 10% of them reported to have developed a substance use disorder. 1

This statistic alone shows how much of an issue that drug abuse and misuse have on societies globally. This also happens due to the sheer number of types of drugs there are available for people to consume. So, that might beg the question – just how many types of drugs currently exist worldwide?

Drug Use Risk Factors

How Many Types of Drugs Are There?

This is not exactly a straightforward question to answer. This is because many different drug types and substances of abuse are responsible for the growing substance abuse epidemic worldwide. These drugs mostly have different effects on users, and these effects are usually responsible for their reliance-causing abilities. However, it should be said that a lot of these drugs are derivatives of other substances, so it is possible to observe two or more types of drugs having the same type of effects.

This means that no two cases are the same since different types of abused drugs and substances may be responsible for the same effects. However, drugs eliciting the same effects tend to follow similar addiction "timelines." Because of this, substances of abuse are classified into several different types based on their effects on users. Based on their effects on users, drugs can be classified into about seven different types.

Drug Classifications

The different types of drugs based on their effects on the brain and the body as a whole include:

  • Stimulants
  • Opioids
  • Depressants
  • Hallucinogens
  • Dissociatives
  • Inhalants
  • Cannabis


Stimulants are drug types that, when taken, can increase activity and alertness and make the user feel more "aware" and confident. They have this effect because they increase the brain activity levels and speed up the transmission of messages (impulses) between the brain and the body.2

Although their medicinal application is minimal, their mood-enhancing properties make some of them potentially greater candidates for being misused. Examples of stimulant drugs include caffeine, amphetamine, cocaine, and nicotine. 3

Different Types of Stimulant Drugs

There are four different types of stimulant drugs.

Amphetamines and Related Compounds
Amphetamines work by raising norepinephrine, which is a neurotransmitter in the brain. Amphetamines increase these levels by facilitating its outflow from nerve cells and interfering with its reuptake and breakdown by the cells. Common examples of amphetamines include methamphetamine, amphetamine sulfate, and dextroamphetamine sulfate.

Methylxanthines (Methylated Purines)
Methylxanthines are a class of stimulant drug types that have reduced activity and effects compared to amphetamines. Another major difference between them is that they occur naturally in plants, unlike amphetamines which are more or less synthetically manufactured. Examples of methylxanthines include theophylline, theobromine, and the very commonly used caffeine. Of the three, caffeine is the most abused thanks to its presence as a component in many beverages and some other food materials.

Cocaine is one of the most common drugs abused globally. Cocaine is a powerful and fastest-acting stimulant with a significant potential for abuse due to its ability to create feelings of euphoria.

Nicotine also ranks among the most common drugs of abuse. It is the active element in cigarettes and every other product made from tobacco. Although nicotine does not produce feelings of euphoria common to several other stimulants and substances of abuse, it does have excitatory effects on the brain, making it highly addictive.

Risks of Stimulant Abuse

Although these stimulant drugs have beneficial effects, their abuse and misuse have been heavily linked with several unpleasant side effects. The risks of stimulant abuse could occur after short-term and long-term use of the drugs.

  • Short-Term: The short-term effects of stimulant abuse include increased activity, insomnia, reduction in appetite, irregular heartbeats, stomach pains, migraine, and hyperthermia.[4]
  • Long-Term: The long-term effects are usually more severe than those that occur in the short term. They could include addiction and dependence, anxiety disorders, visual and auditory hallucinations, and paranoia.5
  • Other Risks: Stimulant abuse is also characterized by withdrawal symptoms that get more dangerous the longer an individual uses a substance. Withdrawal symptoms may include fatigue, anxiety, and even depression. Stimulant abusers also risk developing psychosis, impaired verbal learning, and reduced motor speed.

These risks and side effects usually occur due to overstimulation of brain neurotransmitters which usually results in alterations to brain and central nervous system chemistry.


The opioid drug class constitutes some of the most abused substances globally. They are a group of naturally occurring chemicals from the opium poppy plant that interact with the brain to cause various effects, including pain alleviation. This pain alleviation effect is the primary medical basis for having opioid prescription pain relievers.

However, opioids can be very dangerous drugs as they elicit calming, euphoric, or "high" effects, and these effects are the primary cause of the high rate of opioid addiction.

How Can Opioids Be Smoked?

One factor that has significantly contributed to the prevalence of opium use is the various ways opium can be ingested. The most common method of opium use is smoking. Opium can be smoked with or without a pipe, but either form adds to the prevalence of overusing the substances.

