Illicit drugs are ones that aren’t legal to manufacture, sell, or consume. However, the term illicit drug use is typically used to refer to both the use of illegal drugs and the abuse of otherwise legal drugs. For instance, if somebody abuses prescription drugs, it may be seen as illicit drug use. Regardless of whether the use is recreational, as a form of self-medication, or for another reason, illicit drug use can be dangerous and addictive.
The Most Commonly Used Illicit Drugs
|Prescription Opioids*||LSD||Meth/Crystal Meth||PCP|
*When not used as prescribed
These are typically used as painkillers, but they’re often abused because they produce feelings of euphoria and are highly addictive. Drugs in this class include heroin and fentanyl.
These drugs are characterized by their ability to change the user’s perception, especially when it comes to time, space, and reality. These drugs include psilocybin mushrooms, cannabis, LSD, salvia, DMT, spice, and ecstasy.
Drugs in this class increase the heart rate, increase brain activity, and cause hyperactivity. Examples include cocaine, crack cocaine, methamphetamines, crystal meth, and flakka.
These drugs sedate or relax, but they also depress the central nervous system. Drugs in this class include PCP, ketamine, and GHB.
Illicit Drug Use by the Numbers
In the United States, illicit drug use is both common and on the rise. In fact, a 2013 survey revealed that nearly 10 percent of the population—about 25 million people—had abused a drug in the previous month. As the rate of drug abuse rises, so too does the rate of overdoses. In 2016, there was an average of 14 deaths from overdose for every 100,000 citizens in the country.
Effects of Illicit Drug Use
There are physical, psychological, and social consequences of long-term drug abuse. Negative physical implications of illicit drug use include:
- Damage to the kidneys and liver
- Cardiovascular damage
- Weakened immune system
- Weight gain or loss
- Respiratory problems
- Brain damage
There are also behavioral and psychological effects of drug use, such as aggression, paranoia, impulsiveness, hallucinations, and more. Plus, the physical and behavioral changes that often occur with drug use also have social and professional implications, and many relationships—including with family and friends—and professional opportunities are destroyed because of drug use.
Illicit Drug Abuse and Addiction
Different drugs have different effects on the brain and body, including when it comes to addiction. For the most part, drugs flood the brain with dopamine and create a high, and over time, prolonged use can actually change the way your brain works, which is why it’s possible for a former addict to relapse even after years of being sober. Illicit drug use, therefore, can cause both a physical addiction and psychological dependence.
The changes that occur in the brain because of drug use don’t just affect addiction, and they can also cause long-term problems with memory, learning, judgment and decision-making, and overall behavior.
Common Co-Occurring Disorders that Appear with Drug Use
A co-occurring disorder, also called a dual diagnosis, is a mental illness that presents along with drug use. It’s estimated that as many as 60 percent of the people who abuse drugs also have a co-occurring disorder, which could include:
- Depression and dysthymia
- Panic disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Schizoaffective disorder
- Eating Disorders
Signs of Addiction
Physical signs include insomnia, appetite and weight changes, irregular heartbeat, tremors, hyperactivity, and needing increasing amounts of a drug to get the same effects. In terms of behavior, common symptoms of addiction include drug-seeking behavior, attitude changes, mood swings, paranoia, secrecy, withdrawal from friends and family, and borrowing money.
Getting Help and Treatment
There are several different treatment options available for illicit drug abuse, but the essential first step involves a detox period to get the drugs out of your system. During this time, you’ll go through withdrawal, which is why it’s recommended to go through detox at a facility where you’ll be monitored and have access to medical attention. After detox, you’ll have options like inpatient or outpatient treatment, but in both cases, you’ll get therapy and professional help so that you can address the causes and triggers of your addiction.