Different Types of Opioid Drugs

Based on their source or occurrence, there are three types of opioid drugs. They include:

  • Natural Opioids: This type of opioid drug occurs naturally in nature. They are alkaloids isolated from the opium poppy plant. Popular examples include morphine, codeine, and thebaine. Morphine and codeine are more or less the most overused members of this drug type, and they have been employed medically as pain-relieving agents.[6]
  • Semi-Synthetic Opioids: This particular type of opioid drug is not found in nature. They are usually synthesized in labs using the naturally occurring opioid drugs as starting materials. They are produced by altering natural opioid drug types in a lab. Examples include oxycodone, hydrocodone, oxymorphone, and the commonly abused heroin.
  • Synthetic Opioids: Unlike semi-synthetic opioids, these are made entirely from chemicals in the lab without using any naturally occurring opioid drug. They include fentanyl, buprenorphine, methadone, and levorphanol. This particular class of opioid drugs is usually very potent and thus very addictive because they have undergone extensive chemical manipulation. Fentanyl is about one hundred times more potent than heroin.[7]

It should be noted that although some of these opioid drugs are legal prescription medications, they are all addictive drugs, so they are potential drugs of abuse.

Risks of Opioid Abuse

As observed with other types of drugs of abuse, opioid abuse or misuse isn’t without its risks. These risks are divided into short-term and long-term effects.

  • Short-Term: The short-term effects can include confusion, euphoria, nausea, vomiting, constipation, stomach aches, drowsiness, insomnia, and reduced breathing rates.[8] Most of these short-term effects are relatively easy to manage and complication-free.
  • Long-Term: Just like stimulants, the long-term effects of heroin abuse and misuse are much more severe than what is observed for the short-term effects. These long-term effects include hypoxia, opioid use disorder, lung and nasal damage, depression, and heart complications.[9]
  • Other Risks: People who abuse opioid drugs also risk developing nutritional deficiencies, opioid overdose, dependence, and addiction.


Depressants Statistics

Depressants are drugs that delay the transmission of information, or impulses, between the brain and the body. Their effects are usually carried out by depressing the central nervous system. This reduced transmission of information impacts and affects the body’s ability to focus and coordinate its responses and reactions. When used in small doses, depressants affect reduced inhibition and increased relaxation. However, much higher doses often result in a series of undesirable effects. 10

Types of Depressant Drugs

As earlier stated, these drugs act by depressing the central nervous system, which is why they are called depressant drugs. They are also called “downers.” Different types of depressant drugs include:

  • Cannabis
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Alcohol
  • Opioids
  • Ketamine
  • Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB)


Many people have reported their reason for taking alcohol to be because of the energizing effects it gives. However, although alcohol can be energizing, its “feel-good” effects are transient, so it works as a depressant.

Alcohol depresses the central nervous system, interferes with communication between the brain and body nerves, and depresses other areas of the body. This results in adverse effects such as tiredness, slurred speech, diminished inhibition, and coordination issues. Furthermore, drinking alcohol rapidly and in significant quantities might result in more severe symptoms. 11


Tobacco contains nicotine, and this substance is largely responsible for the depressant effects of tobacco. Like alcohol, nicotine also has a transient excitatory effect on the central nervous system, where it improves concentration and mood and causes relaxation.

Subsequently, however, nicotine causes significant brain chemistry changes, resulting in serious withdrawal effects whenever the nicotine intake reduces. Nicotine is also one central nervous system depressant that has a hand in causing depression because it interferes with the body’s natural dopamine-producing activities. 12

Risks of Depressant Abuse

Depressant abuse is associated with many risks and effects, ranging from mild to severe.

  • Short-Term: The short-term effects of depressant abuse could include impaired coordination and concentration, nausea, vomiting, unconsciousness, memory loss, and impaired mental functioning.
  • Long-Term: These are usually more serious and could include mental health disorders like anxiety and depression disorders, along with liver disease, cardiovascular disorders, cancer, suicide, and even death.
  • Other Risks: Depressant abusers also risk sustaining bodily injuries, addiction and dependence, and several associated disorders.

How Misusing Drugs Can Impact Your Brain Functioning


Hallucinogens Statistics

Hallucinogens are types of abused drugs that, when taken, influence and alter the perception abilities of the users. Hallucinogens tamper with and alter senses of smell, hearing, taste, and sight, so users experience auditory and visual hallucinations where they see and hear things that are not real. 13

There are several types of hallucinogenic drugs. They include the following:

  • Psilocybin (magic mushrooms)
  • Phencyclidine
  • Ketamine
  • Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD)
  • Cannabis

Risks of Hallucinogen Abuse

Like the other drug categories mentioned, hallucinogen abuse also has several effects and risks. Some occur in the short term, while others develop and become more evident upon prolonged exposure. These effects include the following:

  • Short-Term: include numbness, disorientation, confusion, and dizziness.
  • Long-Term: Hallucinations, increased agitation, paranoia, elevated heart rate, anxiety, and dementia.
  • Other Risks: Hallucinogen abusers may also experience increased physical injuries due to lowered perception of their environment. They may also eventually develop several mental health disorders.


These types of drugs are somewhat similar to hallucinogens. Dissociative anesthetics are common types of drugs abused for their ability to cause a sort of "detached feeling" in users. These types of substances distort and alter the sensory perception of users such that they are unable to interact with their environment.13

Another factor responsible for the widespread abuse of dissociatives is that they can be ingested in several ways, including orally, by inhalation, and even through intramuscular injections.

Types of Dissociative Drugs

Several types of medical drugs fall under this category. Examples include:

  • Ketamine (used as an anesthetic in surgery)
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)
  • Nitrous Oxide
  • Dextromethorphan

Medium to high doses of the list of drugs above has been noted to cause users to have dissociative, "out of body" experiences.

Risks of Dissociative Abuse

Even though most of these drugs have medicinal applications, their abuse could lead to some mild to severe health risks.

  1. 1Short-Term: These include visual and auditory hallucinations, unconsciousness, numbness, euphoria, drowsiness, and confusion. 
  2. 2Long-Term: These effects are usually more severe, and they could include ketamine bladder syndrome, cognitive impairment, and anemia.
  3. 3Other Risks: Abusers may also experience vitamin B12 deficiency, depression, and nerve damage.


Inhalants Statistics

Inhalants are types of addictive drugs administered via the body's respiratory system. This means they are inhaled through the mouth or "snuffed" through the nose. In this class of drugs, the inhalants have the fastest onset of action. Once introduced into the body, they immediately gain access to the bloodstream. This "fast action" is one of the major reasons why inhalants are so commonly abused.

Types of Inhalant Drugs

There are four types of inhalant drugs. They include:

  • Volatile solvents (paint thinners and glues): These substances are usually unstable at normal room temperature, so they get easily converted to gaseous forms and then inhaled.
  • Aerosol sprays: These include hair sprays and deodorants. 
  • Gases: Gases includie butane, nitrous oxide, and propane. 
  • Helium nitrites: These include room deodorizers and leather cleaners.

It should be said that most of these inhalants have a depressive effect on the central nervous system except for the nitrites, also called laughing gas.

Risks of Inhalant Abuse

The risks of inhalant abuse include the following:

  1. 1Short-Term: These include symptoms such as arrhythmia, convulsion, coma, or even death by sudden sniffing death syndrome, asphyxiation, or suffocation.
  2. 2Long-Term: These can include neurological impairments and disorders (e.g., dementia), and damage to internal organs like the heart, kidney, lungs, and liver.
  3. 3Other Risks: Inhalant abuse in pregnant women may result in congenital malformations of babies. People who abuse inhalants may also experience appetite changes and weight loss.[14]

A Deeper Look at Inhalants


Cannabis, also known as weed or marijuana, ranks among the common types of drugs of abuse. Its widespread abuse is usually because it can be consumed in different forms, including smoking, vaporizing, or even eating the substance. Reports have shown that the effects observed from cannabis consumption usually vary depending on the form in which it is consumed. Examples of cannabis include marijuana, hashish concentrates, and hash oil.

There is also another form of cannabis known as synthetic cannabis. However, this is believed to be even more dangerous than cannabis because, despite the "similarity" in their names, there is little to no similarity in their content.

Risks of Cannabis Abuse

Drug use is always associated with risks, and the same also applies to cannabis. Depending on several factors, such as the form in which it is consumed and even body composition, people usually have different reactions to cannabis use. There are, however, some pretty common effects:

  1. 1Short-Term: These could include euphoria, anxiety, paranoia, increased heartbeat, reduced reflexes and response, and memory impairment.
  2. 2Long-Term: The long-term effects of annalized abuse usually vary in severity and depend on the frequency of consumption and amount consumed per time. They include tolerance, dependence, and cognitive impairment.
  3. 3Other Risks: People who abuse cannabis may also become more susceptible to bronchitis, asthma, sore throat, and several mental health disorders.[15]

Treatment Options for Drug Addiction and Abuse

Treatment Options for Drug Addiction and Abuse

Finding the best drug addiction treatment can be somewhat challenging since there are so many different types of drugs one might need help with. However, regardless of the intricacies employed, drug addiction treatment usually includes employing medications and behavioral therapies for effective treatment and recovery.

Addiction treatment usually starts with detox. During detox, drug levels in the body are carefully and systematically reduced to ensure patient safety. This is because withdrawal from addictive drugs tends to be accompanied by serious withdrawal side effects. Medications are usually administered to effectively manage these withdrawal symptoms and any other medical condition that may be present.

Behavioral therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, help patients identify potential substance abuse causes and help them develop new, healthy habits in order to drop the harmful, addiction-causing ones. Behavioral therapies could involve personal and group therapy sessions, meditation, and in some cases, yoga. All of these are aimed at helping patients develop new habits and "overwriting" the old, harmful ones.

Find Help at Genesis Recovery

Do you or a loved one currently suffer from a substance abuse disorder and are looking for a treatment center? If you are, then Genesis Recovery is exactly the place for you! Genesis Recovery is a treatment center that specializes in helping patients treat and recover from addiction and substance abuse problems. Genesis Recovery has a well-structured, zero-tolerance recovery program that helps patients enjoy holistic growth and lasting recovery from drug and substance abuse.

Reach out today and find the help you need to beat addiction for good!


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